The Language of Games – Game Genres

Visiting many games review sites can be a bewildering experience to the uninitiated, not least because many of the terms seem so alien!

For example, the following figure shows a screenshot from game review site Gamespot.com, where I am searching by genre for a particular sort of game.

You are probably familiar with the idea of genre from film, television and books and may use them to describe the “sort” or “style” of story you like (for example, romantic fiction, or science fiction, or even a particular “sub-genre”, such as the cyberpunk works of authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson (of whom, more later on….)).

Steven Neale, writing on “Questions of Genre” in the Openlearn unit “Understanding media: the celebrity in the text“, writes:

There are several general, conceptual points to make at the outset. The first is that genres are not simply bodies of work or groups of films, however classified, labelled and defined. Genres do not consist only of films: they consist also, and equally, of specific systems of expectation and hypothesis which spectators bring with them to the cinema, and which interact with films themselves during the course of the viewing process. These systems provide spectators with means of recognition and understanding. They help render films, and the elements within them, intelligible and therefore explicable. They offer a way of working out the significance of what is happening on the screen: a way of working out why particular events and actions are taking place, why the characters are dressed the way they are, why they look, speak and behave the way they do, and so on.

(You can read the whole piece here: Questions of Genre, Steven Neale.)

In short, genres provide a classifying or categorising media, and allowing us to distinguish between them.

Genres are often described in the context of a taxonomy, a formal (typically hierarchical) organisation scheme where ever more subtle refinements of a genre are identified and use to create ever more specific subgenres. But things are never that simple…

In Game/Genre: A critique of Generic Formulas in Video Games in the Context of ‘The Real’, Zach Whalen draws on “Screenplay: cinema/videogame/interface” edited by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska”, pointing out they:

“make what is, to my knowledge, the first attempt to define games in three modifiers: Genre, Mode, and Milieu [my emphasis]. A game’s genre is its “broad category or type” and is not the same quality of film genres. Rather, a genre in game refers to the way the game is played or what on must do in order to accomplish the goals of the game. “Mode” is the way a game’s content is presented the player and includes the interface, and “milieu” is King and Krzywinska’s term to describe a game’s narrative content in much the same way that film genre’s are distinguished. This “three-tiered” system is, I believe, the most appropriate typology for games because it suggests that the qualities of gaming lie in the experience of play, not in the content of the narrative or in the mise-en-scene.

From your own personal viewpoint, to what extent do you think this three way categorisation is a useful means for distinguishing one ‘type’ of computer game from another? Or does it just complicate matters?

Whalen goes on:

This typology also accounts for the categories typically set forth by the game journalism community…

The typical layout of a gaming website reveals its intended audience and intended use and suggests the role genre plays in the selection and production of games.

[Originally], all the video games that [Gamespot] deal[t] with f[e]ll under one of the following categories: “Action, Adventure, Driving, Puzzle, RPG (role playing game), Simulation, Sports and Strategy”

A quick glance at the above screenshot from Gamespot suggests that what they feel to be a useful categorisation has moved on somewhat…

Another classification scheme that is much respected can be found in Chapter 3 of “The Art of Computer Game Design” by Chris Crawford (1982), which can be found online here: A Taxonomy of Computer Games

Crawford’s classification broadly segments computer game genres as follows:

  • SKILL-AND-ACTION GAMES
    • Combat Games
    • Maze Games
    • Sports Games
    • Paddle Games
    • Race Games
    • Miscellaneous Games
  • STRATEGY GAMES
    • Adventures
    • D&D Games
    • Wargames
    • Games of Chance
    • Educational and Children’s Games
    • Interpersonal Games

For a 25 year old classification, how well do you think this has stood the test of time? How well does it map on to the classification currently used by Gamespot?

At the time of writing, the outlines of a new taxonomy is being aired on the Only a Game blog. To date, two major posts have appeared on the subject: one on Wargames and one on Rush Games (Fight or Flight). A third considers in passing games of chance: Designing Luck.

Read the above posts from the “Only a Game” blog, and identify the genres and subgenres proposed. How do they compare to the Gamespot and Crawford classifications? If you take particular issue with the newly proposed classification, try out your argument here then air it as a comment on the “Only a Game” blog…

Watch a selection of game reviews (from a site such as Play:Digital) or game trailers (for example, by searching for /game trailer/ on Youtube) and see if you can identify which genre each game falls into. Post a comment with links to the games you previewed and the genre you’d classify them as. How are the same games classified on Gamespot?

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8 Responses to “The Language of Games – Game Genres”


  1. 1 Matthew May 8, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    well to start with an easy one

    Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 FPS (First Person Shooter)

    all though the review goes straight to the point on how good the game is, you can easily tell that the reviewer has not played the game thought out. I would also go as far to say he has most certainly not played the multiplayer mode.
    the game play online is fantastic but sadly tented by infinity ward’s poor excuse for an online set-up.
    from an neutral view as i absolutely love the game, using a match making system and not allowing servers was properly the worst thing they could have done.
    Lets home they have more sense when making the next one.

    http://www.modernwarfare2reviews.com/modern-warfare-2-review-from-wilder-news-com

  2. 3 Deanobags November 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF1HVlcXBmA LEFT 4 DEAD
    Rushgame without a doubt and also one of the greatest zombie games ever made…EVER.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LwuT3MffEw RESIDENT EVIL 1
    This is a rush game, although it does fall under the puzzle section because if anyone has played any of them it is all about the items and solving to get to further stages.

  3. 4 Joe May 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Ummm… one question (and I feel like a total n00b for asking this) What does D&D Games actually refer to, drag and drop, dungeons and dragons…. something else?

  4. 6 Zain October 16, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Portal 2 is a great puzzle game that gets you thinking. It plays as a FPS game but there is no real shooting involved except for shooting portals. The game is a puzzle game, that is strangely satisfying each time you finish a level. Gamespot tags it as an FPS and a Puzzle game, so clearly there is an overlap. A lot of games these days have genres overlapping.

    http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/action/portal-2/review.html?tag=summary%3Bread-review

    Mindcraft is a sandbox game but Gamespot categorises it as an adventure game. while it has some adventure, the biggest thing about minecraft is it’s freedom to do whatever you want. There is no goal whatsoever.
    http://www.themindofgame.com/2011/04/21/minecraft-review/


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