Should the "Young Adult" genre exists in games as it exists in books?

I’ve recently finished watching the Fantasy High series from College Humour, a DND actual play series, and I loved it. The premise is “High Fantasy meets High School” and the Player Characters are all High Schoolers, including the Half-Orc raised by Gnomes, the Jock who is afraid to follow in his fathers shadow, the Human cleric who was chosen by god and is unsure of her faith, the Goblin Veronica Mars, the Elf who’s failed to get into her sister’s school and the Tiefling who thought she was an elf until her horns grew in. The thing they all have in common is, like most protagonists of YA novels, they are all trying to discover their identity.

It got me thinking, in the same way these adults who have been out of school for a long time were able to inhabit their younger characters, there are loads of games where we inhabit young adult characters who are trying to find their identity or who are trying to make sense of what their world is now. There are some obvious examples, games where the main characters are school children, such as Gone Home, OxenFree and the Life Is Strange and Persona series, but there are also games that I think are a bit less obvious, such as Undertale, which is a story where you play a child in a deeply personal story. You could also argue Earthbound and the entire Mother series is a series of Young Adult games. There are also countless TTRPGs and board-games that involve players taking the role of a child or a teenager and taking part and creating your own stories. Stories where the world or yourself can’t be saved by other people, it has to be saved by you, in a way that you have never had to deal with before.

I know I’m rambling, but I can’t stop thinking about just how, in video games and games in general, there isn’t a “Young Adult” industry in the same way there is for books or TV shows. Undertale is the only game I feel that had the same relative success as something like Twilight, something made out of love that recieved a huge following from all sorts of people. Would you want to see more YA games? Do you think more teens would play story games if there were more YA games? Are there more games that you would consider YA?

All the games you mentioned were the ones that immediately came to mind for me—Life is Strange and Oxenfree especially. I’d throw Deltarune in there along with Undertale—and I think Deltarune might actually fit the YA designation even better. And uh, actually, how about Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask? But you’ll see a huge amount of aesthetic variation over those games, which goes to support a point from literature—YA is a marketing creation. It’s not an aesthetic genre.

More specifically, coming from a background in literature (and YA being something I both enjoy writing and consuming), YA is chiefly a marketing category for publishing houses to target teenage audiences, but “YA literature” really does not share a set of aesthetic values in the same way that mystery or horror or romance literature might. (This is because teenagers, like adults, have diverse tastes in the media that they consume, and do not need all their literature to feature teenage protagonists). I think you could maybe consider Night in the Woods a “YA” game—at the same time, it eschews the high school setting that’s common in YA (even though its characters are all about 19-ish in age).

Even in literature, this designation is highly arbitrary. Is Ready Player One (yes, I know, and I’m sorry for bringing it up) a YA book? It has a teenage protagonist, and it’s marketed as a coming-of-age story from adolescence to a kind of adulthood—which are two fairly typical markers of YA. Yet it’s marketed as general audience fiction, not YA. With that in mind, why did that book gain such a large adult audience, when YA books with similar aesthetic elements get restricted? I know I’m taking this in a bit of a different direction than you probably anticipated; this is more coming from the fiction writer/reader side of me that sees the restructive effect YA labeling can sometimes have on works.

My conclusion there is, honestly, I think teenagers do actually play story games, and they’ll play them with or without a YA label. YA-labeling games like Life is Strange might actually have a chilling effect on adult audiences for those games.

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I strongly agree with this. There are plenty of people who won’t even consider consuming media if it’s marketed as YA.

I think it’s different for games for a few reasons. First, games tend to skew towards younger audiences than books or movies. Even with supposedly “mature” games that earn higher age ratings, developers know that a significant portion of their audience is going to be teenagers. It’s almost redundant to label a game as YA, because there’s so much overlap between the two audiences.

Second, games are a younger medium, just in the amount of time they’ve been around. That means we’ve had less time for genres to become entrenched in themselves, and there’s more fluidity between them. What I mean is that it’s still relatively common for a game to be released without a clear genre (just go to itch.io and you’ll find dozens of examples), while I can’t really imagine the same thing happening in either film or books. It seems like genre matters less with games than it does with other mediums, and I’d consider that a strength.

Maybe as games mature and the people who play them age up, we’ll start seeing games more explicitly geared towards YA audiences; maybe it’s already happening, and games like Oxenfree and Life is Strange are the beginning of that trend. I think we’re only just reaching a point where the medium has enough breadth to start applying descriptors that describe more than just mechanics.

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I feel the reason there’s not a dedicated category for it might be due to the classification schemes.

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Weirdly enough, I wouldn’t call OoT YA, but I think I would call Majora’s Mask it? Mainly because it involves so many people in “savior” positions who are messed up and hurting? Maybe I just have a fixation more on bleak YA fiction than positive.

I think my brain blocked out NitW because that just, to me, starts a whole conversation about YA fiction that is aimed? at an older, nostalgic audience. I really related to the characters in NitW, and I don’t know how I would have related to them when I was a teenager. I’ve been reading a book called “Meddling Kids” which is a take on a Mystery Inc group who grow up fucked up after some Lovecraft shit and I actually enjoyed it. There’s a moment where the characters thought they were possessed by an evil spirit and that’s why they’ve turned out they way they did but NOPE turns out they’re just 25. I feel like it’s a theme that’s not quite focused on YA fiction but by people who read YA fiction, if that makes sense and isn’t just strangely elitist?

That’s how I feel about Persona. Maybe it’s because of the fact it’s from Japan and so maybe it would be better to call it a Shonen game, but honestly YA and most anime genres fall close enough that it would be hard to distinguish them. It’s a very good point though. I think YA is also seen as a more “feminine” genre, which is perhaps why RPO didn’t go for it, as it didn’t fit. I think it’s ridiculous to label a genre, but it seems like the sort of thought a publisher would have.

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I think Persona kinda blurs genre’s a bit. The highschool setting and protagonist are definitely shonen, but I think the more adult content pushes it into Seinen territory? I don’t know, “genre” is weird, especially when there’s a language barrier.

First, yo, that book sounds awesome and I want to read it now.

I think that was partially my idea though—we reach a point there where we’re divvying up an audience into smaller and smaller chunks, to a point where I’m not sure it makes sense to categorize them anymore. Because ultimately these genre designations are a tool to send people to similar pieces/literature/games/etc. to the ones that they like, but they cease being useful (and can in fact be a bit deleterious) when the audiences being targeted are too small to sustain the game by itself. The target audience in Night in the Woods is effectively a year or two removed from the target audience for typical high-school-oriented YA fiction. It feels like a natural extension of YA fiction—and I think you are right in that sense, of it asking the question of “what happens after the nominally happy ending of a YA story,” and the answer being “well, a lot of it falls apart.” That’s one of the things that makes it so compelling for me. But what advantage do we get from splitting those apart?

See this is fascinating to me—because I think Ocarina of Time has all the literal superficial elements that often get associated with YA fiction. It’s literally a coming-of-age story; it’s about a kid and then a teenager learning how to grow into their role in the world. But I agree that Majora’s Mask under the surface feels a lot more like the types of YA that I like (post-apocalyptic YA is my jam, so I feel you). Which I think also calls up the lack of a cohesive identity throughout YA fiction.

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That is true, instead of going from adult down to young adult, it’s perceived that games have to do the opposite, go from kids to young adult. It’s similar to the trend that comics have had. Still, I think that you could definitely say there is a wide arrange of comics that could be described as YA.

In some ways I agree, but I think that it’s something of a missed opportunity. What I mean is, I feel like there aren’t enough games that take the opportunity to tell stories about identity. I feel like that’s why there’s always an interest and discussion, big or small when a game that deals with shifting self-identity at teenage age comes out. What I don’t know if, for me, is that interest there because myself as an audience is interested in stories about self-identity because I like the nostalgia or because of a genuine interest?

I sometimes suspect YA as a literary classification is used to highlight the presence of certain themes and ideas to adult audiences.

If you had asked me at 14 if I was reading “Young Adult Fiction” I would have told you that I was just reading what I liked. I wasn’t into YA. I was into fantasy and sci-fi and some of that was technically YA? I didn’t think about it.

Like, are there teens and are they horny? If so, YA! But there’s definitely an aesthetic and a vibe to games that are marketed as YA games, Oxenfree and Life is Strange being the big ones mentioned in this thread. It goes beyond a suitable age range. If YA just meant “for early-to-late teens” then stuff like Fortnite would technically qualify. Maybe I’m talking out my ass here but YA across media broadcasts “come over here if you want that good good relationship drama, y’all” and games should definitely have more of that in them, regardless of classification.

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I’m not THAT big into YA Fiction in books, but a lot of JRPGs give off similar vibes to me.

Genres are a useful tool but you can paint yourself in a box, intellectually. The less classifications and subgenres you can get away with, the better, because the way we consume media is definately headed in the opposite direction.

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Yeah I was going to say, like, it’s an entire story-centric genre meant for teenagers about teenagers going on incredible journeys that’s been around forever and follows a lot of the same young adult stuff because that’s who it’s meant for…

Especially after the double blast of the Harry Potter movies and Persona 3 dropping around the same time, there’s a reason “JRPG” now means “what will happen to these fantasy high schoolers.”

Same with stuff like LucasArts and Sierra adventure games in the 90s though, the young adult “genre” always existed in video games, Just when Harry Potter books it was treated like a new thing because because companies realized you could market a novel to teens.

I feel like it’s worth mentioning this piece from a couple years ago: https://www.google.com/amp/s/waypoint.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/vvj349/horizon-zero-dawn-is-the-young-adult-novel-ive-always-wanted-to-play
What’s interesting about it is that it is categorizing specifically the writing of H:ZD as being similar to YA novels.

I think that’s maybe why we might not see a lot of classifications of games as YA. In general, we see it in a different genre space because it’s a different medium and audience. Obviously these audiences overlap all over the place, but I think the way that critics and publishers discuss with and market to moviegoers, readers, anime fans, gamers, etc. differs because there’s a differing cultural context for any given medium.

To go a step further, I’d argue that different media just tend to have entirely different approaches to categorization and genre. I’ve never heard books described as “Twilight-likes” even though that might be a valid descriptor for some. I think the confluence of marketing and culture around the medium has simply produced a different categorical language.

I could be way off base, but that’s what it seems like to me. I think the comparisons OP made, and the one in the H:ZD article, are still really interesting! It’s hard to escape genre classifications, but reaching across to other media for comparisons can lead to cool critical insights! It can also make us think about where and why audiences overlap!

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I’m always very cynical about the tendency of literature, in particular, to create genre categories apparently mostly on the model of marketing categories [rather than actual content], so I’d not really support doing the same thing in video games (or anything else).

I think, while the YA genre is useful in a lot of context (and for potentially for contextualizing video games), I’d push back against dividing things up further in terms of genre.

Literature has a much larger pool that readers need to peruse, so it is useful to further categorize things. Videogames, as diverse as they are, at a mainstream level, there still aren’t a ton of games put out. I think most fans of any genre would end up dipping in to both the traditional genre of their choice and the YA equivalent.

That said, I think literary categories like this can be immensely useful in discussing plot beats and game feels. There’s a place for it, I just don’t think it is necessarily at a marketing/publishing level.

I could see it being very useful as a tag of some sort on storefronts, however! Steam and itch.io’s tag system comes to mind. It’s a less formal approach to categorizing, and it doesn’t force the user to differentiate.