Understanding Video Game Genres
The dictionary defines the word genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” When extended to the realm of video games, a video game genre refers primarily to what players do in them. The word ‘primary’ is important here, because it is not uncommon for games to blend several video game genres in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience.
A Video Game Genre is a term that summarizes the core gameplay concepts and elements present within a game. Unlike movies & other media, a Video Game Genre is usually assigned to a game based mainly on its gameplay, not the story, narrative, or lore.
For example, an ‘Action’ genre game involves challenging a player’s reflexes or hand-eye coordination. A game like Apex Legends would fit perfectly here.
The classification of video games into genres began in the 1980s. Various authors used classifications to categorize games in their books, but the most prominent taxonomy was the one used by Nintendo. In order to maintain control over the quality of games released for their console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo came up with eight genres: Adventure, Action, Sports, Light-Gun, Programmable, Arcade, Robot, and Educational.
This list was later modified to remove some and add more genres, but it also introduced genres as a concept to the entire video game market. Gradually, sub-genres started popping up, building upon the foundation of their parent genres. This is where things started to get a little murky as several lists of genres and sub-genres were being maintained by different stakeholders as per their convenience and reasoning. We at Gameopedia have simplified and streamlined genre classification through our home-grown Game Taxonomy that is trusted by tech giants across the globe. In this article, we will cover some of the most popular genres to better understand the pulse of the video game market.
Why Do We Need Video Game Genres?
With thousands of video games coming out each year, a robust game taxonomy is necessary for consumers to identify what they would potentially buy and for sellers to recommend the most suitable games to their customers. Parents who are buying games for their younger children may like to avoid certain genres like ‘shooter’ or ‘fighting’, where some games might have gore and realistic violence . However, adult gamers might want to explore the same games for exactly the same reason. On the other side of the equation, online game stores and game streaming platforms can leverage classifications to improve game recommendations and create more personalized experiences for their customers.
On a broader scale, the popularity of certain genres helps developers and publishers identify the direction for their next project. Making video games is an unforgiving business and therefore being able to gauge the performance of various genres in a particular market is a powerful tool to minimize financial risk.
How Are Video Game Genres Defined?
There is no official body that classifies or defines game genres, although age rating boards do classify games based on the age groups they are considered to be appropriate for. Genre definitions are a mere understanding between the developers and the audience, and occur organically.
That being said, Gameopedia defines game genres as a term that describes the core gameplay concepts and elements within a game.
Modern video games almost always contain a healthy mixture of genres instead of focusing on a single one. This makes a game more enjoyable, rather than monotonously focusing on a single gameplay element. As a result, a single game may feature multiple genres, of which some are considered defining and the others sub-genres. The defining genre is the game’s main gameplay focus, while the other genres present to a lesser extent are the sub-genres. We will cover sub-genres, genre mixes, and descriptive genres in detail in our later blogs.
The List Of Video Game Genres
At Gameopedia, our game taxonomy team is exclusively made up of gamers. As a group, we exhaustively play games belonging to every genre across all platforms. Using our own 200+ years of collective gaming expertise and taking industry standards into consideration, we have come up with a set of genre definitions that cover the gamut of choices available in the market. In the next part of this article, we are going to explore genre definitions in detail.
But first, here’s the list of Video Game Genres:
- Simple Activity
- Virtual Life
Now let’s deep dive into each of these video game genres while looking at some of the games that fall under each category.
- Action: Possibly one of the oldest genres out there, Action games focus on challenging the player’s reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and reaction times. It is important to note that violence is not a criteria that’s necessary for a game to be classified into this genre. Games like Call of Duty, Spider Man: Miles Morales, Street Fighter, and Temple Run fit the ball.
- Adventure: Games in the adventure genre generally involve a player exploring the world within the game while experiencing the story through the eyes of a protagonist. Games such as those in the Tomb Raider series or the Uncharted series are prime examples. Adventure games need not necessarily rely on high-octane exhilarating moments but may focus more on thoughtful, philosophical, or relaxed endeavours. Games such as Gone Home are also adventure games.
- Driving: Games that are classified under this genre mainly involve players spending all or most of their time driving ground/water vehicles like cars, trucks, heavy machinery, trains, boats and ships to name a few. It’s important to note that the driving mechanic in the game must involve physics like gradual acceleration, gradual braking, and turning for example. Games such as Euro Truck Simulator 2, Train Simulator and World of Warships among others, are part of the ‘Driving’ genre.
- Educational: Every now and then, we come across games designed specifically with the purpose of helping players learn about certain subjects or a concept. They very well could focus on a historical event, reinforce development or could be entirely focused on helping players learn a particular skill. In order to make the experience more engaging, the game might involve a narrative or more game-like elements from other genres. Games such as Minecraft: Education Edition and Educational Games for Kids are notable examples.
- Exergaming: Games in the ‘Exergaming’ genre require the player to perform a physical activity to complete an objective, generally with the intent of making the player exercise. Some examples of objectives could include walking 5 kms or doing 15 push ups in order to progress. Most exergaming games are complemented by certain accessories or equipment that track fitness, body movement, and reaction times. Games such as Wii Fit, EA Sports Active, and Cyber ExerCycle fall under this category. Due to the integration of technology and physical activity, a game like Wii Fit has even been used in real-life physiotherapy treatment.
- Fighting: Games in this genre have a major focus on the players’ character fighting in real-time against one or several foes via hand-to-hand or weapon-based combat. Due to the core gameplay being heavily dependent on hand-eye coordination and reflexes, fighting games are always action games as well. Some of the more popular games of this genre belong to franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat.
- Flying: The ‘Flying’ genre mainly focuses on flying a vehicle, object, character, or even a creature/animal. Within such games, the player has to take into account some or all flying-related physics that could affect gameplay like gravity, inertia, roll, wind and resistance among others. Games like Tom Clancy’s HAWX, Freelancer, Flappy Birds, and Microsoft Flight Simulator can be classified as ‘Flying’ genre games.
- MMO: ‘Massively Multiplayer Online’ genre games are self-explanatory. The primary criteria is that it should require the player to play online simultaneously with numerous others (could be in the hundreds or even thousands). Some common features across MMOs include persistent online worlds, guilds, clans and parties, social interactions, raids and Player Vs Player combat. They could also have Guild Vs Guild/Realm Vs Realm combat and an ‘Endgame’ through which the player remains invested, despite having completed the main story or having reached the maximum level cap. Popular examples are World of Warcraft, EVE: Online, and Guild Wars 2.
- Music: ‘Music’ genre games are those where the main focus is on music-related activities. A player could be creating, manipulating, and composing music or could simply be playing, performing, or dancing to it. Music genre games like Guitar Hero have actually had a cultural impact with some publications even deeming it as a “Cultural Phenomenon”. Other popular entries in this category include the likes of SingStar and Amplitude.
- Party: ‘Party’ genre games refer to games that are intended to be played by a group of people together during a social gathering with family or friends. They are designed to be easy to play and simple to learn. Party games almost always include a local multiplayer that can be enjoyed by both players and spectators. Games such as those in the Mario Party series and Buzz! Series are some of the more well known games in this genre.
- Platform: This genre of games focuses on traversal between platforms suspended in the game environment while avoiding obstacles and enemies. Some modern games have also introduced more complex obstacles for the player to clear, with a few offering physics-based environments to make the levels more realistic. Games such as Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Meat Boy Forever, and Psychonauts are good examples of platform games.
- Puzzle: These games are for those who like to put their brain to use and find the thrill in solving puzzles. Whether simple adaptations of real-world puzzles like Sudoku or full-blown puzzle games meant to be explored in a video game environment like The Witness, there’s a lot of variety on offer. They test the player’s problem-solving skills including logic, pattern recognition, sequence solving, and word completion. Puzzle games continue to find millions of fans, especially on mobile phones where games like Candy Crush Saga are extremely popular.
- Racing: A ‘Racing’ game mainly focuses on racing a vehicle, animal, monster/creature or object, on land, water, air, or in space. The player usually races against an opponent, the clock, or both. The gameplay may be anything between a hardcore simulation or a simple arcade racing experience and can be based on real-life events and tracks like F1, or completely fantastical like Mario Kart. Some popular examples are the Need For Speed and Forza series.
- Real-World: This genre consists of digital adaptations of actual games that exist in the real world. Card games like Poker and UNO fall into this category. Other examples include games that are played with physical machines in the real world, such as Pinball and Slot Machines.
- Role-Playing: A Role-playing video game (RPG) primarily involves the player taking control of a character and progressing gradually by upgrading, levelling up, and/or increasing the character’s power as they progress through the game. Common features of RPGs include but are not limited to skill / ability unlocks, levelling up, experience or training systems, NPC interactions, and side-missions. Some examples are Final Fantasy VII, The Witcher, and Monster Hunter Stories.
- Shooter: One of the most popular video game genres is arguably the ‘Shooter’ genre. ‘Shooter’ games often require the player to aim and shoot at objects/enemies throughout all or most of the game. Games like the Call Of Duty series or the Battlefield series are commonly known ‘Shooter’ games. This genre is not just limited to shooting guns or weapons; a game like Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets or ‘Spellbreak’ where the player shoots magic qualifies as well.
- Simple Activity Game: The games in this genre offer a simple activity (such as drawing, dressing up, cooking and the like) as their core gameplay loop. They are meant to provide a stress-free and relaxed environment to the player, where there is a minimal to non-existent learning curve and very little challenge faced while playing. A lot of such games are developed for mobiles, allowing players to unwind and play on the go. Some prominent examples include Star Girl, Little Tailor 2, and Little Panda’s Bake Shop.
- Simulation: In 2010, Gran Turismo 5 was launched. It was the first game in the series to provide a Damage Model. It also featured weather effects that were available for specific circuits. Such games that are realistically modelled to simulate real-life (driving a race car or flying a plane for instance) or hypothetical (space exploration games) experiences/events taking into account most or all possible parameters, fall under this category. For example, in a simulation car driving game, the player will have to watch the fuel gauge, obey traffic rules, change gears and account terrain to name a few. Games like the aforementioned Gran Turismo 5, Star Citizen, Assetto Corsa, Farming Simulator Series, and Elite Dangerous are prime examples of the “Simulation” genre.
- Sports: From virtually playing a real or fictional sport to managing the activities around it sports games have always found a firm footing among gamers. Games like those in the F1 series or the FIFA series fall under this category.
- Strategy: Games under the ‘Strategy’ genre are primarily focused on measured planning and tactics to either defeat opponents or achieve a goal. Such games may present strategic, tactical, and even logistical or financial challenges. Some notable examples of this genre are the Age of Empires series, Total War series and the likes of X-COM 2, Cities: Skylines, SimCity: BuildIt, and Civilization V.
- Trivia: Games that fall under the ‘Trivia’ genre, just like their real-life counterparts, focus on asking players questions on various subjects or themes and scoring them based on the accuracy of their responses. Some well known trivia games are Scene It?, Trivia Crack, QuizUp, and Lights, Camera, Action.
- Virtual Life: ‘Virtual Life’ games are focused on virtually recreating the mundane, day-to-day activities of real-life. This usually involves the players’ character performing tasks like sleeping, eating, bathing, shopping, working, and visiting friends to name a few and leading a relatively full virtual life. The Sims Series of games is a very popular example in this genre.
The sheer number and variety of games released every year makes it tough to keep track of the evolving trends, including the rise of new video game genres. This is where a deep and nuanced taxonomy created by passionate gamers and industry veterans, like those at Gameopedia, can help. With a coverage of over 180,000+ games, we can help online retailers, game streaming platforms, and the like categorize games on their platforms more efficiently, thus improving discoverability, recommendations, and personalization.
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