Towards a New Theory of Video Game Genre

Video game genre terms have been with us for decades now, and while language has shifted over time, many of them remain woefully undescriptive. What, precisely, is an “action” game, and why is an FPS considered distinct? How does “adventure” encompass both point-and-click narrative games and Zelda titles? And what does Metroidvania even mean?

It’s time for a new means of classifying games. As such, I offer up the following system to any developers, publishers, or storefronts who wish to better frame their wares moving forward.

Car

Distinct from the current term “racing game,” the car genre encompasses any game in which the player spends all or a majority of their time inside of a vehicle. Whether that time is spent racing, leisurely moving around the world, or engaging in combat does not make a difference. The car genre encompasses driving games, flying games, space games, and mech games — anything that puts the player behind the wheel or wheel substitute.

Examples: Super Mario KartForza Horizon, Mechwarrior, Train SimulatorGrand Theft AutoStar Fox

Little Guy Running Around

A staple of gaming since the earliest days of gaming, the little guy running around genre most obviously includes side-scrollers, but also describes top-down action games, beat-em-ups, and 3D platformers. Is there a little guy on screen that you’re making run around with your controller? Brother, you’re playing a little guy running around game.

Examples: Super Mario Brothers, Hades, El Shaddai, The Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear Solid, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, Castlevania (pre-Symphony of the Night), Streets of Rage, Resident Evil

Golfing

Golfing is games that literally involve playing the real sport of golf, yes, but also any turn-based game with similar mechanics, such as strategy and tactics games.

Examples: Mario GolfPGA Tour, Golf With Friends, SteamWorld Heist, Worms, XCOM

FFXIV Gaius van Baelsar

Second Job

Some games, like some lovers, ask a great deal of their players. They demand attention — are ravenous for it — and reward utter dedication while scorning casual flirtations. These are the games people sink hundreds and thousands of hours into — whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of taste.

Examples: Warframe, Destiny, Realm of the Mad Gods, Final Fantasy XIV, Genshin Impact

Where The Fuck Do I Go

Games where the experience is centered around finding one’s way through an environment. There may be combat or other obstacles placed in the player’s path, but the primary challenge comes from navigating — and often backtracking — through a vast, labyrinthine world.

Examples: Metroid, Skyrim, Etrian Odyssey, No Man’s Sky, Wizardry, Dragon Quest, Castlevania (post-Symphony of the Night)

Computer People

Some games are about simulating a whole mess of people rather than a single guy running around. But this isn’t limited to “life simulators” like The Sims — many modern sports games, which focus on team composition and athlete statistics, fall into the “computer people” category, as do many of BioWare’s releases.

Examples: The Sims, Little Computer People, Seaman, Animal Crossing, Mass Effect, NBA2K

Guilty Gear Strive

Video Games

“Video Games,” as distinct from videogames, are electronic amusements designed to facilitate the same kind of experience as an analog card game, board game, sport, etc. Like these kinds of games, they typically attempt to create an even grounds for competition, focusing on learning the rules and skills required rather than building up powers to overcome one’s opponents. This is the land of fighting games, but also competitive puzzle games and some first-person shooters.

Examples: Street Fighter, Tetris (multiplayer), Counterstrike, Fortnite, Guilty Gear, Dance Dance Revolution, Starcraft

Monster Hunter Rise

Dark Souls

Dark Souls is what you call a game when you like it but you’re not really feeling up to getting more descriptive than that. Usually there’s a big sword and some fucked up looking guys. If it’s kind of scary but in an atmospheric sort of way, it’s probably a Dark Souls. Even if it’s not, it could be. Who even cares.

Examples: Monster Hunter World, Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, Nioh, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Dead Cells, Code Vein, Remnant: From the Ashes, Blasphemous, Outward, Curse of the Dead Gods, The Surge, Let it Die, Titan Souls, La Mulana, Ender Lilies, Mortal Shell, Nioh, Going Under, DOOM, I Want to Be the Guy, Garfield Kart, Garfield Kart: Furious Racing, Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill, Seaman 2, Muscle March, The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, The Legend of Zelda, Clubhouse Games, Turrican, Chex Quest

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merritt k

Managing Editor, Podcasts

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