Games are more popular than ever: they flood our newsfeeds, fuel social interactions, and give us boatloads of fun for hours. Not only are they seemingly ever-present today, but there are so many different game genres to choose from.
Whether it be a role-playing game or point and click adventure, there are so many game genres, many of which mix and match different aspects of other genres, that you can truly hone down what you’re looking for in a game.
What are the main game genres? What are the most popular games in each genre? Which genre is right for you? Luckily, I’m here to show you by providing the complete guide to video game genres.
First Person Shooter
Back in the mid-1990s, a friend of mine invited me to the sleepover. I knew we’d have fun: staying up late, eating extremely unhealthy foods that would make normal peoples’ stomachs turn, and just goof off in general. However, my friend guided me to his PC in his room. Sure, we gamed a lot together, but this was different. He booted up Doom by id Software.
I was immediately flooded with hellscape imagery; demons and monsters hunting you down, huge guns and chainsaws that make short work of your quarry, and insane amounts of blood and gore.
This was my first introduction to first-person shooters or FPS games. Today, FPS games are some of the most popular games on the market. Titles like those in the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises have solidified FPS as some of the most enduring genre-specific games in modern history.
FPS games have a deep history in gaming, arguably spanning back to the 1970s. However, it really didn’t become a global sensation until the seminal release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. It ended up selling over 200,000 copies by the end of 1993. People were hooked on its unrelenting action, gore, and gunplay.
Wolfenstein 3D ushered in countless FPS titles throughout the rest of the 1990s, ultimately culminating in an FPS ‘boom’ in the 2000s.
In FPS games, the player character perspective is from, get this, the first person. I know, a little crazy, but bear with me. The player is usually given a large arsenal of weaponry, (specific to the setting of the game), and set out to vanquish foes. In Doom, the enemies were demons. In the original Call of Duty, the enemies were Nazis.
FPS is the genre perfect for players seeking an adrenaline rush. FPS titles throughout gaming history have usually been fast-paced, action-packed, and plain fun. Sometimes, FPS games even have a deep storyline.
The newer Wolfenstein games, namely Wolfenstein: The New Order, not only had you gunning down baddies, but also examined nuanced topics like the nature of the conflict, post-traumatic stress disorder, purpose, and identity. We have moved past simple action hero protagonists and have moved into dramatic storytelling.
Then, of course, there’s multiplayer. In 2008, the combination of an online connection and a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a recipe for hours and hours of crazy entertainment. Game developers brought multiplayer to a new level, with many players preferring the multiplayer portion to that of the single-player missions.
If you’re the kind of gamer that looks action-packed, run and gun adrenaline rushes and talking a lot of trash to your friends online, I’d highly recommend FPS titles.
The real-time strategy, (RTS), the genre of games has its roots in the 1980s with a game called The Ancient Art of War. The player is required to partake in rock-paper-scissors type gameplay between different types of warrior units. For example, you would have to counter archers with horsemen, and horsemen with spearmen.
In the genre today, we’ve moved past that simple concept and fleshed it out immensely: players are usually required to build bases, spawn units, and destroy the opponent. The Blizzard game, StarCraft, defined the way that RTS games would progress in gaming history.
With an attractive, gritty, and detailed set of space, the player chooses between three races, the Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss.
Each race has its own benefits and weaknesses, unique buildings, units, and storylines. StarCraft’s addicting base building and fast-paced action made it a powerhouse in not only RTS but gaming overall.
Today, StarCraft is still intensely played amongst gamers, especially those in South Korea. Koreans pour their hearts and souls into StarCraft in the form of cutthroat tournaments with crazy amounts of money and prestigious gaming sponsorships on the line.
A personal favorite of mine, the Age of Empires franchise, blends good old RTS with a strong edge of history. Specifically, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings throws the player into the RTS format of gameplay while playing through real-world scenarios like the Hundred Years’ War, The Spanish Reconquista, and the battles between William Wallace and the kingdom of England.
This mix of deeply researched history and solid game mechanics added a certain prestige to the game.
If you’re a gamer that likes to micromanage things, build structures and units, and vanquish your foes with an army of longbowmen, real-time strategy games are right up your alley.
Role Playing Games
In my opinion, role-playing games are some of the most significant and fun games ever made. The roots of RPGs are as old as imagination itself. If you really want to narrow it down more, however, you could look to the famous Dungeons and Dragons, developed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974.
It’s a fantasy role-playing game in which players, along with a dungeon master, (the one controlling the story and the players’ interactions), quest through dungeons using tabletop pieces, many-sided dice, and a bunch of creative brainpower.
There’s really nothing the player can’t do. You can create a character with a rich backstory: their wants, needs, phobias, etc. The sky is the limit.
This same creativity transferred extremely well to the virtual world. Some of the standout titles that we all know and love like The Elder Scrolls series, specifically Skyrim and the upcoming 6th entry into the series, have made RPG gaming more popular than ever. RPGs shine when there are no restrictions except the player’s imagination.
In the Elder Scrolls games, the player can choose between multiple races, each with their own pros and cons.
The game points you in the direction of the main quest, but you are ultimately left to your own creative devices, free to do nearly whatever you want.
I’ll never forget riding along in Skyrim and all of a sudden, the soundtrack changes from the ambient, beautiful ambient sounds of a living, breathing world into a pumped-up Viking Chorus. It signified that a dragon saw me and swooped down to fry me to a crisp.
I had to run for my life, as I was a puny level 2 wood elf archer. It happened organically while I was on my way to another quest, and it was exhilarating.
Moments like that, in which I’ll never forget the feeling I got while it happened, is what makes RPGs the superior genre in my mind.
On the other hand, you have great RPGs like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, where you take on the role of an established character thrown into the political intrigue of a fully fleshed-out world. The options are still there, but this time an addicting and comprehensive storyline is included.
Games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise are now embracing more RPG elements in their series. Weapons, outfits, and video game characters can be customized, and there is a whole historical world to explore.
If you’re a gamer that loves a good storyline, freedom of choice when playing, or a game to ignite the imagination, role-playing games will fulfill that need.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games
Much like RPGs, MMORPGs, (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), will ignite the imagination, and throw the player into a detailed world. This time, however, it’s online. The world is now not only populated by some possibly detailed NPCs but also other human players at the same time.
It was originally started back in the 1970s with the release of Mazewar for computers. Players were able to roam mazes, shooting at each other on the predecessors of the internet. Game developer Richard Garriott, (creator of the Ultima series of RPGs), then described these types of games like MMOs, which then lead to MMORPGs.
Games like EverQuest, Anarchy Online, and Ultima Online were amazing milestones in the genre. The gameplay styles are tailored to a gamer’s play style. Servers can be specified to be PvE, (player vs. environment), or PvP, (player vs. player), depending on if you want to avoid more competitive playing scenarios.
In 2004, Blizzard, never satisfied with the nearly perfect games they create, dropped a bombshell on the world of gaming. They developed an RTS, Warcraft, into an MMORPG: World of Warcraft.
The player could choose between the two factions: Alliance or Horde. The player starts off doing menial quests like slaughtering boars for townspeople, eventually battling huge monsters like dragons with their friends later in-game.
Teaming up with other players adds a new dynamic to the playing style. Players can join the different classes to form a comprehensive team to take down some of the most powerful enemies in the game. World of Warcraft has been the gold standard in the genre for over 15 years now, with no signs of stopping.
It has easily earned almost $10 billion dollars and is always adding new expansion packs, including new races to play as, or new quests to go on. If you’re a fan of RPGs, but you want to take your skill online to either help or hinder other players in a rich, detailed world, MMORPGs are going to be your bread and butter.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena
Online gameplay has become more popular than ever in the last decade. eSports, in particular, has increased tenfold from the early 2000s to become a legitimate sport and source of income for players.
You’ll often see a team of battle-tested gamers lined up in a row with powerful PCs, battling a likewise experienced opposing team for all the money, sponsorships, and bragging rights involved in the tournament. This is where MOBAs come in.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games are somewhat of an offshoot of MMOs, in that they are focused only on the competitive play between teams and players. MOBAs are an interesting mash-up of different genres, namely RTS and RPGs. Matches between teams can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and beyond, depending on players’ skill levels and maps.
MOBAs really came onto the gaming scene with a mod for StarCraft: Aeon of Strife. In the game, players each had their own base they had to defend, fast gameplay to defeat the other team and whittle down their resources to zero. This developed further into the widely popular derivative Defense of the Ancients, (DotA), in 2003.
Ever since, players have been testing their mettle against each other in a variety of different titles, maps, and competitions.
Some of the most iconic eSports competitions and tournaments are courtesy of MOBAs. The game League of Legends is one of the most widely played games in the world, as well as a huge moneymaker for players looking to make a name for themselves on the eSports circuits.
In the 2018 League of Legends World Championship, the overall prize was an insane $6.45 million split between 24 different teams.
The gold and $2.4 million was awarded to the extremely talented team, Invictus gaming, led by Luo “Ferrari_430” Feichi out of China.
If competition runs in your blood, or you gravitate towards more fast-paced games, MOBAs will no doubt satisfy that hunger.
I hope this guide has given you a good idea of what each genre listed can provide for your unique playing style. Whether it be FPS games, RPGs, MMORPGs, RTS, or MOBAs, there is no shortage of choices for you to make. The only tough decision now is which great game will you pick up.
And guess what? We’re just warming up.
These days we are extremely lucky to have the cornucopia of games that we do. Not only is the quality of titles great, but the variation in game genres is extensive. We have your basic genres along with their extensive subgenres. We are going to be taking a quick look at all of these and see some of the best titles defining the genres.
How many different types of video games are there? There are over 30 different types.
Breakdown of Game Types
Stealth games have the player act all sneakily, having them accomplish their mission through subterfuge and guile. Are you a good enough gamer to sneak from one side of the map to the other without being seen? Challenging and atmospheric, stealth games allow for experimentation and creativity.
Games like Metal Gear Solid, the Thief series, and Splinter Cell are all stealth titles.
With the famous release of Street Fighter II in 1991, fighting games saw a huge uptick in popularity. These titles have you facing off against either a human or AI opponent, testing your knowledge of combos and your reflexes.
Street Fighter II, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat are some iconic fighting games.
In survival games, players are dropped into a hostile setting, (think jungle, desert, the Arctic), usually with little to no tools, and tasked with basic survival. This trend has been growing for the past few years. With games like Rust, the survival genre is becoming increasingly legitimate. These are a mix of strategy, action, and role-playing.
Rust, The Forest, and Day Z are survival titles.
Survival Horror Games
These games are sure to chill your blood and give you a scare. The player is thrown into an actively antagonistic setting, (usually), populated by eldritch horrors, forcing them to use their combat and intuition to survive.
Games like Resident Evil pioneered the genre. Walking through the mansion, stalked by zombies and other horrors, gave the player the option of flight or fight when it came to the ghoulish horrors they came across. It even coined the phrase ‘enter the survival horror in the first game.
Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Alone in the Dark are all survival horror titles.
This refers to entirely text-based games, having the playing type in commands to move the story along. This was coupled usually with role-playing titles.
The game would often prompt the player with an open-ended ‘what do you do?’ after describing the environment they are in. If the player wakes up in a cave, the player could type in ‘turn left’, ‘light torch’, and ‘walk forward’ to advance the game.
This was a great mashup of fiction writing and role-playing.
The game Dragon’s Lair was a famous pioneer in this genre. In it, there is a pre-recorded ‘movie’, with the player controlling some aspect of the action.
In Dragon’s Lair, you need to press the appropriate button to make sure that you don’t fall into a spiked pit or avoid a fireball. This genre added extra immersion for the player. However, the value of replayability is hampered by a linear story.
RPGs are games in which the player takes on a ‘role’ of a character in a (usually), fantastical setting, allowing the player to out the roles. These are made famous from tabletop gaming like Dungeons & Dragons, in which players would take their created character and journey through dungeons and towns, using skills to tailor their journey In unique ways.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game
MMORPGs like World of Warcraft throw players into the setting of WarCraft in which they can interact without thousands of other players simultaneously playing the same story and doing the same quests.
Games like EverQuest, Star Wars The Old Republic, and Guild Wars are great examples.
Tactical Role-Playing Games
These RPGs heavily emphasize you guessed it, tactics. They are usually set up like classic tabletop RPGs, in which players and enemies are set up on a grid and use their unique skills to make use of the environment through turn-based rolls and moves.
Games like Banner Saga, Fallout, and Valkyria Chronicles are all examples of tactical RPGs.
These RPGs emphasize freedom for the player. The player controls a character in a detailed world in which they have nearly complete control.
In the Witcher III: Wild Hunt, the player controls the gruff Geralt of Rivia and can engage and complete quests at will. By that same token, Kingdom Come: Deliverance plops the player into the early 1300s Bohemia, allowing the player to carry on as a young warrior. You can take part in the story, or you can simply ride around on a horse, hunt, and camp.
These games emphasize strategy to complete objectives. Whether playing virtual chess or building your civilization, brainpower is encouraged to get yourself to the end of the game.
This is another genre with multiple subgenres.
These games are called ‘4X’ for the tenets of the subgenre: “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”.
Games like Civilization are the staples of the subgenre, in which you start humbly as a few units, eventually build your cities and arsenals, and destroy enemy players through combat, diplomacy, or technological advancement.
These games are all about the big picture. Many grand strategy games are based in history: games like Europa Universalis and the Total War franchise are grand strategies.
In them, you need to steer a nation or faction to victory, managing economy, research of technology, and of course, military might.
RTS games are based don gathering resources and crushing your opponent, all in real-time. Games like Age of Empires and StarCraft are the standard.
Collecting enough resources to build up your weapons and units to obliterate your opponent is the name of the game.
Mobile Online Battle Area
Out of the mod ‘DotA’, MOBAs have become extremely popular.
You are set up on a map with 4 corners, in which you need to either score more points than your opponent or destroy them.
Popular examples of MOBA games are League of Legends, Smite, Heroes of the Storm, Defense of the Ancients, Arena of Valor, Heroes of Newerth, and Vainglory, among others.
These games are nail-biters. You need to, unsurprisingly, defend your base. The AI will throw thousands of enemy units at you, and you are tasked with adapting and overcoming their onslaught.
It requires you to change your playstyle on the fly, as well as making snap decisions to best minimize damage to your base and maximize efficiency.
These titles are all about immersing the player in the action of simulating an activity. They range from flight sims and city-building games.
A sense of realism is emphasized, giving the player the sensation of actually performing.
These games have been around for decades. In them, the player is usually the pilot of a plane or some other vehicle like a train.
The player pilots the vehicle as best they can, using realistic controls and schematics to land, take off, pull in and out of the station, and more.
City-building has the player construct cities from the ground up. Cities: Skylines and SimCity are great examples of this genre.
Not only does the player build buildings, but they partake in connecting powerline, water mains, highways, and byways.
These games allow players to simulate life. Namely, The Sims has the player building both a family unit and a house for them to live.
They are then tasked with controlling everything from job attendance to bathroom breaks.
You are there every step of the way along with the characters’ lives.
Party games involve the participation of multiple people, best played at parties and gatherings of 2 or more people. They are multiplayer and usually pit the players against one another.
A famous (or infamous depending on your experience) example of a party game is Mario Party.
These games involve players in answering general or specific trivia questions to score points and win.
Trivial Pursuit, HQ, and Trivia Crack are all great trivia games that are extremely popular.
Here are more examples:
- Jeopardy! World Tour
- Trivia 360
- Family Feud
Puzzles are great ways to engage in your logic and problem-solving skills.
Some popular examples are:
- Candy Crush Saga
Good, old-fashioned board games have been around forever and occupy players of all ages with engaging, fun gameplay. They are usually party games, bringing multiple people together to either head off against one another or work together toward a common goal.
- Cards Against Humanity
These games are based on multiple sports. They have a few subgenres, emphasizing a specific sport or activity. Some can even be considered simulation games due to realism and activities.
Some good examples are:
- Madden NFL
- NBA Jam
- Wii Sports
- FIFA 20
- Tony Hawk’s
These are the bread and butter of sports games. Baseball, basketball, football; all of it is here.
Over the years, sports games have gone through extreme innovation and growth, including real players, real teams, and even real venues pulled from everyday life to add to the realism.
Different aspects like pitching mechanics, physics when performing a jump shot, and making that perfect pass all exemplify team sports games.
Fight Night and UFC are the staples of combat sports. These two sports border into the simulation, as the realism and strategic play, drive the success and failures of the participants.
Real fighters populate rosters, and players can set up their dream matchups like Muhammad Ali versus Mike Tyson.
- Fight Night Round 4
- EA Sports MMA
- UFC 2009 Undisputed
- Fight Night Champion
What is better than flooring it in an expensive car?
Racing games allow players behind the wheel of cars, whether they be real, tricked out, or just plain normal. These head-to-head games have grown from arcade classics into great simulations. Gran Turismo has the player buy their cars, making it more than a racing game.
Other popular examples:
- Colin McRae Rally
- Forza Horizon 4
- Gran Turismo Sport
- The Crew
- Assetto Corsa
First Person Shooters
The cream of the crop, and some of the most popular games in recent memory, FPS titles have sold millions upon millions of copies and engage players of all ages in the fast-paced action.
Call of Duty is the prime example, having addictive multiplayer gameplay, as well as exhilarating single-player stories.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Left 4 Dead 2
Maybe fast-paced is not your style in FPS games. Maybe you want to take it slow, be more methodical in the approach to your objectives.
Rainbow Six, a tactical shooter in which you take control of a special unit resembling a SWAT team, you need to plan out every little detail to make sure your mission is a success.
Any mistake could end up in you and your team members checking out early.
These games, usually based around music, make the player keeps in time with a beat.
Guitar Hero allowed players to play along with some iconic guitar-based tracks.
Dance Dance Revolution and Just Dance did the same with different genres of music. It is all about keeping in time and hitting all of your marks.
- Rock Band
These games, like Mario, have the player take control of a character, usually in the third person. They have to usually jump and navigate around a level akin to an obstacle course.
Famous examples of platforming games:
- The Prince of Persia
These games emphasize learning something. They are usually geared towards younger players.
The Oregon Trail was a unique educational game, as it had different elements of game genres blended into an educational package that didn’t feel like an educational game.
These games can teach kids to read, do math, study better, and get them interested in different subjects in school.
- The Flame in the Flood
- 80 Days
- The Banner Saga
Wii Fit was an interesting advancement in gaming, as it introduced a comprehensive fitness tracker for the player as they exercised using a specialized mat.
Other apps and games have followed Wii Fit’s example, tracking exercise patterns and trends, helping players lose weight, be active, and live a better life. This created benefits of video games we hadn’t yet seen before.