The world of video games is a massive, widely-varied landscape! There are video games for nearly any interest, whether one likes racing, sports, sci-fi, action, or something else. To help organize the video game canon for those interested in dreaming up and developing their own games, there are a number of different types of video games and their subgenres. Read on to learn more about the types of video games - maybe you’ll find a new genre to explore and make!
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History of video games including the first video games
Although video games began to achieve mainstream popularity in the 1980s, the first video game created was a simple tic-tac-toe game called OXO, created at Cambridge University. As computer chips became smaller and more affordable, video game consoles became more widely available to consumers. Different console companies battled to achieve market dominance through the 80s and 90s, with Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft dominating from the 2000s onward. Check out some highlights:
- 1952: “OXO” is the first video game created
- 1973: Pong is released to the public by Atari
- 1983: “Video Game Crash of 1983,” when many video game studios closed due to poor business
- 1980s-90s: Console wars, which included releases of the NES by Nintendo, the Sega Genesis, Game Boy, and more
- 1995-2005: 3D video games take over the market, such as Halo, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft III, and more
- 2005 onwards: Consoles continue to be popular, and mobile gaming takes off on tablets, phones, etc.
Learn more about the history of video games.
How many genres of video games are there?
While there is no definitive answer to this question, there are around 10 main genres, each with multiple subgenres. Also, some games don’t fit exactly into one genre, and may use elements from multiple genres.
Discover all the different video game genres and subgenres
The following list is not comprehensive; some genres (like RPGs), have many more subgenres listed than are listed here. This list will focus on the most popular genres and subgenres in today’s video game market.
1. Role-Playing Games (RPGs)
Role-playing games feature rich worldbuilding and “lore” to create an immersive story-telling experience. Players will take the role of a main character or group of characters, and will help these characters to reach their goals. For those familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, many early RPG mechanics were based off of concepts borrowed from D&D. Because there are a large number of RPG sub genres, this article only focuses on the most popular genres.
- Skyrim (Elder Scrolls games)
- Final Fantasy
Massive Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG)
The MMORPG takes the story-focused atmosphere of RPGs, but tells the story in an online world with many players. The games can be PvE (player vs environment), where the players work together to defeat AI, or PvP (player vs player), where the players battle against each other. The most famous and successful example of this is World of Warcraft; other examples include Wizard101 and the Elder Scrolls Online.
In addition to immersive world-building, sandbox RPGs don’t have a strictly-defined storyline. Rather, players are free to choose from a range of characters and sidequests to build their own story. These games tend to be massive in scope, with a wide range of content available to try. Famous examples include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
2. Sports Games
You don’t have to have a court to play basketball or a field to play soccer when you play sports games! Some sports games try to model real-life sports as closely as possible, while others take the concept of a sport and take it in a new direction. For gaming consoles that use player motion (such as the Nintendo’s Wii systems), the video games can also be intended to provide a workout for the player.
- Wii Sports Resort
Arcade games tend not to create a feeling of reality; rather, they are distinctly virtual creations, which allows them to be creative with the idea of a “sport.” A fantastic example of this is Rocket League, which is essentially rocket-powered car soccer!
Realistic Sports Games
Simulation games try to emulate real-world sports as realistically as possible. These games have made significant advancements in recent years, and include games like Madden 23 and NBA 2K23.
Many people have felt the “need for speed” at some point in their life, but few really take it to an extreme. Video games cater to that desire with a plethora of racing games, involving cars, boats, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, or pretty much anything with an engine! Or, for those who want a more realistic experience, there are hyper-realistic vehicle simulators that are quite popular.
- Forza Motorsport 7
- GRID Autosport
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
- Trainz Railroad Simulator 2022
Off-road racing games abandon the beaten path in favor of those rugged, dirt trails! These games often use vehicles like ATVs, dirt bikes, dune buggies, and the like to race in rough conditions. Classic examples of this include MX vs ATV Untamed, as well as DiRT Rally.
Simulators try to bring real-life into the virtual world. The games try to make the vehicles operate similar to reality, and the vehicles are used for their intended purposes in society. Some examples: American Truck Simulator simulates semi truck driving, while Farming Simulator 2022 simulates using farming equipment.
4. Real-time Strategy (RTS)
In RTS games, players must continually adjust their strategy as the game progresses. Oftentimes, players are responsible for managing resources, creating units and structures, and attacking/defending bases. Rather than controlling a specific character, the player controls groups of units, like a commander in an army.
- Plants vs. Zombies
- League of Legends
Massively Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
In MOBAs, players may control a single character, or multiple characters. Players attempt to destroy the enemy base by coordinating attacks with their teammates to gradually weaken the enemy. DOTA 2 and League of Legends are the most popular modern MOBAs.
Tower Defense games are typically set up as a round-based game, in which waves of enemies attempt to destroy a building by walking on a predefined path. Players are required to build towers along the path which attempt to defeat the enemies before they can reach the tower. Tower defense games are widely popular on mobile devices, with Bloons TD being one of the most famous examples.
Sandbox games allow players the freedom to play how they want. While there may be some underlying story elements, there are typically few required story elements. In other words, the games have a “non-linear” storyline. Oftentimes, sandboxes also have a building mechanic.
- Garry’s Mod
Crafting sandboxes focus heavily on the crafting mechanic, requiring players to build all of the tools they need to succeed. Players collect the resources needed for crafting via mining and/or exploration. No game is more famous for crafting than the one and only Minecraft.
If space is the final frontier, then space video games are a great way to whittle away at that unknown. Space sandboxes involve resource management and building spaceships, and also often involve space bases. A breathtaking example is No Man’s Sky, whose universe contains over 255 galaxies, each containing 4.2 billion regions filled with planets!
Casual games are intended to be simple, relaxed, and easy to pick up for just a few minutes. These games do not have complex mechanics; in fact, many can be learned in just a few minutes. Mobile devices are the largest market for casual games since they’re great for eating up a few minutes of boredom.
- Doge Miner
- Cats and Soup
Clicker games involve exactly what it sounds like: clicking (or tapping, for a mobile device)! Players click the screen to earn points, then use those points to purchase items that enable them to points more quickly. With no way to lose, games like Cookie Clicker are an easy way to burn time on a long commute.
Tycoon/idle games involve the player collecting passive income from a source like a store, restaurant, amusement park, etc. They then use this income to improve their business, which enables them to earn points more quickly. Idle Miner Tycoon and Idle Construction 3D are two examples of this subgenre.
Like in real life, puzzle games are intended to challenge the player’s mind. In solo puzzle games, players advance to the next level once the puzzle is completed, while in competitive games, players beat their opponents by solving the puzzle first or earning more points.
- Words with Friends
Hidden Object Games
Hidden object games are essentially scavenger hunts, in which the player tries to find various objects hidden in an image. Although simple in theory, objects are quite difficult to find; additionally, there are games which add additional mystery elements into the game, like finding clues to solve a larger puzzle. There are countless mobile hidden object games, such as the Hidden City series.
Word games aren’t just for newspapers! These games are based on creating words from a set of letters, and include games like Words with Friends, Wordle, or Game Pigeons “Anagrams.”
8. Turn-based Strategy Games (TBS)
Turn-based Strategy games are played via turn-based battles. Each turn, players are allowed a limited number of moves or attacks, and then the enemy has a chance to respond. These games require a lot of planning and strategy, as one wrong move can cause the battle to end in defeat.
- Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise
Explore the most popular video game genres
Out of the above genres, the most popular are likely RPGs and casual games. Many of the most successful franchises of all time have been RPGs, including the Elder Scrolls, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and numerous others. Also, the competitive, team-focused elements of these games encourage people to play with their friends, which helps the game to sell more copies. As cell phones have become ubiquitous in society, the demand for casual games has increased. Casual gamers don’t have time to play long matches or learn dozens of characters; instead, they just want to pick up the phone and be entertained quickly. Casual games are better suited to this gaming attitude than other genres.
Now you know all about video game genres
This article only scratches the surface of the wide range of game genres. A good idea is to pick one to three of the above genres that seem interesting, and then dive deeper into their subgenres, histories, and most successful games. It’s a great way to find a new game to grind! After you find your favorite genre, why not try to make your own video game in that style? Check out some of Create & Learn’s award-winning live online video game classes and camps to learn the foundations of video game programming!
Written by Create & Learn instructor Dominic Occhietti. Dominic is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he studied music performance and computer science. He thoroughly enjoys teaching, whether that be coding classes, French horn lessons, or even downhill skiing lessons!