Game Genre Classification

What are contemporary video game genres and styles like today?

There's a lot of contradictory information on this subject across the internet. Why is that? Why, still to this day, isn't there a standardized classification of genres? We'll try to answer these questions in this article.

First, let's discuss why there isn't a unified game classification system.

The answer is straightforward—the video game market is incredibly dynamic. It's continuously evolving and expanding. Developers constantly blend genres, forging new and innovative directions for growth. Technological advancements enable the creation of increasingly intricate projects with new mechanics, often leading to the birth of entirely new genres. Existing genres also undergo constant transformations, straying far from their original forms. That is why classification systems are constantly changing, making it challenging to keep track of them.

The first attempt to systematize video games occurred in 1984 when game designer Chris Crawford came up with a convenient classification system for the games of that era. The simple scale categorized all games from the 70s and 80s into two groups he called Skill-and-Action and Strategy. As you can understand, it's impossible to apply this classification to today's games—an abundance of genres and subgenres have emerged since then, rendering the old system inadequate for the drastically evolved nature of games.

There were also classification systems created by people outside the development industry. For instance, in 1988, psychologist Alexander Shmelev came up with two systems:

  • Games, categorized by the tasks assigned to players, known as the plot-thematic classification system;
  • Players, categorized by their activity in games, termed the functional-psychological classification system.

Shmelev's systems are notable for their unconventional approach—he not only classified games but also players. His functional-psychological system prioritizes the social-adaptive function, characterized by the idea: "Everyone's playing, and I'm no worse than the others." His work delves into numerous intriguing socio-psychological aspects, some of which remain relevant today.

Since that time, there have been multiple attempts to classify games. In 2003, Aarseth, Smedstad, and Sunnanå created a fascinating system. They attempted to predict future game genres by leveraging existing social classifications. Their results were quite complex but also very exciting—they used a model encompassing 13 fundamental "dimensions":

  • Three dimensions described space;
  • Three dimensions pertained to time;
  • One dimension (derived from two auxiliary ones) focused on player structure;
  • Six dimensions characterized rules and control.

A tool they created as part of their work makes it possible to build a description of a game based on various characteristics. For instance, combining the "Space" group along with the "Perspective" dimension and the "Omni-present" value gives a perfectly clear explanation: A game offering an unrestricted view of the playing space.

In 2006, things got even more complicated with the introduction of a classifier of classifiers!

In his article "Genre and Game Studies: Toward a Critical Approach to Video Game Genres," Thomas Apperley identified two conflicting approaches to game classification. He categorized classifications, and thus his colleagues, into two types:

  • Ludologists, concentrating on game mechanic;
  • Narratologists, focusing on the game's narrative elements.

Apperley advocated combining these two approaches, deeming it the most constructive path to a more precise and comprehensive classification.

There have been many more attempts to create a unified and definitive classification. Games have been categorized by gaming platforms and operating systems or divided into narrative and non-narrative genres. However, these paths eventually converged into the basic classification system familiar to us, albeit slightly varied across sources:

  • Action
  • Simulation
  • Strategy
  • Role-playing 
  • Adventure
  • Sport
  • Card
  • Puzzle

Of course, there are also mixed genres and subgenres, but we'll save them for our upcoming articles :)