Video game genre

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A science fiction-themed side-scrolling shoot 'em up RosAsmGameSpace.png
A science fiction-themed side-scrolling shoot 'em up

A video game genre is an informal classification of a video game based on how it is played rather than visual or narrative elements. [1] [2] This is independent of setting, unlike works of fiction that are expressed through other media, such as films or books. For example, a shooter game is still a shooter game, regardless of where or when it takes place. [3] [4] A specific game's genre is open to subjective interpretation. An individual game may belong to several genres at once. [1]



Early attempts at categorizing video games were primarily for organizing catalogs and books. A 1981 catalog for the Atari VCS uses 8 headings: Skill Gallery, Space Station, Classics Corner, Adventure Territory, Race Track, Sports Arena, Combat Zone, and Learning Center. [5] ("Classics", in this case, refers to chess and checkers.) In Tom Hirschfeld's 1981 book How to Master the Video Games , he divides the games into broad categories in the table of contents: Space Invaders -type, Asteroids -type, maze, reflex, and miscellaneous. [6] The first two of these correspond to the still-used genres of fixed shooter and multidirectional shooter.

Within the personal computer space, two publications established a small number of categories based on the best-selling software in the early 1980s: Softalk , which ran its Top Thirty list from 1980 to 1984 with the genres of strategy, adventure, fantasy and arcade; and Computer Gaming World , which collected user-submitted rankings. Computer Gaming World initially used three categories in 1981—arcade, wargame, and adventure—but by 1989 had expanded its genre list to strategy, simulation, adventure, role-playing adventure, wargame, and action/arcade. Comparisons between computer and console games showed that players on computers tended to prefer more strategic games rather than action. [7]

Chris Crawford attempted to classify video games in his 1984 book The Art of Computer Game Design . Crawford focused on the player's experience and activities required for gameplay. [8] He wrote, "the state of computer game design is changing quickly. We would therefore expect the taxonomy presented [in this book] to become obsolete or inadequate in a short time." [9]

Nintendo, in bringing its Famicom system into the North American market as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, looked to avoid the issues with loss of publishing control that had led to the 1983 video game crash and to prevent unauthorized games from being released for the system. [10] To solve this, Nintendo required approval of all games for the NES. [2] To support this, Nintendo classified games into eight major series: Adventure, Action, Sports, Light-Gun, Programmable, Arcade, Robot, and Educational. The series description appeared on early "black box" covers and subsequently in the NES Player's Guide. [11] By the time of the Game Boy and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo had retired the Arcade, Light-Gun, Robot, Programmable, and Educational series, but added RPG & Simulation and Puzzle. [12] [13]

Consoles manufacturers that followed the NES followed similar behavior in requiring licenses to develop games for their systems. To assure they would get these licenses, console developers tended to stay with gameplay of previously published games for that console, thus causing groups of games within the same genre to grow. [2] [14] Subsequently, retailers displayed games grouped by genres, and market research firms found that players had preferences for certain types over others, based on region, and developers could plan out future strategies through this. [2]

With the industry expanding in the 1990s and budgets for video games began growing, large publishers like Electronic Arts began to form to handle the marketing and publication of games, both for consoles and personal computers. Targeting high-value, low-risk video game genres were key for some publishers, and small and independent developers were typically forced to compete by abandoning more experimental gameplay and settling into the same genres used by larger publishers. [2]

As hardware capabilities have increased, new genres have become possible, with examples being increased memory, the move from 2D to 3D, new peripherals, online functionalities, and location-based mechanics. [2] Experimental gameplay from indie game development drew more attention in the late 2000s and 2010s aided by independent digital distribution, as large publishers focused on triple-A titles were extremely risk-averse. [15] Through indie games, a revival of experimental gameplay had emerged, and several new genres have emerged since then. [2]


The use of "Doom clone" (red) versus "first-person shooter" (blue) over time Doom clone vs first person shooter.png
The use of "Doom clone" (red) versus "first-person shooter" (blue) over time

Due to "direct and active participation" of the player, video game genres differ from literary and film genres. [8] Though one could state that Space Invaders is a science fiction video game, author Mark J.P. Wolf wrote that such a classification "ignores the fundamental differences and similarities which are to be found in the player's experience of the game". [8] In contrast to the visual aesthetics of games, which can vary greatly, it is argued that it is interactivity characteristics that are common to all games. [1]

Like film genres, the names of video game genres have come about generally as a common understanding between the audience and the producers. [8] Descriptive names of genres take into account the goals of the game, the protagonist and even the perspective offered to the player. For example, a first-person shooter is a game that is played from a first-person perspective and involves the practice of shooting. [16] Whereas "shooter game" is a genre name, "first-person shooter" and "third-person shooter" are common subgenres of the shooter genre. [17] Other examples of such prefixes are real-time, turn based, top-down and side-scrolling.

Genre names may evolve over time. The platform game genre started as "climbing games", based on Steve Bloom's 1982 book Video Invaders, as they were inspired by games like Donkey Kong with ladders and jumping. [18] The same term was used by the US and UK press in 1983, including magazines Electronic Games and TV Gamer. [19] [20] First-person shooters were originally known as "Doom clones" in the years following 1993's Doom , while the term "first-person shooters" became more common by around 2000. [21] [22]

New genres emerge continuously throughout the history of video games, often due to the cross-pollination of ideas borrowed from different games into new ones. For example, the seminal text-based adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure directly inspired the Atari VCS game Adventure , but incorporating joystick control as in an action game rather than typed commands. Adventure served as the prototype of the action-adventure game genre that would be popularized by The Legend of Zelda . [23]

The target audience, underlying theme or purpose of a game are sometimes used as a genre identifier, such as with "Christian game" and "serious game" respectively. However, because these terms do not indicate anything about the gameplay of a video game, these are not considered genres. [2]


Video game genres vary in specificity, with popular video game reviews using genre names varying from "action" to "baseball". In this practice, basic themes and more fundamental characteristics are used alongside each other. [24]

A game may combine aspects of multiple genres in such a way that it becomes hard to classify under existing genres. For example, because Grand Theft Auto III combined shooting, driving and roleplaying in an unusual way, it was hard to classify using existing terms. The term Grand Theft Auto clone has been used to describe games mechanically similar to Grand Theft Auto III. [16] Similarly, the term roguelike has been developed for games that share similarities with Rogue. [25]

Elements of the role-playing genre, which focuses on storytelling and character growth, have been implemented in many different genres of video games. This is because the addition of a story and character enhancement to an action, strategy or puzzle video game does not take away from its core gameplay, but adds an incentive other than survival to the experience. [26]

In addition to gameplay elements, some games may be categorized by other schemes; such are typically not used as genres: [1]


According to some analysts, the percentage of each broad genre in the best-selling physical games worldwide is broken down as follows. [27] [28]

VGC top 100ESASta
Action 613412152725222922.526.9
Adventure 11247621017.87.9
Fighting 15105253555.87.8
Platform 1071094349
Puzzle 92610011
Racing 6613854663.35.8
Role-playing 1818257161215171212.911.3
Shooter 1118142224191327.520.9
Simulation 67504402
Sports 91917161213151311.711.1
Strategy 10783100214.33.7

In the last decade, puzzle games have declined when measured by sales, however, on mobile, where the majority of games are free-to-play, this genre remains the most popular worldwide. [29] [30]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Platformer</span> Video game genre

A platformer is a sub-genre of action video games in which the core objective is to move the player character between points in an environment. Platform games are characterized by levels with uneven terrain and suspended platforms of varying height that require jumping and climbing to traverse. Other acrobatic maneuvers may factor into the gameplay, such as swinging from vines or grappling hooks, jumping off walls, gliding through the air, or bouncing from springboards or trampolines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of video games</span>

The history of video games began in the 1950s and 1960s as computer scientists began designing simple games and simulations on minicomputers and mainframes. Spacewar! was developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student hobbyists in 1962 as one of the first such games on a video display. The first consumer video game hardware was released in the early 1970s. The first home video game console was the Magnavox Odyssey, and the first arcade video games were Computer Space and Pong. After its home console conversions, numerous companies sprang up to capture Pong's success in both the arcade and the home by cloning the game, causing a series of boom and bust cycles due to oversaturation and lack of innovation.

The video game crash of 1983 was a large-scale recession in the video game industry that occurred from 1983 to 1985, primarily in the United States. The crash was attributed to several factors, including market saturation in the number of video game consoles and available games, many of which were of poor quality. Waning interest in console games in favor of personal computers also played a role. Home video game revenue peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983, then fell to around $100 million by 1985. The crash abruptly ended what is retrospectively considered the second generation of console video gaming in North America. To a lesser extent, the arcade video game market also weakened as the golden age of arcade video games came to an end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Game controller</span> Device used with games or entertainment systems

A game controller, gaming controller, or simply controller, is an input device or input/output device used with video games or entertainment systems to provide input to a video game. Input devices that have been classified as game controllers include keyboards, mice, gamepads, and joysticks, as well as special purpose devices, such as steering wheels for driving games and light guns for shooting games. Controllers designs have evolved to include directional pads, multiple buttons, analog sticks, joysticks, motion detection, touch screens and a plethora of other features.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Video game remake</span> Closely adapted game

A video game remake is a video game closely adapted from an earlier title, usually for the purpose of modernizing a game with updated graphics for newer hardware and gameplay for contemporary audiences. Typically, a remake of such game software shares essentially the same title, fundamental gameplay concepts, and core story elements of the original game, although some aspects of the original game may have been changed for the remake.

A sports video game is a video game that simulates the practice of sports. Most sports have been recreated with video games, including team sports, track and field, extreme sports, and combat sports. Some games emphasize playing the sport, whilst others emphasize strategy and sport management. Some, such as Need for Speed, Arch Rivals and Punch-Out!!, satirize the sport for comic effect. This genre has been popular throughout the history of video games and is competitive, just like real-world sports. A number of game series feature the names and characteristics of real teams and players, and are updated annually to reflect real-world changes. The sports genre is one of the oldest genres in gaming history.

<i>Rampart</i> (video game) 1990 video game

Rampart is a 1990 video game released by Atari Games and Midway Games that combines the shoot 'em up, strategy, and puzzle genres. It debuted as an arcade game with trackball controls, and was ported to home systems. It had a limited US release in October 1990, and a wide release in early 1991. It was distributed in Japan by Namco.

An action-adventure game is a video game hybrid genre that combines core elements from both the action game and adventure game genres.

<i>Xevious</i> Vertical scrolling shooter arcade game released in 1983

Xevious is a vertically scrolling shooter arcade video game developed and published by Namco in 1982. It was released in Japan by Namco and in North America by Atari, Inc. Controlling the Solvalou starship, the player attacks Xevious forces before they destroy all of mankind. The Solvalou has two weapons at its disposal: a zapper to destroy flying craft, and a blaster to bomb ground installations and enemies. It runs on the Namco Galaga arcade system.

<i>Kung-Fu Master</i> (video game) 1984 video game

Kung-Fu Master, known as Spartan X in Japan, is a side-scrolling beat 'em up developed by Irem as an arcade video game in 1984, and distributed by Data East in North America. Designed by Takashi Nishiyama, the game was based on Hong Kong martial arts films. It is a loose adaptation of the Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao film Wheels on Meals (1984), called Spartan X in Japan, with the protagonist Thomas named after Jackie Chan's character in the film. The game is also heavily inspired by the Bruce Lee film Game of Death (1972), which was the basis for the game's concept. Nishiyama, who had previously designed the side-scrolling shooter Moon Patrol (1982), combined fighting elements with a shoot 'em up gameplay rhythm. Irem and Data East exported the game to the West without the Spartan X license.

<i>Combat</i> (video game) 1977 video game

Combat is a 1977 video game by Atari, Inc. for the Atari Video Computer System. In the game, two players controlling either a tank, a biplane, or a jet fire missiles at each other for two minutes and sixteen seconds. Points are scored by hitting the opponent, and the player with the most points when the time runs out wins. Variations on the gameplay introduce elements such as invisible vehicles, missiles that ricochet off of walls, and different playing fields.

<i>Commando</i> (video game) 1985 video game

Commando, released as Senjō no Ōkami in Japan, is a vertically scrolling run and gun video game released by Capcom for arcades in 1985. The game was designed by Tokuro Fujiwara. It was distributed in North America by Data East, and in Europe by several companies including Capcom, Deith Leisure and Sega, S.A. SONIC. Versions were released for various home computers and video game consoles. It is unrelated to the 1985 film of the same name, which was released six months after the game.

Fueled by the previous year's release of the colorful and appealing Pac-Man, the audience for arcade video games in 1981 became much wider. Pac-Man influenced maze games began appearing in arcades and on home systems. Pac-Man was the highest grossing video game for the second year in a row. Nintendo's Donkey Kong defined the platform game genre, while Konami's Scramble established scrolling shooters. The lesser known Jump Bug combined the two concepts into both the first scrolling platform game and the first platform shooter. Other arcade hits released in 1981 include Defender, Frogger, and the Galaxian sequel Galaga.

1980 saw the release of a number of games with influential concepts, including Pac-Man, Battlezone, Crazy Climber, Mystery House, Missile Command, Phoenix, Rally-X, Space Panic, Stratovox, Zork, Adventure, and Olympic Decathlon. The year's highest-grossing video game was Namco's arcade game Pac-Man, while the best-selling home system was Nintendo's Game & Watch. The Atari VCS also grew in popularity with a port of Space Invaders and support from new third-party developer Activision.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to video games:

A cooperative video game, often abbreviated as co-op, is a video game that allows players to work together as teammates, usually against one or more non-player character opponents (PvE). Co-op games can be played locally using one or multiple input controllers or over a network via local area networks, wide area networks, or the Internet.

In video gaming parlance, a conversion is the production of a game on one computer or console that was originally written for another system. Over the years, video game conversion has taken form in a number of different ways, both in their style and the method in which they were converted.

A side-scrolling video game is a game viewed from a side-view camera angle where the screen follows the player as they move left or right. The jump from single-screen or flip-screen graphics to scrolling graphics during the golden age of arcade games was a pivotal leap in game design, comparable to the move to 3D graphics during the fifth generation.

Light-gun shooter, also called light-gun game or simply gun game, is a shooter video game genre in which the primary design element is to simulate a shooting gallery by having the player aiming and discharging a gun-shaped controller at a screen. Light-gun shooters revolve around the protagonist shooting virtual targets, either antagonists or inanimate objects, and generally feature action or horror themes and some may employ a humorous, parodic treatment of these conventions. These games typically feature "on-rails" movement, which gives the player control only over aiming; the protagonist's other movements are determined by the game. Games featuring this device are sometimes termed "rail shooters", though this term is also applied to games of other genres in which "on-rails" movement is a feature. Some, particularly later, games give the player greater control over movement and in still others the protagonist does not move at all. On home computer conversions of light-gun shooters, mouse has been often an optional or non-optional replacement for a light gun.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Video games in Japan</span> Overview of video games in Japan

Video games are a major industry in Japan, and the country is considered one of the most influential in video gaming. Japanese game development is often identified with the golden age of video games and the country is home to many notable video game companies such as Nintendo, Sega, Taito, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Capcom, Square Enix, Konami, NEC, SNK and formerly Sony Computer Entertainment. Japan is currently the third largest video game market in the world after China and the United States.


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