In our Getting Back In The Game series, we’re showing you how to get into the wide world of video games — whether you’re new to gaming or a former player who hasn’t picked up a controller in a while.
Like movies, books and music, there are countless video games to suit all interests and tastes. And like those other mediums, you can drill down into every genre to find more and varied sub-genres.
Classifying games is more art than science; there are many games that cross genres, mix two together or sometimes can’t be classified at all. For the sanity of would-be gamers, we’ll keep it basic and just look at some top-level types of games plus examples of sub-genres.
What Kind Of Game Do You Want To Play?
If you wanted to play semantics, all games could theoretically be action games, but here we’re defining the genre like action movies: Games that require quick reflexes, accuracy and timing to overcome obstacles. These include:
- Shooters: The most well-known kind of game, this genre covers the huge number of games that focus on, well, shooting at things. Shooter games include the Call of Duty series; the Battlefield series; the Halo series; Gears of War; Counter-Strike: Global Offensive; and PlanetSide 2.
- Fighters: These games feature combatants who square off to best each other, typically in tournament-style play. Think Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat, probably two of the most famous fighter franchises from back in the ‘90s. The WWE wrestling and UFC-licensed games could fall into this category too.
- Platformers: Movement through these games typically involves platforms and jumping — your Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog-type games. They’re typically easy to pick up and get into, but some have a wonderful amount of story and depth, too. Games include Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; the Ratchet & Clank series; Rayman Legends; and Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark.
- Action-Adventure: These games cross over into the Adventure genre, as you solve puzzles and explore, but also need to act fast. Stealth games like the Metal Gear series and survival horror games like Resident Evil would fall into this area, as would the Grand Theft Auto and Legend of Zelda games. Another brilliant game to check out in this category is The Last of Us on the PlayStation 3.
One of the oldest categories of games, the pure form of adventure game eschews action. Instead, the player solves problems and puzzles while interacting with characters and environments. Though not the first of their kind, games like Maniac Mansion, Myst and Grim Fandango defined the genre.
Adventure games have been a bit of a dying breed lately, but recent games like Broken Age are revisiting it. Modern takes on adventure games often involve what are called “quick-time events,” where the player is prompted to respond to a lot of scripted action with single-button response that flashes on screen. Other adventure games include Heavy Rain; Beyond: Two Souls; and The Walking Dead.
Role-playing games have evolved far beyond their pen-and-paper inspirations like Dungeons and Dragons. Most of these games cast you as an adventurer — or party of adventurers — and often take place in high-fantasy worlds of magic and mythical beasts.
Of course there are exceptions to this, like South Park: The Stick of Truth, which is a classic RPG that takes place entirely in the world of the popular TV show. Other role-playing games to check out are The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim; Fire Emblem; the Final Fantasy series; Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch; and the Xenoblade Chronicles.
It’s worth mentioning two sub-genres:
- Massively-Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG): Three words: World of Warcraft. Though the game didn’t create or define the genre, it’s been the dominant game in this space for nearly a decade. Players go adventuring with other players in an online world that persists even after individual players call it quits. Other MMORPGs include Guild Wars 2, Rift and Elder Scrolls Online.
- Action RPG: A little more fast-paced than your typical RPG, these games take elements of action and adventure and combine them with RPG elements like character creation and management. The Diablo series is one of the most well-known, but other games include Torchlight, Bastion and Path of Exile (an excellent free-to-play action RPG for PC).
These games require skillful thinking and planning. Usually the player has a large, often “godlike” view of the playing field. It’s easier to talk about strategy games when you break them down a little:
- Turn-Based: Slower-paced, these are very analytical games where players take turns. They often involve world-building and ultimately world domination. One of the most well-known of these is the brilliant and addictive Civilization series, currently in its fifth iteration.
- Real-Time: Typically played on a set map, players in real-time games race against other players to build up an offensive force and conquer each other. These games often become the highly competitive e-sports, most notably Starcraft 2, League of Legends and DotA 2.
- Puzzle: These games have the player solving logic puzzles often in the form of matching colored shapes, tiles or jewels. The easy example is Tetris, a game that nearly every one is familiar with; Minesweeper is another, as are Bejeweled and action-puzzle games like Portal and Braid.
- Simulation: Exactly what they sound like: Simulations of real life or a fictional reality. They range from comical, like The Sims, to the huge line of niche simulator games like Euro Truck Simulator and Farming Simulator. There are city management games like Sim City, and sports management games too, like Football Manager.
These are the games that mimic playing traditional sports, be it football, baseball, soccer or one of the many other competitive sports out there. This also includes racing games like Gran Turismo and Forza racing series. Other games you might be familiar with here are the Madden and FIFA series from EA.
Many gamers tend to label all games on Facebook or mobile platforms as “casual” — and they often mean it as a pejorative. It’s an area of contention in the gaming arena, and while it’s true that these games are easier to pick up and put down again, they aren’t any less of a game. Examples include Farmville and Candy Crush.
Gamers: Tell Us What I’ve Skipped
There are, of course, many deeper sub-genres of video games, but this list covers most of what you’ll encounter in the wild. Many games out there fall into multiple categories or are difficult to define, like indie titles, which I write about often.
So this is where I call on my fellow gamers from all the genres to lend a hand. The panoply of games is so vast, I need you to lend your suggestions for our would-be gamers in the comments below.
Let us know what games you’d recommend, in whatever category you wish. If the game falls into a genre not explicitly detailed, tell us about it and what makes the game unique. And if you have any game-related questions — terms, game types not mentioned, specific games — please ask.