Genre vs. Form
Would you call Game of Thrones a Western? Is Fallout 3 a Western? The answer to those questions really only relies on whether you consider a “Western” piece of media a form or a genre. In order to understand what you actually believe, it’s important to consider the fundamental difference between genre and form. I posit that genre speaks to intangible characteristics contained in a piece of media, while form is more about the physical components of a piece of media, within and on the surface.
The concept of a Western has been studied to death, revealing the following. Some recurring themes in Westerns are the concept of personal justice rather than institutionalized law, moral ambiguity, and codes of honor. I believe these are the sorts of traits that inform us of genre. Taking these abstract traits at face value, it can be easy to interpret Game of Thrones as a Western. One never really knows whether or not they feel comfortable identifying with Jamie Lannister because it’s almost impossible to decipher if his actions are moral or not. Justice is decided by the blade; the survivor is the just. The knights of Westeros cling to their honor above their own lives.
So, if abstract concepts such as those listed above qualify genre, form appears to be the case one pours elements into in order to hold them in place. This includes length of a piece as well as the structure of lines and paragraphs, but also iconography such as (in the case of Westerns) weapons, alcohol, glaring sunlight, and desolation. By this measure, one could easily categorize Fallout 3 as a Western, even though it is debatably more of a science-fiction piece of media. Fallout 3 contains all of the iconography I listed previously, and the plot is structured in a way that does not deviate from typical Western plot conventions too much. However, no one familiar with the game would call it a Western, although it is contained in a Western-style form.
In the end, genre and form complement one another, but do not always coincide. It is perfectly possible to create a piece in a Western form that also does not contain any elements typically found in a Western. Likewise, it’s equally possible to create a Western piece (thematically) that does not share any visual characteristics with other Westerns. Finally, while I believe that the categories of form and genre are useful in delineating media, I also believe that one should not pay too much attention to such labels. Intensive labelling is useful only to a certain point, beyond which it becomes burdensome. There’s no need to shove everything into a neat little box.