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Video game genres: every game type explained

There are so many video game genres out there that it can be a little overwhelming to new gamers trying to pick one. No doubt there is something for everybody, and the perfect game for you is out there. You just need to know what you’re looking for.
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The sheer amount of video games available is mind-boggling, luckily most fit into a specific genre which helps when it comes to deciding what to spend your time and money on. 

This guide will give you a better understanding of the diverse types of video game genres available to you and what could be the most suitable. Whether you like shooting and looting, puzzle games, racing, or launching yourself into a horde of Zombies, there is surely something to tickle your fancy. 

We’ll help you overcome the first barrier of entry by breaking down the most popular genres of games to help find out what fits you best. 

To find out more, read our guide on some of the top upcoming games in 2022.

What is a video game genre?

A video game genre is a way of describing a style or category of games that share similar mechanics, ideologies, or characteristics. Genres of games can be very fluid, often having many sub-categories and over-lapping principles. For example, you can have a 2D platformer game that incorporates aspects of character skill progression, usually associated with RPGs.

It’s commonplace for games now to mix and match facets from different genres, but most games can be grouped into one of 10-15 different game types.

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Role-playing game (RPG) (JRPG)

Role-playing games can trace their humble beginnings back to the days of tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. These games put the player into the role of a single character that can sometimes be created from scratch, who learns and progresses in strength as the game advances.

By overcoming obstacles and enemies your character gains experience points which can be cashed in for new abilities, keeping the game evolving and fair as it inevitably gets harder. 

What makes a good RPG? 

A gripping story, a sense of progression, and compelling characters, combined with good mechanics and quality aesthetics. You should garner a feeling that the game unfolds and plays how you want it to, as opposed to following a linear predetermined path. 

You’ll like RPGs if you’re into rich storylines, fantastical worlds, character creation and progression. On the other hand, RPGs can be exceptionally large games, and they can introduce a lot of complicated mechanics that are not for everyone. 

JRPGs and MMORPGs

Two sub-categories of RPGs are JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games, and MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). JRPGs introduce a wider cast of controllable characters, with a more linear story path, whilst MMORPGs offer the same open-world, single-character progression but on a shared field that can sometimes involve hundreds of people playing together online.

Some of the most popular RPGs include:

  • Final Fantasy 7: Remake

  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

  • Persona 5 Royal

  • World of Warcraft 

Sandbox

Sandbox games (Sandbox RPGs) often throw the player into an open world filled with enemies, dungeons, towns, castles, encounters, and points of interest. You are given a general direction related to the main story; however, players are free to approach it however they wish.

A good sandbox game will have plenty of things to do and characters to interact with in addition to the main story. Side quests, jobs, mini-games, or finding collectables are all things you can tackle at your own pace, without the pressure of the game forcing you to go where the story demands. 

These games are great if you’d like to take your time exploring the game world. They let you be creative and tackle points of the game in a manner that feels right to you. This gives a great immersive experience that feels tailored to the individual. The main problem with sandbox games is they are very demanding of time, due to the sheer size of some open worlds, and it can be intimidating for new gamers.

Some of the best recent sandbox games in our opinion are:

  • Grand theft Auto 5

  • Elden Ring

  • Minecraft

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

  • Red Dead Redemption 2

Survival horror

The main theme consistent in survival horror games is horror. This game genre has been prolific since the early days of PlayStation and traditionally combines elements of slasher films, science fiction, and psychological thrillers. Usually set in hostile or intense situations, they are designed to make the player feel underpowered and vulnerable, by offering limited resources like ammunition, crafting materials, speed, and visibility. 

You would often be challenged to find items that unlock various new paths or solve puzzles to reach the finale. If you’re not into jump scares and creepy environments, or any of the classic horror tropes seen in the films, think hard about playing a horror game.

Here are five of the most popular survival horror games available:

  • The Evil Within 2

  • Alien: Isolation

  • Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Resident Evil: Village

  • Silent Hill 2

  • Evil Dead: The Game

Sports

Sports games are just that, emulations of already popular physical sports but in video game format. There are game versions of every professional sport you can imagine. Some are sanitized versions, where the emphasis is on fun, featuring user-friendly controls and an easy level of entry. Then you have simulation-style sports games which opt for a realistic presentation, in look and in mechanics. Its overall goal is to recreate the realism and capture the feeling of playing the sport. Sports games are hugely popular throughout the world and make up a sizeable part of the online gaming market.

Other types of sports games can emphasize the strategy behind the surface game, for example, Football Manager relies more on tactics and knowledge over skill and reactions.

The main problem with sports games is that, due to the dynamic nature of traditional sports, these games become outdated very quickly and therefore an updated version is released every year, often as a new full-priced game. Not a lot of changes year-on-year barring roster alterations and the odd new mechanic. Something worth noting.

If you’re a sports fan, these are some more popular genre choices.

  • FIFA 22

  • Madden 22

  • Mario Strikers: Battle League Football

  • Football Manager 2022

  • NBA 2k22

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Racing

In racing games, although they can be considered sport-type games, the focus is solely on vehicles challenging others to reach a finish line first. A classic genre of game, racers have been around since the early days of computer games. These give players the chance to step into the driver's seat and test their driving skills against others. Much like sports games, you have simulation types that are as realistic as you could imagine. Plenty of time and effort is spent on the science, making the cars feel and react as they would under real-life conditions. 

The other kind of racing game would have to be the kart-style games that focus less on acceleration stats and engine size and more on fun by adding things like bright colour palettes, speed boosters, whimsical characters, and unrealistic physics. 

Any car lover would find games like Gran Turismo or Forza a wonderful celebration of the internal combustion engine. The racing may be the focus here, but you can spend copious amounts of hours designing and fine-tuning a car to your individual liking before you even consider racing it. 

Unfortunately, not everyone loves fast cars and motorbikes, and for those who don’t, racing games might not be for you. 

Here are some racing games to try:

  • Gran Turismo 7

  • F1 22

  • Forza Horizon 5

  • Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

  • Hot Wheels Unleashed

Action-adventure

The action-adventure genre can be defined as a hybrid genre of game with the main influences being action and adventure games. But they often include puzzle elements, inventory management and survival mechanics. They can be first or third person in perspective and are usually faster-paced games full of extravagant set pieces akin to a Hollywood movie. 

Different to an RPG where the game unfolds around you, an action-adventure game sets a path for you to follow. You are given an overall goal and then put on a linear route tasked with getting from one point to another, navigating the missions and encounters as you progress through to the next story checkpoint. 

You’ll enjoy these games if you like rich narrative-driven games, with lots of fast moment-to-moment action. Usually a bit shorter in length compared to an RPG, these can be nice to play in shorter sessions. The game layout is heavily reliant on the player reaching specific points to trigger story events and that takes away a bit of player choice. If you prefer finding your own path and tackling the story when and how you want, open world or RPGs might be more appealing.

Some of the best action-adventure games we like:

  • Uncharted: A Thief’s End & The Lost Legacy (available as a bundle)

  • The Last of Us 2

  • Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

  • God of War 2018

  • Horizon Forbidden West

Fighting game

Fighting games reached peak popularity in the early 90s and have seen a steady resurgence in the last few years. These games usually pit you against one other human-controlled character or a CPU-controlled AI. Fighting games can specialise in 1v1, 2v2 or even 3v3 bouts. The aim is always the same, to defeat your opponent using various hand-to-hand fighting technics and combinations. Some games put emphasis on melee weaponry, but in the end, you are tasked with depleting your enemies’ health points with controller button sequences and other movement options. 

They can be easy to pick up, but often they are hard to master. Deep mechanics, meta gameplay, and complex systems give the life span of fighting games a real boost, keeping hardcore gamers invested. Although accessibility is important, and developers are trying hard to reach out to casual gamers,  many may feel the intense complexity of some fighting games a turn-off. 

Some popular fighting games worth trying:

  • Streetfighter 5

  • Mortal Kombat 11

  • Samurai Showdown

  • King of the Fighters 15

  • Tekken 8

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Platformer games / Platformers

Platform games (or platformers) are centred around running, jumping, and climbing on platforms to navigate through a virtual environment. Sometimes you will have to contest with enemies along the way, but the emphasis is on your character's movement as opposed to weapons and combat. The levels function as puzzles for the player to figure out. Platformers are simple in design, and the barrier to entry is low. Your aim is to get from a start point to the end. Ideal for quick uncomplicated fun. Platformers can be an entertaining and challenging genre to play. 

The good thing is they don’t really require a significant time investment; they’re great to pick up and play in short intervals. Not to say these games are easy. Precise timing and quick reactions go a long way to getting through some of the more difficult platform games out there now, like Hollow Knight or Cuphead for example. This shouldn’t deter you though from picking up and enjoying one of the oldest game genres out there.

Some popular platformers are:

  • Celeste

  • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

  • Sonic Frontiers

  • Cuphead

  • Hollow knight

Simulation

Simulation games are all about immersing players into a simulated world, usually of their own creation. Life sims are based on a framework that tries to mimic aspects of real life. Whether it be building a theme park or an entire family, simulation games present players the chance to create their own game world. Story and end goals don’t really factor in here as the freedom of choice are solely on the player. 

If you’ve ever wanted to channel your inner mogul, you can create and run businesses or entire economies. If you’d rather have a little escapism and spend the day as an avatar in an emulation of reality that’s possible. Vehicle simulations are a sub-genre that tries to provide users with a realistic interpretation of operating various vehicles. 

Simulation games can be good for those with a creative touch. They can be a little overwhelming due to the number of building options, but the rewards will counterbalance that surely. 

Here are some of the best simulation games available now:

  • Microsoft Flight Simulator

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons

  • Stardew Valley

  • The Sims 4

  • Cities: Skylines

Real-time strategy (RTS)

Real-time strategy games reward the use of strategic planning over brute force. Usually, the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s main structure with the aid of CPU-controlled minions that march forward along predetermined paths. RTS games are about building bases/cities and controlling an army, not only to defend yourself but also to take over your rival's base and forces. You must balance gathering resources and spending them appropriately to improve your attack and defence. You do this in real-time as your opponent does the same. 

This genre requires quick thinking and quick reactions. Usually played with a mouse and keyboard, these games are optimised for PC play but console versions are available. 

Some of the most popular real-time strategy games:

  • StarCraft 2

  • Age of Empires 4

  • Civilization 6

  • Warcraft 3

  • Command & Conquer 

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Shooter – First-person shooter (FPS) Third-person shooter (TPS)

All shooter games involve gunplay at their core. First-person shooters can be considered a sub-category of action games and are among the most popular games in the world, with the likes Call of Duty and Halo being prevalent names. Most evolve around traversing/ battling through a 3D space in a first-person perspective. As these games are action-based, they are fast-paced and frenetic. 

Seeing the game world through the protagonists’ eyes is more immersive by default, you often feel like you are the character not just controlling them. Third-person shooters pull the camera back giving you a wider field of vision and the ability to see your character entirely.

These games are genuine fun, the learning curve can be difficult for new gamers but accessibility options and tutorials are always a welcome addition. 

Popular shooter games are:

  • Call of Duty: Vanguard

  • Doom Eternal

  • Halo Infinite

  • Overwatch

  • Far Cry 6

Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA)

Multiplayer online battle arena games are connected to MMO games in that both styles are dedicated to online play of a competitive nature. As the game progresses you’re tasked with levelling your hero up with skills and abilities to overcome enemy bases.

Typically, the objective is for each team to capture their opponent's main structure/base or sometimes defeat every other person in the arena. These kinds of games promote teamwork and cooperative play. They are best enjoyed with a group of gamer friends, but equally, you can jump into them solo if you prefer, and still have a similar experience. MOBA games look simple, but they can have intricate combat systems with plenty of real-time variables to contend with. 

The worldwide community is noticeably big for this game genre so it can be a cool way to make new friends and learn the game from others.

Some MOBA games:

  • DOTA

  • League of Legends

  • Arena of Valor

  • Overwatch

  • Smite

Free-to-play

Free-to-play can seem like a misleading title for a video game genre. Developers do make the game completely free for people to download and play, however, in-game purchases are where they make their money back. Extra skins, levels and weapons can be bought with real-world money. Most purchases are simply time-saving mechanisms for those unwilling to grind through hours of gameplay to unlock a new weapon. New skins, emojis, victory dances and other in-game trinkets are effortless ways to part with real money if you’re not careful. 

The best example of a free-to-play game also happens to be one of the most widely played games today, Fortnite.

Other video game genres

  • Stealth games

  • Text games

  • Battle royale

  • Strategy

  • Board games

  • Mobile

  • Tower defence

  • Party games

  • Trivia

  • Rhythm games

  • Exercise

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