Genre is a classification or categorisation term that essentially describes different types of various entertainment media (Oxland, 2004, p. 24-43). For example, book genres include romance, western, thriller, mystery, horror, or fantasy; and movies can be classified as action, romantic comedy, drama, or sci fi. Games are equally classified into genre; however the results of this categorisation are more flexible than other traditional media, and often depend on personal preference based on a range of differing characteristics. The list below gives one example of a genre classification scheme.
Role-playing Games (RPGs)
RPGs often have a fantastical (non-realistic) setting with a focus on character development, inventory management (i.e. gathering equipment and swapping with existing items to optimise attack and defense capabilities) and questing. Often many side quests are available through the game, whilst the player moves towards the final goal (that is, the motivator for why the player character is travelling such as vengeance, or to protect the land). RPGs are often set in a fantasy medieval-style world, however this is not always the case and alternatives such as space or futuristic settings are also available such as Mass Effect (2007) and Planescape: Torment (1999). The traditional (archetypal) RPG usually involves different races (e.g. dwarves, elves, orcs, humans), and classes (e.g. fighter, priest, mage, archer). Baldur’s Gate (1998) is a typical example of a fantasy RPG.
Incidentally, RPGs can be broken into the subsets of Western and Japanese styles. Western RPGs often follow Dungeon and Dragons rules and mechanics (Crigger, undated), however Japanese RPGs (J-RPGs) usually do not allow player creation and customisation, and are commonly cast with androgynous characters, impressive outfits and weapons and over the top battle scenes and monsters (Allison, 2009). A typical J-RPG is Dragon Quest (series: 1986-2009).
Action/Adventure (subsets: action adventure, point and click adventure, platformer, hack and slash, survival horror)
This is a particular difficult genre to classify as there are many subsets. Action games are the seminal computer game type (Schiffler, 2006), however this genre has evolved to incorporate adventure themes, and I think that the two genres are more often blended into the “action adventure” genre. Even so, this blended genre has a number of subsets depending on game theme/setting, gameplay mechanics and goals.
God of War (2005) is an action game with adventure elements (an underlying story and end goal); however it is typically branded as a “hack and slash” as the majority of the gameplay involves violent fighting with little finesse. Escape from Monkey Island (2000) is a “point and click adventure” from the seminal Monkey Island series which are considered niche/enthusiast games and have cult following (Foiles, 2010).
Strategy Games (subsets: RTS/turn-based, god-games)
Strategy Games require the player to think and plan in order to win. There is also often a focus on harvesting resources to advance through a series of periods or eras. There are a number of game types that fall into this broad genre. Real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based are two direct subsets of the strategy genre and both can be referred to as god-games (Schiffler, 2006). The setting of the game doesn’t matter – it could be a historical representation, a futuristic setting, or a completely fantastical one. Typical strategy games include Age of Empires (1999), Starcraft (1998) and Civilisation (1991).
Puzzles require luck, skill and planning and are usually solvable and follow a repetitive pattern. Traditional non-computer game styles like board and card games also fall within this genre, as do party/mini games as these are generally just compilations of short puzzles (e.g. Wario Smooth Moves (2006).
Shooters (subsets: FPS, 3PS, rail)
Again this is a genre that could perhaps be fit within the action genre, however there are so many on the market these days, I feel they deserve their own genre. Shooters can be either third-person perspective, first-person (FPS), or rail/sliding (“shoot ’em up”). Third-person shooters often incorporate adventure elements (such as puzzle-solving) however the focus remains on using projectile weapons to defeat a swathe of enemies and bosses. FPS games are extremely popular for multiplayer through LAN parties (where players connect with their computers to a local area network), or online console gaming via Playstation Network or Xbox Live. Call of Duty (2003) is an archetypal FPS. Rail shooters have had more popularity in Western society as they are in, for example, Japan (Edge Magazine, 2008). A seminal rail shooter is Radiant Silvergun (1998).
The main premise of a racing game is to use a vehicle or transportation means to win a race or series of races. Gran Turismo (1997) is a typical car racing game, however Mario Kart 64 (1996) is a racing game that incorporates adventure elements (in that you can pick up items to gain benefits or attack fellow racers). Some racing games incorporate a management theme where you can amass, build or customise your cars, for example Grand Prix Manager (1984).
Fighting (side scrolling, arcade)
I break this genre into two subsets: side scrolling (“beat ’em up”) and arcade fighters. Side scrolling fighters were popular in the 80s and could perhaps be also classed as a hack and slash alternative (see action/adventure genre) as they generally only require a punch or kick attack to defeat enemies. Streets of Rage (1991) is a seminal side scrolling fighter and was paid homage to with the creation of the “Beats of Rage” engine used in many similar games (Senile Team, undated).
Arcade fighters are those commonly seen in video game arcades and were ported to consoles. Tekken (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1992) are both seminal examples of arcade fighters. These games require you to fight and defeat a series of challengers depending on the difficulty setting and usually require complex button combinations to complete spectacular moves. Multiplayer elements are almost always included to encourage the player to fight against another person rather than just challenge the computer.
Sports and sports management (individual sports, events e.g. Olympics-style)
Whilst Oxland (2006) argues that fighters and racers fall within the sports genre, I feel that they can stand on their own sufficiently to be their own genre. In my opinion, sports games are those that reflect real sports games that occur in real life such as football, cricket, soccer, and events such as Olympics and other world games. Sports games fall into two subsets: pure sports games where the point is to play a match (or event) and beat the other team, for example NBA Jam (1993); and sports management, where the player essentially ‘owns’ the sports team and must make decisions about how to manage the team such as Championship Manager 93 (1993). In this case, there is a cross over to the world management subgenre (see below).
Health and wellbeing (exercise, cooking, weight management)
These games are ones where the goal is some kind of non-game benefit, such as fitness, weight loss, giving up smoking, or developing healthy eating habits. They often incorporate other genre elements, such as puzzles or missions, but due to their offline goal, are quite different to other genres. Wii Fit (2007) is a typical health and wellbeing game.
Educational (learn languages, traditional education games used in schooling or for training purposes)
These are games whose primary purpose is to teach. These are traditionally seen in school or training institutions, but we are now seeing more of this game type available at videogame stores. My Japanese Coach (2008), a game that teaches the player to speak, read and write Japanese is a good example of this paradigm shift.
Games where the underlying purpose is to recruit members or to advertise a product/service can be given a genre of their own, even though they incorporate elements from other genres. In this case the reason for the game is the way we classify this genre. America’s Army (2002-09) is perhaps the most famous recruitment game.
Virtual worlds/world management
This genre could also be called “time wasters”! These are open-ended games or worlds where the point is social interaction, world building, or micro-management. These games usually allow the player to develop their own goals, however many will have inherent achievements. For example, Animal Crossing (2001) gives the expectation that you will make money and pay off your house until you have the biggest house possible – however, this is really a personal choice in terms of your gameplay goals. You may just be happy fishing and bug-catching in order to capture everything for your town’s museum.
The Sims (2000) is a great example of a micro-management game. These games are sometimes referred to as “life simulation” games – often it feels like all you do in that game is feed your sim, have them go to the toilet, sleep and go to work!
What I have attempted in my classification scheme is to incorporate the goals, themes and overall reason for the game whilst categorising the different genres. I have used existing genres to describe my classification scheme, however as has been demonstrated in the various literature on game genres (Oxland, 2006; Schiffler, 2008; Cook, 2007; and Cukier, 2006), there are significant differences of opinion on what is ‘correct’. Most games these days are actually hybridisations of a number of genres and are not true pure single genre games. What we are experiencing is perhaps a type of genre convergence, where pure genres in the traditional sense are being replaced with games that incorporate elements from different game types. Whether this is a desired trend from a marketing or gamer perspective, remains to be seen.
References – books and web articles
Allison, D, 2009, How Western and Japanese RPGs Differ, online, viewed 24 September 2010, http://twelfthcrusader.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/how-western-and-japanese-rpgs-differ/
Crigger, N, undated, Chasing D&D: A History of RPGs, online, viewed 24 September 24, 2010, http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3168091
Cook, D, 2007, The Circle of Life: An Analysis of the Game Product Lifecycle, online, viewed 13 September 2010, http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070515/cook_01.shtml
Cukier, J, 2006, For a new classification of game genres, online, viewed 13 September 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20080622160356/http://gamethink.net/For-a-new-classification-of-game.html
Edge Magazine, 2008, State of the Shoot ‘Em Up, online, viewed 24 September 2010, http://www.next-gen.biz/features/state-shoot-%E2%80%98em-up
Foiles, L, 2010, I Pitched a Monkey Island Movie to Hollywood, online, viewed 24 September 2010, http://www.sunstorm.com/ceo/reviews/cmi.htm
Oxland, K, 2004, GAMEplay and Design, Addison-Wesley, New York.
Schiffler, A, 2006, A heuristic taxonomy of computer games, online,viewed 13 September 2010, http://blackboard.rmit.edu.au/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_83016_1&content_id=_2569138_1 (Downloaded from: http://www.ferzkopp.net, 17 July 2008)
Senile Team, undated, Beats of Rage, online, viewed 24 September 2010, http://www.senileteam.com/beatsofrage.html
References – games
Age of Empires, 1999, Microsoft Game Studios, video game, (PC)
America’s Army, 2002-09, U.S. Army, video game, (PC)
Animal Crossing, 2001, Nintendo, video game, (Nintendo 64, Gamecube)
Baldur’s Gate, 1998, Black Isle Studios, Interplay Entertainment, video game, (PC)
Call of Duty, 2003, Activision, video game, (various platforms)
Championship Manager 93, 1993, Domark, video game (PC, Amiga)
Civilisation, 1991, Microprose, video game, (various platforms)
Dragon Quest (series), 1989-2009, Enix, video game, (various platforms)
Escape from Monkey Island, 2000, LucasArts, video game, (PC)
God of War, 2005, Sony Computer Entertainment, video game, (Playstation2)
Grand Prix Manager, 1984, Silicon Joy, video game, (ZX Spectrum)
Gran Turismo, 1997, Sony Computer Entertainment, video game, (Playstation)
Mario Kart 64, 1996, Nintendo, video game, (Nintendo 64)
Mass Effect, 2007, Microsoft Game Studios, video game, (Xbox 360)
Mortal Kombat, 1992, Midway, video game, (various platforms)
My Japanese Coach, 2008, Ubisoft, video game, (Nintendo DS)
NBA Jam, 1993, Midway, video game (arcade)
Planescape: Torment, 1999, Interplay Entertainment, video game, (PC)
Radiant Silvergun, 1998, ESP, video game, (arcade)
Starcraft, 1998, Blizzard Entertainment, video game, (PC)
Streets of Rage, 1991, Sega, video game, (various platforms)
Tekken, 1994, Namco, video game, (various platforms)
The Sims, 2000, Electronic Arts, video game, (PC, Mac OS)
Wario Smooth Moves, 2006, Nintendo, video game, (Wii)
Wii Fit, 2007, Nintendo, video game, (Wii)