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How many genres are there anyway?

September 7th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Slashdot has put out the call for the “definitive” list of game genres – no needless specificity or redundancy. For the PC world, Gamespot lists ten genres on their main page.

First Person Shooters
Real Time Strategy
Role Playing
Action Adventure
Massively Multiplayer
Other Strategy Games
Adventure Games
Tactical Shooters
Virtual Life

This leaves out other genres buried deeper in, like sports games that don’t involve driving really fast. RTS and “other strategy” are still strategy. MMORPGs are still RPGs. Many tactical shooters are also first person shooters. So you can trim these lists down pretty quickly.

Anyone else remember when there were only 2 genres? Strategy and Action/Adventure. Leave to Computer Gaming World to cut to the chase. Note that Earl Weaver Baseball is strategy but Hardball is action/adventure.

Genres are useful as descriptors, and for building in expectations for the player. Genres are blending now more than ever – pure adventure games have been completely replaced by the story-telling so prevalent in RPGs (which had traditionally eschewed story in favor of killing lots of things) and even some shooters. Sports management games like NFL Head Coach and Baseball Mogul are closer in spirit to tycoon games than action sports titles, but now even they have franchise modes.

If we can accept that strategy games are a arch-genre – one from which many different sub-genres bloom, we have a lot of possible descriptors. I’m not a huge fan of the Real Time/Turn Based dichotomy because it doesn’t do much to describe how the games are different beyond when events are resolved. War games can be both turn based and real time and are an obvious subset of strategy. Most WW2 RTS games don’t involve base building or even army building – you get what you start with or capture along the way. Maybe you get reinforcements. But they look and feel like Age of Empires.

But, as my wise mother-in-law always says, hard cases make bad law. There will always be straddlers on a subgenre line. Broad categories work best. Certainly not as broad as CGW in 1988. But we can narrow it down to five or six I think.

Strategy – a broad category covering wargames, grand strategy, city builders, business sims
Vehicle Simulations – Flight sims, tank sims, train sims,
Sports – you know what this is
Role Playing/Adventure – story telling games as usually understood, you could maybe fit The Sims in here if not in strategy
Arcade/Action – button mashers, platformers, fighting games
Shooters – this could be a subset of action, but has such a different feel and look that it needs its own place.

You can, of course, mix and match these. Sports Strategy (management sims), Roleplaying Shooters (Deux Ex), etc. And most of the interesting debates are subgenre ones. But I think this is the base of the building.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • Darius K.

    If you’re gonna lump sims in with wargames, then I would definitely lump shooters in with Arcade/Action.

    And TECHNICALLY sports would be some kind of Action/Strategy/RP hybrid, since there’s action gameplay usually with a strategic overlay, and the whole point is that you’re pretending to be a sports team, hence the RP element. But I’m willing to keep Sports in its own category.

    If we take those 4 genres, it’s hard for me to think of games that don’t fit into at least one…

    Tetris: Action Strategy
    Guitar Hero: Action
    I Love Bees: Strategy Role Playing

  • roberton

    You’ll have read it already, but when thinking about genres I can’t help thinking about Kieron Gillen’s Darwinia review:


    What if many of the interesting games are post-genre now? Even more interesting IMHO is to consider a time before genres…

    But I can’t help suggest a couple of changes anyway:

    – If you’re really trying to build a minimal list, I’d chuck out “sports” and put those games in strategy or action as appropriate. In a 10 genre list maybe I’d keep ’em separate, but not in smaller one.

    – On the other hand… in a five item list I’m ok with RPG and Adventure being in together, but it’s an uncomfortable pair. Looking at in 2006 you can get away with it, but in the history of Adventure games there’s been plenty with no RPG elements at all, just as the early RPGs had no story or characters.


  • Troy

    This is mostly a thought exercise, but both of your suggestions are interesting.

    The idea of “post genre” is just pushing the issue the aside, IMO. I mean, it’s not like we need genres to enjoy a game. But when you are describing a game, genres are great shorthand. With Darwinia, for example, I always fall back on RTS terms even though it’s not really RTS. Post genre is just a way of saying “This is something new” or “This tries a little of this and a little of that.”

  • Eumel

    I’d classify games in four categories, in a very bare-bones way:

    – Strategy/Tactics
    – Action
    – Story
    – Puzzle

    If you look at it the Crawford way, the latter two aren’t even games.

    Most games belongs to more than category, of course. Airplane sims might be 80% Strategy/Tactics and 20% Action. Football Manager is 100% strategy.
    RPGs tend to combine at least three, often also all four categories. Adventures are Puzzle/Story hybrids.

    Things like “Sports” or “Simulation” don’t belong with the others for me. They represent a theme of a game, much like “Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy” or “Science Fiction.” In my world, Football Manager is a strategy game with a soccer theme — it’s resource management, at its core.