On Genres of Games
I’ve spoken at length on the things that make a good game (for me) and while I’ve alluded to the whole discussion of genre, I’ve never really covered it at all (I don’t think). If I’ve done this before, well, I’m going to do it anyway.
There’s not so much a controversy as… well… the genres of games are frequently hard to peg down. They aren’t like books or movies in that you say, “Oh, this is Star Wars, so it goes in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section,” or, “This Terminator movie is going in the Action category.” A single game can be placed in multiple genres.
X-COM UFO Defense is a strategy game. There’s action in there, so I guess you could say it belongs in both categories. Assassin’s Creed is an action game, but there’s some simulation stuff in the later installments and it relies heavily on stealth approaches and has the flavor of an adventure game.
According to Wikipedia, “there is a lack of consensus in reaching accepted formal definitions for game genres”, but that we should be aware of certain constants like the approaches to overcoming obstacles. Let’s cover a few of the big genres, shall we?
Action – this is a massive umbrella and, due to it starting with an A, it tops the list. These types of games often require quick reflexes, accuracy, and timing. This particular category encompasses everything from fighting games to first-person shooters to platformers and more.
Action-Adventure – these games usually have far more puzzle solving than their Action brothers. These games tend to involve more exploration, item manipulation, and so forth. Stealth and survival horror games are considered a significant component of this category.
Adventure – these games do not tend to require much in the way of reflexes and demand more from the player in terms of puzzle solving and critical thinking. Sierra was quite the master of the “point-and-click” variety of adventure games with their Police, King, and Space Quest games.
Role-Playing – these games are often based around the concept of putting the player in the shoes of one or more adventurers and progressing through a storyline. Gameplay elements often used here range from statistical gain through experience points to individual character inventory maintenance. Whereas the experience gain has been adapted to other genres, it is maintained as the cornerstone of RPG development.
Simulation – these games are designed to simulate some form of reality, whether it be city-building, political maneuvering, or even life itself. Flight and racing games fall into this category.
Strategy – these games are typically where the player is given god-like control over an army or units and must skillfully deploy them to achieve victory. Some of the most popular games in this category use the 4X method: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. They can cover a long period of time and often require long-term, big picture perspectives.
These are the big categories of games where most of them actually fall. That said, there’s a few other categories that cover games that don’t exactly fit easily into the previously defined ones.
Music/Rhythm – well, it’s just as the name says. They’re games based around the challenge of matching the game note for note or step for step with your controller (whether it be a guitar or dance pad or whatever). These theoretically fit in Action as they rely on reflexes and timing to help you overcome the challenge, but as there’s typically a requirement for a fancy peripheral, I’m more than comfortable giving them a category all their own.
Puzzle – these games are a collection of puzzles. Puzzle Quest is a great example of combining RPGs and puzzle-like mini-games for its combat mechanic, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a puzzle game in and of itself. Puzzle games are a bit more casual than that and Minesweeper is a better example. This could easily fall under the Adventure category if the game actually had a story (like most “find-the-item” games).
It should be mentioned that a fair number of games fall into categories like “Casual” or “Educational”. These categories are based around the purpose of the game, not the primary method for addressing the obstacles or contents of the game. As I’m more interested in the gameplay aspect than the purpose of the game (be it to entertain or educate or whatever), I’m not going to discuss it at length here.
In the future I might discuss some of these genres in more depth than I have here, but for now, I think I’ve gone on long enough. The point here is that you can’t just say, “oh, this game is a ________ type of game” because many of them belong to multiple categories. Many do have a primary category though. In the case of Starcraft, it’s a strategy game and if we talk about Monkey Island, it’s an adventure game.
Until next time.
P.S. “Video game genre study differs markedly from literary or film genre study due to the direct and active participation of the audience, through the surrogate player‐character who acts within the game’s diegetic world, taking part in the central conflict of the game’s narrative.” – Mark J. P. Wolf, Genre and the Video Game