Video Game Genres
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Video Game Genres
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Video games

A video game genre is a classification assigned to a video game based primarily on its gameplay (type of interaction) rather than visual or narrative features.[1][2] A video game genre is normally defined by a set of gameplay challenges considered independently of setting or game-world content, 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]

As with nearly all varieties of genre classification, the matter of a specific game's genre is open to subjective interpretation. An individual game may belong to several genres at once.[1]


In Tom Hirschfeld's 1981 book How to Master the Video Games, he divides the included games into broad categories in the table of contents: Space Invaders-type, Asteroids-type, maze, reflex, and miscellaneous.[5] The first two of these correspond to the still-used genres of fixed shooter and multidirectional shooter. Maze is also a modern genre.

The platform game genre is another that started out with a different name. After the release of Donkey Kong, there was a spate of games with ladders and jumping. Steve Bloom, in his 1982 book Video Invaders, labeled these "climbing games."[6] The same term was used by the US and UK press in 1983, including magazines Electronic Games and TV Gamer.[7][8]

Chris Crawford attempted to classify video games in his 1984 book The Art of Computer Game Design. In this book, Crawford primarily focused on the player's experience and activities required for gameplay.[9] Here, he stated that "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."[10] 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.

The video game industry expanded in the 1990s and both smaller and independent publishers had little chance of surviving. Because of this, game developers settled more into set genres that larger publishers and retailers could use for marketing.[2]


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. 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."[9] 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.[9] 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.[11] Whereas "shooter game" is a genre name, "first-person shooter" and "third-person shooter" are common subgenres of the shooter genre.[12] Other examples of such prefixes are real-time, turn based, top-down and side-scrolling. Genre names are not fixed and may change over time because of the nature of audience-producer agreement on genre naming. One of the best known examples of such changes is with the waning of "Doom clones", initially used for games like 1993's Doom, into "first-person shooters" over the next several years with the latter becoming most predominate for the genre by around 2000.[13]

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.[14]

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.[11] Similarly, the term roguelike has been developed for games that share similarities with Rogue.[15]

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.[16]

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

  • By platform: generally to the nature of the computer hardware that the game is played on and not the specific branding. This would include game genres like mobile games for smartphone, tablet computers, or other similar portable devices; and browser games that can be played in a web browser. Identification of the type of hardware a game is played on implied certain limits to the type of gameplay that is available; a mobile game will typically lack as much action compared to a game playable on a home console or computer due to limitations on player input.
  • By mode: referring to whether a game is single player, multiplayer, or variations on that, including massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, cooperative games, player versus environment (PvE) or player versus player (PvP) games, and so forth.
  • By narrative: Classifying video games by their narrative style, such as science fiction or fantasy, is typically not used within the field, with the key exception of horror games, which broadly cover any game dealing with elements of horror fiction.


According to some analysts, the percentage of each broad genre in the best-selling physical games worldwide is broken down as follows.[17][18][19]

Genre Softalk


VGC top 100 ESA Sta
1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2016 2017 2018
Action 61 3 4 12 15 27 25 22 29 22.5 26.9
Adventure 11 2 4 7 6 2 1 0 1 7.8 7.9
Fighting 15 10 5 2 5 3 5 5 5.8 7.8
Platform 10 7 10 9 4 3 4 9
Puzzle 9 2 6 1 0 0 1 1
Racing 6 6 13 8 5 4 6 6 3.3 5.8
Role-playing 18 18 25 7 16 12 15 17 12 12.9 11.3
Shooter 11 1 8 14 22 24 19 13 27.5 20.9
Simulation 6 7 5 0 4 4 0 2
Sports 9 19 17 16 12 13 15 13 11.7 11.1
Strategy 10 7 8 3 1 0 0 2 1 4.3 3.7
Misc 4 7 7 12 7 8 9 8 4.1 4.6


  1. ^ a b c d Apperley, Thomas H. (2006). "Genre and game studies" (PDF). Simulation & Gaming. 37 (1): 6-23. doi:10.1177/1046878105282278. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-05. Retrieved .
  2. ^ a b c Adams, Ernest (2009-07-09). "Background: The Origins of Game Genres". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 2014-12-17. Retrieved .
  3. ^ Adams, Ernest; Andrew Rollings (2006). Fundamentals of Game Design. Prentice Hall. p. 67. ISBN 9780133435719.
  4. ^ Harteveld, Casper (2011-02-26). Triadic Game Design: Balancing Reality, Meaning and Play. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 71. ISBN 1849961573. Retrieved .
  5. ^ Hirschfeld, Tom (November 1981). How to Master the Video Games. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0553201642.
  6. ^ Bloom, Steve (1982). Video Invaders. Arco Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 978-0668055208.
  7. ^ "The Player's Guide to Climbing Games". Electronic Games. 1 (11): 49. January 1983. Archived from the original on 2016-03-19. Retrieved .
  8. ^ "Reviews Explained: The Game Categories". TV Gamer. London: 76. March 1983.
  9. ^ a b c Wolf, Mark J.P. (2008). The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to Playstation and Beyond. ABC-CLIO. p. 259. ISBN 031333868X. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Chris, Crawford (1982). "A Taxonomy of Computer Games". The Art of Computer Game Design (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-10-15. Retrieved .
  11. ^ a b Lecky-Thompson, Guy W. (2008-01-01). Video Game Design Revealed. Cengage Learning. p. 23. ISBN 1584506075. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Thorn, Alan (2013-05-30). Game Development Principles. Cengage Learning. pp. 4-5. ISBN 1285427068. Retrieved .
  13. ^ Arsenault, Dominic (2009). "Video Game Genre, Evolution and Innovation". Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture. 3 (2): 149-176.
  14. ^ Egenfeldt-Nielson, Simon; Smith, Jonas Heide; Tosca, Susana Pajares (2013-04-27). Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 1136300422. Retrieved .
  15. ^ "ManaPool Guide to Roguelikes". ManaPool. 2010-11-21. Archived from the original on 2014-11-06. Retrieved .
  16. ^ Clements, Ryan (2012-12-12). "RPGs Took Over Every Video Game Genre". IGN. Archived from the original on 2014-12-08. Retrieved .
  17. ^ Lessard, Jonathan (2015). "Early Computer Game Genre Preferences (1980-1984)". Proceedings of the 2015 DiGRA International Conference. 12. Retrieved 2019.
  18. ^ "Essential facts about the computer and video game industry" Entertainment Software Association report, 2016, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-12-27. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ Statista 2019

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