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Video Game Genres

Ted Stahl, 2005

Most games fall within a particular category. Some bridge different gaming styles and, thus, could appear under more than one category simultaneously. And others pioneer new approaches to electronic entertainment. Those often fall outside of any pre-conceived genre. If such a title becomes popular enough that others try to duplicate the experience, a new genre comes into being.

Below is a list of some of the most common video game genres with a brief description and some examples of games that fit within that category. This list is not comprehensive and is limited to larger classifications. It is easy to classify particular titles much more narrowly and, thus, create dozens of genres and/or sub-genres. However, this is an attempt to give a broader perspective of types of video games.


One of the oldest genres of video game is the classic shooter. It has roots in the early 60s with Steve Russell's Spacewar! Shooters are games that require the player to blow away enemies or objects in order to survive and continue gameplay. They usually fall into one of two categories: 1) horizontal, or 2) vertical. However, like Spacewar!, Star Castle, and Asteroids, there are shooters that are neither horizontal or vertical. These involve moving around the screen and shooting in whatever direction necessary to keep from being destroyed. Other classic examples include Defender, Galaga, R-Type, Phoenix, Space Invaders, Tempest, Xevious, and Zaxxon.

First-Person-Shooter (or FPS):

This is an example of a sub-genre that has grown enough to become its own genre. In fact, because of the prevalence of these games, many people use the term "shooter" to refer to first-person-shooters. These games are realtime fast-paced action games in which the player navigates an environment from a first-person perspective and, usually, blows everything and everyone away whenever possible. Though Wolfenstein 3D is regarded as the first sucessful example of this genre, it wasn't until the release of Doom that people began to recognize the true potential of this type of gaming. Doom enabled multiple game players to share in the same game simultaneously via modem and LAN. This would become the standard of this genre, opening the game format up to multi-player deathmatches that would become so important to the format that some put little effort into story and the single-player experience in general (i.e., Unreal Tournament and Quake III). Though this is a relatively new genre (since the early 1990s), it has grown in popularity. Examples of first-person-shooter franchises include Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Descent, Marathon, GoldenEye, Halo, Quake, and Time Splitters.


Another of the first video game genres, especially from the computer platforms, was the adventure game. These were initially text-based games like Will Crowther's Collossal Cave and the original Zork games. However, as the power of the gaming systems grew, developers tried to tap into the visual capabilities of each consecutive platform. The Atari VCS offered a game entitled Adventure. Roberta Williams began develping the King's Quest series for Sierra Online in an attempt to add interactive graphics and point-and-click funtionality to the more puzzle-oriented traditional text-based adventure. There has always been a strong following for this genre because of the challenge of puzzle-solving and the general lack of violence. This has also made it popular for many non-traditional gaming demographics. In recent years, LucasArts and Cyan have been known for their contributions to the adventure genre. Other examples of adventure franchises include Gabriel Knight, Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Myst, Police Quest, and Syberia.


It is believed that the platform genre began in 1981 with the release of the games Donkey Kong and Space Panic. Games within this genre are usually identified by navigating environments that require timing and jumping in order to reach a desitination while avoiding and/or disposing of enemies. Many of these, like Donkey Kong, have a series of screens, each with its own individual pattern of challenges. As companies began to develop platform games for home consoles and computers instead of arcade machines (i.e. Super Mario Bros for the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment system), they took advantage of the evolving processors and and greater memory capacity by transcending individual screens and utilizing actively side-scrolling worlds. This evolutionary step in platform games moved them closer to immersive stories rather than challenging puzzles. Platform video games continued to evolve as gaming became more 3D. One of the greatest 3D platform games was introduced with the launch of the Nintendo 64 and was called Super Mario 64. Examples of 2D screen-based platform franchises include Bubble Bobble, Burgertime, Donkey Kong, Lode Runner, Mario Bros., and Space Panic. Examples of 2D scrolling platform franchises include Bonk, Donkey Kong Country, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., and Vectorman. Examples of 3D platform franchises include Crash Bandicoot, Pac-Man World, Spyro the Dragon, and the aforementioned Super Mario 64.

Role-Playing Games (RPGs):

Evolving from pen-and-paper games like Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs are a special type of adventure game that usually incorporate three major elements: 1) a specific quest, 2) a process for evolving a character through experience to improve his/her ability to handle deadlier foes, 3) the careful acquisition and management if inventory items for the quest (i.e., weapons, armor, healing items, food, and tools). Having said that, these games still have many variations and appearances.


In many ways, puzzle video games are not dissimilar from traditional puzzles. What they offer are unique environments that are not as easily introduced in one's living room. For example, Wetrix enables the player to build up a series of walls that would be able to contain a deluge of water when it falls. Successful completion of a level involves capturing enough water. Other examples include Tetris, Intelligent Qube, Puzzle Bobble, Puyo Puyo, Devil Dice, and Mercury.


By their nature, simulations are attempts to accurately re-create an experience. These can be in the form of management simulations like SimCity and Theme Hospital, or more hands on like MicroSoft Flight Simulator or Gran Turismo.


Like simulations, strategy/tactics games attempt to capture a sense of realism for the game player to experience. However, these titles are often turn-based as opposed to realtime and they give the player a greater sense of specific control over a situation. Franchises that fall into this genre include Ogre Tactics, Command and Conquer, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Worms.


As you can imagine, sports games are those that simulate the playing of sports. Many of these have incorporated novel aspects beyond the games themselves. For example, most football video games like the Madden series enable the player to create and customize teams and play them for an entire season. Furthermore, many sports games include management elements beyond the games themselves. There is quite a bit of variety in this genre for fans of the games, the players, and the behind the scenes responsibilities of owning a team.


These titles pit player against player (usually 2 players head-to-head) and involve one triumphing over the other. Many of these games include a single player mode, but the real draw to this genre is the ability to demonstrate one's gaming prowess against a friend. Examples of franchises in this genre include Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive, King of Fighters, and Bloody Roar.


Dance Dance Revolution is probably the single largest franchise in this genre. Of the rest, many require a specialized controller like DDR, but several don't. This grouping of games is differentiated by the timed elements usually synched to music somehow. Other good examples of this form include Parappa the Rapper, Bust a Groove, Gitaroo Man, Space Channel 5, Frequency, Beatmania, Para Para Paradise, Donkey Konga, and Eyetoy Groove.

Survival Horror:

As the name suggests, these titles are an interactive evolutionary step of the horror genre. The main gameplay mechanic in these is to "survive" the environment that includes fantastic or supernatural elements that are very frightening and often disturbing. Many of these titles are rated mature because of they are not intended for younger audiences and often include graphic scenes.



It's important to recognize that many games are not limited to a single genre. Some are the combination of two or more game types. In fact, as gaming evolves, we see lines blurred between genres more frequently than not. Since the introduction of 3D gaming, the action/adventure genre has grown dramatically. It is practically a catch-all category that incorporates 3D games with realtime combat and puzzle-solving in a fairly cohesive storyline. Many of these games are also first-person-shooters. Some are 3D platform titles. And most survival horror titles qualify as Action/Adventure games too. Another example of a hybrid is Myst. It is both an adventure game and a puzzle game. However, it is most certainly not an Action/Adventure game.






Go Backto software main page Last Updated on 12-Oct-2005 For suggestions  please mail the editors 


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