I believe a technical definition should go first. Dictionary.com defines genre thus: “A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter”. As a game designer, I find that definition unhelpful but you have to start somewhere. I’ll get back to this and give a more personal definition but first we need to take a brief walk.
Let us start with my personal history. I am a connoisseur of games, be they table top games (like Don’t Rest your Head), board games (like Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill), Video games (like Antechamber) and card games (like Hot Seat).
In the world of video games, the word “genre” falls apart in a fairly spectacular way. Titles like Don’t Rest Your Head which clearly meets the criteria of the genre “Table Top RPG” (that is to say, your primary tool for interacting with the gamestate involve papers and dice), despite being about exploring the horrors of psychological trauma and torture while other members of the genre are about exploring dungeons and killing dragons.
I believe a different definition would be helpful.
Richard Dawkins, the coiner of the term ‘meme’, defined the term as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”. In his book “The Selfish Gene” he explained that this is different from other forms of data transference in the fact that it’s spread pattern resembles a plague in the sense that it is self replicating and spread by basic contact, rather than study.
I would like to use this to define the word ‘trope’ as “A collection of memes used to express a shorthand for a more complicated concept”. For example, the Damsel in Distress is not actually about a princess, a castle, or a dragon, the trope is more about the concepts of guardianship and a human’s duty to protect and serve with all the positive and problematic memes that go along with those concepts.
This brings us to a more personalized definition of the word ‘genre’. Given the terms and definitions above, I will redefine the term as ‘a collection of tropes and other memes used to describe a form of literature in broadest terms’. This definition allows for more flexibility and accuracy given the wider scope of the terms as now genre can imply more than narrative techniques and basic tone.
This is not at odds with Blau’s conceptualization of the word. In the textbook, she describes ‘genre’ as category of tools that can be used as shorthand for concepts in a writer’s work. For example, if I were to write my life story I could do a list format (ex. First Haile Carson was born. Then Haile Carson cried. Then Haile Carson was brought home from the hospital, etc) which would describe the literal events of my life, or I could write an autobiography (ex. I was born on 10, May, 1987 to Carolyn Ann Barker-Carson and Leonard Eugene Carson and spent the first 5 years of my life trading between several hospitals and an apartment in Jamaica Plains, Boston) which would skip over the pedantry and get to the meat of the narrative.
This is quite similar to how genre is used in Every 60 seconds… you start with a title, which provides a high concept to the work, then over the course 20 slides and 400 seconds that concept is elaborated upon and given context. In the case of Every 60 Seconds in Africa the title is explained as ‘More happens every 60 seconds in Africa than a child dying or a woman getting raped’.
So, to answer the first question.
I would define genre as “a variety of über-meme that collects a series of other memes for the purpose of categorizing a piece of literature”. I like this definition because it allows things like HID (Human Interface Device) interactions to be placed comfortably in the formula for defining the term. In short, it expands the terms without having to fundamentally change the classical definition.