Video game genre

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A science fiction-themed horizontally scrolling shooter, which is a specific type of shoot 'em up RosAsmGameSpace.png
A science fiction-themed horizontally scrolling shooter, which is a specific type of 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 (CGW), which had a "Reader Input Device" that drew from reader input. CGW initially only ran with three categories in 1981, Arcade, wargame, and adventure, but by 1989, had expanded its genre list to strategy, simulation, adventure, role-playing adventure, wargames, and action/arcade. Comparisons between computer and console games showed that players on computers tended to prefer more strategic games rather than arcade. [7]

Chris Crawford attempted to classify video games in his 1984 book The Art of Computer Game Design . Crawford primarily 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 used 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 in classifications for RPG & Simulation and Puzzle games. [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 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] [29]

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. [30] [31] [32]

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Atari 2600</span> Home video game console

The Atari 2600, initially branded as the Atari Video Computer System from its release until November 1982, is a home video game console developed and produced by Atari, Inc. Released in September 1977, it popularized microprocessor-based hardware and games stored on swappable ROM cartridges, a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976. The VCS was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge—initially Combat and later Pac-Man.

A platform game 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 that consist of 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, air dashing, gliding through the air, being shot from cannons, or bouncing from springboards or trampolines. Games where jumping is automated completely, such as 3D games in The Legend of Zelda series, fall outside of the genre.

<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 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 is the Magnavox Odyssey, and the first arcade video games are 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 game consoles and available games, many of which were of poor quality, as well as waning interest in console games in favor of personal computers. Home video game revenues 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 game market also weakened as the golden age of arcade video games came to an end.

<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 a game, including team sports, track and field, extreme sports, and combat sports. Some games emphasize actually 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>Frogger</i> 1981 video game

Frogger is a 1981 arcade action game developed by Konami and manufactured by Sega. In North America, it was released by Sega/Gremlin. The object of the game is to direct a series of frogs to their homes by crossing a busy road and a hazardous river.

<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.

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

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

Xevious is a vertically scrolling shooter video game developed and published by Namco for arcades in 1982. It was released in Japan and Europe 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>Paperboy</i> (video game) 1985 video game

Paperboy is an arcade action game developed and published by Atari Games and Midway Games, and released in 1985. The player takes the role of a paperboy who delivers a fictional newspaper called The Daily Sun along a suburban street on his bicycle. The arcade version of the game featured bike handlebars as the controller.

<i>Donkey Kong</i> (video game) 1981 arcade game

Donkey Kong is a 1981 arcade video game developed and published by Nintendo. As Mario, the player runs and jumps on platforms and climbs ladders to ascend a construction site and rescue Pauline from the giant gorilla Donkey Kong. It is the first game in the Donkey Kong series as well as Mario’s first appearance in a video game.

<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 game developed by Irem as an arcade 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 loosely adapted from the Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung 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> (Atari 2600) 1977 video game

Combat is a video game by Atari, Inc. for the Atari Video Computer System. It was one of the nine launch titles for the VCS in September 1977 and was included in the box with the system from its introduction until 1982. Combat is based on two earlier black-and-white coin-operated arcade video games produced by Atari: Tank in 1974 and Jet Fighter in 1975. Combat was programmed by Joe Decuir and Larry Wagner.

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

Commando, released as Senjō no Ōkami in Japan, is a vertical scrolling run-and-gun shooter 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 games in 1981 became much wider. Pac-Man influenced maze games began appearing in arcades and on home systems. Pac-Man was again the year's highest-grossing video game for the second year in a row. Nintendo released the arcade game Donkey Kong, which defined the platformer genre. Other arcade hits released in 1981 include Defender, Scramble, Frogger, and Galaga. The year's best-selling home system was Nintendo's Game & Watch, for the second year in a row.

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.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Side-scrolling video game</span> Video game genre

A side-scrolling video game, sometimes shortened to side-scroller, is a game in which the action is viewed from a side-view camera angle and 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.

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Video games are a major industry in Japan. Japanese game development is often identified with the golden age of video games, including Nintendo under Shigeru Miyamoto and Hiroshi Yamauchi, Sega during the same time period, Sony Computer Entertainment when it was based in Tokyo, and other companies such as Taito, Namco, Capcom, Square Enix, Konami, NEC, and SNK, among others.


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