“I think it is very important to be able to read media with a critical eye. To parse it in terms of what it is saying, both on its face, and in how it uses the language of its medium (film, TTRPG, whatever) to deliver its ideas. To make its statement.
Genre is not simply a set of aesthetics, full stop. It is aesthetics with a direction, an impetus.
Lots of folks like to forget the reason behind the aesthetic choices, and just sort of, eat and regurgitate them unthinkingly.”
— Commuting Crow [Emphasis Mine]
I came across this and I like it a lot, and want to pass it forward for it is very important in storytelling, in gaming, and even in architecture.
The look and feel (ie aesthetics) of any genre is born from a philosophical place. It was through the examination and exploration of certain ideas, theses, and ideologies, whether that be in support of them (we are interested in this and think this is a good way to go, let’s explore and invent down that road), in question of them (we see this as a possible way things could go, let’s explore and see what the outcome(s) might be), or in opposition or critique of them (this is something we see happening, and think it is not productive, let’s explore and illustrate the harm). Genre is more than the style of the world, it is about world building, and all of the aspects of world building. The way society operates (or doesn’t), the way people think (or don’t), the prevailing truths (or untruths), the direction and inflections of humanity. It is from there, from that baseline world building from which the aesthetics emerge and are developed into their final form.
So when you use the imagery and aesthetics of the genre as just a stylistic choice, you aren’t operating in the genre. Your work is not of the genre. It’s something else in different clothing.*
The same holds true in architecture. The organization of the Beaux-Arts building, the hyper-detailed nature of the Baroque period, the classical orders, the bold planes of modernism, they all emerged out of philosophies about living (in all senses of that word). There were values and convictions and ideas and ideologies beneath it all, and it was the exploration into form of all of those that informed and created the style, including how the building is laid out, how one approaches the building, how one travels from room to room, how the façade is proportioned, how and where ornamentation, etc.
So when you use the architectural pieces and aesthetics (the architectural language) of a ‘style’ (or genre) as just a stylistic choice, you aren’t operating in the true nature of the style. Your work is not of the style. It is something else in different clothing.
In this way, Using the words “architectural style” to describe how a building looks turns out to be a misnomer.**
To reiterate, genres (and architectural ‘styles’***) are born of a specific context, in time and space and thought and vision. From there emerges a look. If you want your story, your game, or your work to be truthfully of that genre, it needs to engage with that context (again, whether it is to follow, to re-examine, to tweak, to refute, whatever, but it must engage with it), not just the look of it.
It is from there that richness arises and that great works emerge.
* Which BTW is fine… there’s some fun in playing around only with style. Just be honest about it.
** It is also where many more recent buildings fall flat or feel terrible, because they’re importing architectural languages in a copy/paste mode without any thought or understanding of all the ideology and knowledge that underpinned the ‘style’ and so having little design sense poured into them. Confusing architecture as just the “fancy looking bits” leaves behind the most important aspects that make up what architecture actually is.
*** We really need a better word. Ok. This is my game now, to find or come up with a new word for this.