Video Game Genres

Video Games > Week 1

Genre began as an absolute classification system for ancient Greek literature. Poetry, prose, and performance each had a specific and calculated style that related to the theme of the story.

Genre is a starting point for talking about different categories in art that share similar traits such as style and theme. It is always changing and endlessly debatable, but it's a useful shorthand for describing the basic characterisitcs of a work of art.

Let's take a look at the differences in genre classification between video games and "traditional" mediums like literature, art and film.


Forms: prose, poetry

Basic genres: epic, tragedy, comedy

Sub-genres of fiction: drama, fables, fantasy, fiction (novels and short stories), folklore, historical fiction, horror, humor, mystery, mythology, poetry (verse), realism, science fiction

Sub-genre of non-fiction: autobiography, biography, essay, narrative nonfiction, nonfiction, speech

Literary genres are based first on the style of writing (prose vs poetry) and then on subject matter or plot elements.

Literary genres are also based on the historical period of specific works of literature.


Genres: action, adventure, comedy, crime/gangster, drama, epics, historical, horror, musical, dance, science fiction, war, westerns

Main Film Genres

Film genres reflect setting, theme and plots.

Most films fit into at least one and often more than one of these genres. Film categorization is also done using the Auteur System, or films by a particular director or influenced by their style, such as Hitchcock films.


Art is categorized by mediums and historical movements.

Mediums: drawings, painting, printmaking, sculpture, collage, textile, photgraphy, film, video, performance, multimedia

Art periods

Renaissance genres: history painting, portrait, genre (scenes of everyday life), landscape, animal, still life

Video games

Video game genres are determined by gameplay: what challenges face the player and what actions he takes to overcome those challenges. So we clearly have sports games, shooter games, racing games, and so on.
The Designer's Notebook: Sorting Out the Genre Muddle by Ernest Adams

Main genres: action, adventure, role-playing, simulation, strategy, casual, massively multiplayer online


Ms. Pac-Man

Action sub-genres

Super Mario



Action adventure

Role-playing games

Final Fantasy


Flight Simulator

Simulation styles


Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

Massively Multiplayer Online

Dota 2

Casual games

Diner Dash


Roguelike games are a good example of how a genre can emerge from a single game and grow.

Rogue was developed in 1980 by Glenn Wichman and Michael Toy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The game was inspired by early text-based adventure games and interactive fiction. In order to create a multitude of experiences from one very small code base, a library for random generation developed by Ken Arnold was used to create random levels in the game.

Rogue is defined by procedural generation of levels, simple graphics, text interactions, turn-based play and permanent character death. These characteristics have grown to form a popular sub-genre, called "roguelike".

Rogue inspired an entire movement, and many other games were inspired by it's basic design. Today there are communinities dedicated to roguelike game develoment and many indie games are created combining new platforms with roguelike characteristics.

What genre of games will we be making?