Essay:Video game genres

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There are many, many video games out there, of many different genres,[1] and this article is written for the benefit of people who think that all video games are pointlessly violent[2] or mindlessly insipid.[3] (They certainly aren't all marketed to kids.) They don't all fall neatly into any specific category, but here's a list of some that many games fall into one or more of:

Puzzle games[edit]

Games that primarily require you to solve puzzles or problems, whether presented as a simple jigsaw puzzle, a board of pieces, a path full of rolling balls, or as something more complex. They represent a major but very low-key sector of the game market. Most, though not all, such games tend to be rather abstract and a bit repetitive in play, but well-written puzzle games are remarkably addictive and can frequently be used as time-fillers in ways more concrete games can't. In some variations, there is a time limit, requiring them to be performed as quickly as possible. Although they aren't necessarily high profile, games like Bejeweled, the Bloons TD series, Tetris, Angry Birds, and Snood are among the most popular games of all time, many beating high-grossing strategy and sports games for sheer market penetration. They are also popular programming exercises, to the point of often being shipped as example code with programming languages and code libraries. More high-profile puzzle games include the Portal series (a first person puzzle platformer) and Braid (a 2D platformer).


Sometimes known as "shmups" these days. This is pretty obvious -- games where shooting things is the main point. Space Invaders is probably the oldest well-known game of this genre. Sub-genres include:

First person shooters[edit]

A screenshot from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. As with most first-person shooters, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was notable for pushing graphical boundaries such as the use of deferred renderingWikipedia which allowed for more realistic dynamic lighting.

FPS, as pioneered by Battlezone and brought to greatest notoriety with Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom, where the player has no direct view of their on-screen avatar and instead sees through the avatar's eyes. This genre is currently among the biggest in modern gaming. High budget FPS games tend to also push the technological boundaries of gaming, and therefore of home computing, with ever-increasing graphics and processing demands that nothing accessible outside of gaming will top, with blockbusters such as Activision's flagship Call of Duty franchise popularising cinematic sequences and plots featuring historical wars and geopolitical drama in later games, though it has also gained criticism for (implicitly) promoting jingoism and cameos from real-world crackpots like Oliver North among others. Crysis (2007) is especially notorious for being way ahead of its time (and still at the forefront as of 2013) in terms of advanced graphics while open-world first person games like Far Cry 3 tend to put a big strain on computers due to the scale implicit in their open-world nature. The genre's origin is a little obscure, but may have begun with Maze Wars on Xerox's Smalltalk-based workstations of the 70s. This genre has a high-end competitive scene (as in, electronic sports or e-sports) which involves fast-paced movement and twitch-shooting (Quake, Unreal Tournament, Counter Strike) or tactical, often class-based, team-working (Team Fortress, Rainbow Six, SWAT).

Third person shooters[edit]

Similar in gameplay to first person shooters, except the camera rests directly behind the character or on their shoulder rather than being in the POV of the character's eyes. Notable examples include the Dead Space, Gears of War, The Last of Us, Mass Effect, Max Payne, Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, and Splatoon series. Some FPS games, however, have an option to play in third person, and some games have cameras switching to a third person view when an event is triggered such as taking cover (especially as hiding behind a wall in first-person may negatively impact gameplay due to camera constraints). Due to differences in the camera, players can see their environment around them more clearly, and the gameplay usually compensates for the greater vision.

Rail shooters[edit]

An arcade-type subset of shoot-em-ups where the player has little or no direct control over the player-character's movements, focusing instead on specific targets. The most famous of such shooters on home consoles are the first two Star Fox games developed by Nintendo; the origin of the genre are games like Operation Wolf, Revolution X, and the sniper-themed Silent Scope that were originally designed for specialized arcade hardware.

Scrolling shooters[edit]

Arcade-like shooters where the player controls the character on a two-dimensional screen as the scenario scrolls in a certain direction, usually from top to down or from right to left, with enemies occasionally traveling across the screen and firing against the player. This is one of the oldest genres, with one of the first games being Namco's Galaxian in 1979, which was popular enough to get a sequel of sorts in the form of Galaga, and with representative games including R-Type, 1941 and Aerofighters. There is also a sub-genre, the "bullet hell vertical shmups" (name is pretty self-explanatory; weaving through intricate patterns of slow bullets with precise movement is usually much more important than shooting), spearheaded by the Touhou series, that has an avid niche following among hardcore gamers.


Similar to interactive fiction but more open-ended, adventure games provide a large sandbox world with numerous possible narratives and encounters with both friendly and enemy characters. Though traditionally associated with games derived from sword-and-sorcery RPGs (like Ultima, for example), there are others -- Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt are set in criminal undergrounds, Assassin's Creed is set in simulated historical environments, and the little-known System's Twilight is an abstract, puzzle-based adventure set in a computer system. The earliest adventure games had no combat (with text adventures having the player enter actions and graphical adventure games such as Myst using an interface that involves interacting with objects on the screen), though action-adventure (see below) games, such as The Legend of Zelda, do have combat, hence the "action" part of the name. The adventure genre is also known to include Interactive fiction (like King of Dragon Pass), which are largely text-based, as well as Action-adventures (like God of War), which try to combine elements from action games. A rather prominent sub-genre is the point-and-click adventure game, which is represented mostly by classic 2D games like those of the Monkey Island series (and other early LucasArts titles), or indie games such as Machinarium.

Console/computer RPGs[edit]

Named because of their borrowing of some elements of traditional tabletop RPGs, such as stats that increase over time, but other than that don't share much other than a name and are often more scripted and less open-ended than tabletop RPGs, though the amount of open-endedness varies between series. Examples include Fallout, which is set in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, Pokémon, which takes place in a more modern setting than most other Japanese console RPGs aside from more recent Final Fantasy installments, and features random kids traveling through various towns and wilderness areas collecting monsters and making them fight, Final Fantasy, which has various settings and plots depending on the individual game (the first five were generally medieval settings, VI had a steampunk setting, and VII introduced a more modern setting, and after that the settings were more varied) but have shared elements such as the creatures in the games and a man named Cid (who despite the name is a different person every time) whose importance varies between games, and Dragon Quest, which has generally had a medieval European setting in its main installments and is hugely popular in its home country of Japan but not as much elsewhere.

Action RPGs[edit]

Named because of their replacement of turn-based combat with real-time combat (hence the action part). Examples include Mana, Ys, Tales, and Star Ocean. Not all action RPGs play the same; for example, the former two listed here have combat integrated seamlessly with exploration (i.e. the player character(s) fight enemies while exploring locations and do so on the same screen) while the latter two switch to a separate screen during enemy encounters (i.e. encountering enemies interrupts exploration temporarily until the battle ends or the player runs). More western varieties of action RPGs are the top-down view hack & slash games like the Diablo series, the Torchlight series, Titan Quest and Path of Exile. Other western action RPGs are either third (e.g. Deus Ex) or first person (e.g. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic) and like first person shooters often come close to or push the boundaries of home computing. Those include the notoriously graphically demanding Witcher series, open-world RPGs like Fallout 3 and the Elder Scrolls series, and squad-based games like the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series. There is some potential in Action RPGs for competition in games that have an online component like Dark Souls or those that rely entirely on the online, such as MMORPGs.

Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs[edit]

MMORPGs involve many server worlds packed with many thousands of questing, leveling, chatting and player killing gamers. They are very time-consuming and addicting, giving them some potential for controversy in terms of taking over people's lives. Some prominent examples would be World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Guild Wars, Everquest, EVE, Phantasy Star Online and Runescape.


Action-based games often divided into levels that involve exploring said levels. 2D Platformers are games set in a two-dimensional, mazelike world, either on a single screen or scrolling to show a much larger world. 3D Platformers take the formula of 2D platformers and add more directions for the player character to move in, and often have more open-ended levels instead of forcing the player on a set path in a single direction from one end of the level to another, though less open-ended 3D platformers still give the characters more room to move around. Examples: the main installments in the Super Mario series[4], Lode Runner, the main installments of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, N: The Way Of The Ninja. Platformers built as sandboxed action-adventure games (rather than games with discrete stages) are sometimes known as Metroidvanias, from two of the earliest and most popular games of the genre [5].

2D platformers[edit]

These games are named as such because their action takes place on a single plane, with the presentation referred to as sidescrolling. Originally they used 2D, sprite-based graphics, though now there exist 2D platformers with 3D, polygonal graphics, which are occasionally referred to as 2.5D due to the fact that they combine 2D gameplay with 3D graphics. Examples include the main installments of the Super Mario series up to the release of the Nintendo 64 (with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World being among the more popular and well known 2D installments) and the newer New Super Mario Bros. games, which use 3D graphics, the Kirby series (another Nintendo platformer) which notably always has 2D platformer gameplay in the main installments (though newer ones have 3D graphics), the Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Genesis (with the trilogy of games on this system being well known examples of the genre), Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS (the last of which uses 3D graphics), LittleBigPlanet, which uses HD 3D graphics, and many games in general for 2D systems. After 3D platformers became more common than 2D platformers on home consoles, 2D platformers still found a home on portable consoles, even after they became capable of displaying 3D graphics themselves. 2D platformers on handheld systems are often given 3D graphics, though there still exist fully 2D games on handhelds.

  • Platform hell: 2D platformers with a tendency to place numerous obstacles, tricky jumps, and other platformer tricks in the player's way. Typically these are not released commercially and tend to be either indie or freeware games such as I Wanna Be the Guy, Super Meatboy or VVVVVV (those latter two both have commercial releases on multiple platforms, so are quite popular), but some are fan-made hacks of standard platformers such as Kaizo Mario World and Super Kitiku World (often called Brutal Mario by fans, as kitiku is another way to romanize the Japanese word kichiku, which more or less translates to "brute"); as can be guessed, hacks of Nintendo's Super Mario World are a popular source of such games when they aren't made completely from scratch.

3D platformers[edit]

This sub-genre has characters exploring an area that can be navigated more openly instead of on a flat plane, with a few of the earlier examples including Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64 as well as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon on the original PlayStation. Typically platformers on newer systems will be 3D, though 2D platformers are still fairly common on portable systems even after they became capable of displaying 3D graphics and are often (though not always) rendered in 3D.

Rhythm/Performance games[edit]

Though seemingly only becoming popular since c. 2000, rhythm games are actually among the older genres, dating to the late 70s with games like Milton Bradley's Simon. Games such as this are based on replicating a performance directed by the computer and have, among other things, become a major venue of exposure for newer and independent musicians. Examples: Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and of course Simon

Simulation games[edit]

These games simulate environments or objects, and are widely used for both recreational and educational purposes. Except for combat simulators, most don't have defined missions or endpoints; some simulate entire communities and worlds and are used as social venues. A few are more abstract, simulating computer operations and the like. Examples: Microsoft Flight Simulator, Desert Bus, FlightGear, Second Life, Core War

Strategy games[edit]

Similar to table games such as Risk, Diplomacy, or Warhammer 40,000, generally simulating various types of military and tactical operations between two or more opposing parties. They can be broadly divided into turn-based and real-time (the latter of which sometimes share some aspects of first-person shooters). Examples include Rainbow Six, America's Army, Xconq, Defcon, GNUChess, X-COM, Advance Wars as well as all Tower Defense games.

  • Tactical RPGs: Basically strategy games (usually turn-based, but real-time examples exist) with the stat systems of computer or console RPGs. Likely created by Nintendo's Intelligent Systems division with its Fire Emblem series, which is one of the earliest examples. Other examples: Shining Force, Final Fantasy Tactics, several series by Nippon Ichi Software.
  • 4X: An usually turn-based strategy genre that derives its name from the four main tasks the player must perform: X-plore the world, find places to X-pand your nation with more cities or colonies, X-ploit the resources of your newly gained territory to improve your cities and your nation, and harness everything you have built to X-terminate the other players. The Civilization saga plus its spinoff Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri are the most representative games of this kind.
  • Mode-switching Turn-based Strategy: Marked by having two modes between which the game switches depending on the actions of the player during his/her turn. There is an entirely turn-based overland mode where you manage resources, troop movements and diplomacy and a battlefield mode where all the combat between troops is carried out. This combat can be completely turn-based like in Heroes of Might & Magic or real time, often with a pausing feature, like in Lords of Magic, Birthright: The Gorgon's Alliance and Total War.
  • Roguelikes: This sub-genre requires the enhancing of a game's strategy aspects by introducing randomization of factors and, with enough failure, permanent death of whatever the player controls. Early examples were often played exclusively in ASCII graphical format. This genre includes such unforgiving games as NetHack, Angband and the notoriously, nail-bitingly hard Dwarf Fortress (Adventure Mode). Some RPGs like the Diablo and Torchlight series include a permanent death mode as well along with their inherent randomization. Some newer games are Tales of Maj'Eyal, Dungeons of Dredmor and FTL: Faster Than Light.
  • Real Time Strategy: In RTS games all the resource management, troop manufacturing infrastructure and battling is done in real time on one map. Some prominent examples would be Warcraft, Stronghold, Homeworld, Age of Empires, Supreme Commander, Cossacks and Command & Conquer. This is another genre that like FPS has the potential for high-end competitive play and drives the e-sports scene. Skills required to hone would be fast fingers aka hand-eye coordination (determines Actions Per Minute), strategic and tactical thinking, micro-management control of troop movements and macro-management of infrastructure and resources. Notably, the Starcraft series has been a sort of national sport in South Korea and has become the major well-funded and respectable e-sport of the world as of 2013. Other RTS that have also achieved a major competitive scene with large prize pools in international tournaments are MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) like Defense of the Ancients 2 and League of Legends.
  • Grand Strategy : In Grand Strategy games, the player controls a pre-made country, often in a historical setting, and guides it's diplomacy, economy, and military. Oftentimes these games are in real time, but time can be slowed and stopped at will. The most well-known developer in this genre is Paradox Development Studios, who make notoriously hard to get into ultra-realistic historical strategy games. Examples include Crusader Kings II (Medieval), Europa Universalis IV (Renaissance to Enlightenment, Victoria II (Victorian era), and Hearts of Iron IV (World War II).

Racing games[edit]

Screenshot of SuperTuxKart 0.9 showing Tux at the "Gran Paradisio Island" racetrack.

Exactly what they sound like -- players racing cars, snowboards, pod racers, and the like to be first in a competition against the computer or other players. An interesting aspect of earlier racing games that was originally borrowed from arcade games is the "checkpoint", a milestone that must be passed within a certain amount of time to continue the course; though the need to add more quarters is not required on personal gaming systems, the trope stands. The need for checkpoints was later de-emphasized in games developed primarily for home computers and consoles, though a form of breadcrumb-style checkpoint mechanic as popularised by Midnight Club and the street racing missions in Grand Theft Auto would later see extensive use especially in open-world racers which previously used neon-style barriers to denote track boundaries. A common component of racing games is a tuning feature, wherein players either make their existing vehicles permanently perform better by obtaining upgrades or by adjusting parameters to trade one form of performance for another. Another common trope is the use of licensed vehicles and racetracks, obviously to add to the realism and to give players something familiar to play with rather than a generic set of wheels, though some franchises such as Burnout and most especially Grand Theft Auto make do with fictional lookalikes especially considering the series' violent content which car manufacturers wish not to be associated with; Ferrari is a notable example as they are notoriously strict with their brand image and would file cease-and-desist orders against unauthorised portrayals or modifications of their cars, hence why they rarely appear in racing games apart from circuit racing simulations such as Gran Turismo.

The racing genre is further divided according to realism, the least realistic being kart racers whose emphasis is more on simple fun for all ages and a selection of recognisable mascots as well as a generous dose of (mildly violent) vehicular combat, the most prominent of which is Mario Kart. Arcade racers like Need for Speed sit between realism and accessibility, offering Holywood-style handling and flamboyant if not campy themes of illegally racing expensive luxury sports cars while still being grounded to a real-world setting. Racing simulators such as Assetto Corsa, Project CARS, Richard Burns Rally and DiRT Rally take things even more seriously with meticulous handling models and physics as far as the host hardware allows (it helps that professional race car drivers like Sébastien LoebWikipedia practice on racing sims to further hone their skills even at home), though some simulators are a touch more lenient with handling and vehicle control in order to attract a more mainstream audience.

Examples: Burnout, Gran Turismo, Mario Kart, Need for Speed, Pole Position, Star Wars: Racer, and SuperTuxKart.

Sports games[edit]

Also exactly what they sound like -- video games derived from real-life sports. These range from intensive simulations (Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer) to quick, stylized versions (NBA Jam, Pong, Punch-Out!!) to abstract or alternate-setting games (Shufflepuck Café) and cover a very wide range. The very first fully graphical video game, William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two, was one of these.

Life simulation games[edit]

Players are put in the shoes of a character who's just living his or her life instead of having to save the world or the like. Gameplay somewhat resembles a console RPG without combat. Examples include Harvest Moon, in which players play as a farmer who is given a farm and aspires to make it prosper, and Animal Crossing, which involves a human moving into a town inhabited by sentient animals and has no particular goal, and notably uses the game system's built-in clock to alter in-game events; for example, snow covers the ground in January while insects are more active in warmer months.

Resource management games[edit]

These games put you in the task of building something, such as a theme park or a corporation, with limited resources that must be obtained somehow. These games sometimes wind up with simulation models that are so sophisticated, they end up being used for serious academic purposes. The most famous games of this genre are those of the SimCity series, which focus on building a city with taxpayer money. Other examples include Capitalism II, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, Zoo Tycoon, and going full-circle, Game Dev Tycoon.

Fighting games[edit]

Usually based on martial arts competitions, though some of them are of the side-scrolling beat 'em up adventure variety. Some examples of beat 'em ups are the late 1980s Double Dragon, Streets of Rage and Final Fight. All-out brawlers often include aspects of platformers, examples being the Super Smash Bros. series, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and Power Stone. Most fighting games, though, are largely one-on-one games based on boxing and martial arts matches, examples being 2D fighters like Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat and Blazblue or 3D fighters like Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur. Along with FPSes, fighting games (particularly the notoriously bloody 1990s Mortal Kombat series) have been among the biggest lightning rods for violence-based controversy. Like FPS and RTS, such 1-on-1 type fighting games have the potential for high-end competitive play and are part of e-sports. The largest prize pools typically go for games developed by Capcom, such as Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom games.

Arcade games[edit]

A rather nebulous supergenre; though difficult to generalize, as a general rule "arcade" games are those that are designed around fast action and quick reflexes. Arcade as a style tends to be rather short on complex plots, but very well-suited for racing, puzzles, fast sports, maze/platform games, and shoot-em-ups.

Social network games[edit]

Another supergenre, based around trying to get cooperation between large numbers of people. They usually exist as browser-based games, and mostly rely on using a social network to communicate with other people and cooperating to progress through the story. Examples within this genre include FarmVille, and SimCity Social. This genre tends to receive a negative reputation by some individuals, who complain about the constant message spam from these games, along with the low general quality of most games within the genre.[6]


  1. A humourous look at the various genres can be found in Charlie Brooker's spin-off show Gameswipe.
  4. Originally these were 2D platformers, as with the Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World games. Later on, however, Super Mario 64 transitioned the series into a 3D format later used in Super Mario Sunshine and the Super Mario Galaxy games, while the New Super Mario Bros. games use a style similar to the older games in the series with 3D graphics rather than being 3D platformers like other recent Mario games.
  5. Those being Metroid and Castlevania, though most of the earlier entries (i.e. before Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the first game to be released after the series was redone in a Metroid-like style) in the latter series don't fit in this category, being regular 2D platform games
  6. Ars Technica article SimCity Social is an insult to its namesake.