How to Understand Video Game Genres

This article is for those of you who only play a few games every year, and you know what kind of games you like, but you don’t know how to look for them or ask for them at stores. What you need is to extend your video game vocabulary, so next time you are at GameStop, you can tell the employee that you’re looking for an FPS RPG. Because they will understand that better than if you say, “I liked that Fallout game, you got anything else like it?”

You see, they don’t know what it was you liked about Fallout 3, whether it was the over-the-top violence, the deep story, or the huge game world that lets you play at your own pace. So they may very well assume you just like games that are in first-person view, and suggest you try the newest Call of Duty, which is really nothing like Fallout 3.

So we will go genre by genre and list games within that genre to help define them.

First-Person Shooter

This is the world’s most popular gaming genre. The first-person shooter (FPS) is a type of game where you generally only see your hands and your gun, which would account for the first-person portion of the title. These are generally action heavy games that center on shooting lots and lots of enemies, whether they be soldiers, zombies, or animals.

Popular games in this genre include: Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, Battlefield, and Cabela’s Big Game Hunter.

Third-Person Shooter

This genre is very similar to the FPS, but the view is pulled back so you see your entire character at all times. Once again, these types of games are action-heavy and tend to involve a lot of shooting all the time. They may add in some light platforming elements (which just means jumping around and climbing to get to places) but the focus is on gun combat.

Popular games in this genre include: Gears of War, Syphon Filter, and Ghost Recon.

Role-Playing Game

In Role-Playing Games, or RPG’s, the focus is on story as much as action. Players will typically embark on a number of quests, use numerous upgrades to make their character more powerful, and meet lots of characters who need their help. These games can take place in ancient fantasy worlds or in futuristic science fiction universes, or anywhere in between. What sets them apart from action-focused games is their own focus on changing your own character to your liking.

Popular games in this genre include: Fable, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and The Witcher


Action or Adventure Games may be similar to RPG’s in a lot of ways, but the main character rarely changes and the focus is on lots and lots of combat or lots and lots of climbing and jumping around.

Popular games in this genre include: Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Grand Theft Auto, and all of the Spider-Man games.

Sports and Racing

I’m combining two genres here, because they go together so well. These genres are pretty self-explanatory, but they typically involve competing against other characters or players in sports matches. This includes football, basketball, destruction derby racing, NASCAR racing, and any other sports-like activities.

Popular games in these genres include: Madden, NBA 2K, Dirt, and Need for Speed.

Fighting Games

This genre is comprised of games where players fight in one on one matches with each other, each throwing kicks and punches until the other character is unconscious or dead. These fights are usually broken up into rounds, and may take place on a 2-D or 3-D plane.

Popular games in this genre include: Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Smackdown VS Raw, and Tekken.

Puzzle Games

These games are all about figuring out solutions or calculating combinations. Some puzzle games have a story and characters, while others are just a series of falling blocks.

Popular games in this genre include: Bejeweled, Angry Birds, Monkey Island, and Peggle.

Combining Genres

More and more it is becoming a fad in the gaming industry to combine genres together to create new genres. Fallout 3 combines the FPS and RPG genres together. Other games that combine the two are Borderlands and Deus Ex.

Puzzle Quest combines the puzzle and RPG genres together for an experience only matched by Puzzle Kingdoms and Puzzle Chronicles.

So while it may be confusing to see games that mash together separate genres, whatever kind of game you like, you can be sure there are others like it. You just have to know what to ask for.

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