The Mechanics of Game Genres

Game genres are very different from literary or film genres. Genres from traditional genres are based on either how they make the audience or reader feel — drama, comedy, romance, thriller, horror — or upon the story’s setting — western, war, crime, science fiction, fantasy. Game genres, however, are based upon the mechanics, that is, the actions that a player takes in the game.

Consider these popular genres and their associated player actions:

Genre Action(s)
Adventure Explore, collect information, solve puzzles
Fighting Fight to score points
First-Person Shooter Run and shoot
Platformer Jump from platform to platform
Racing Drive vehicle faster than other drives
Real-time Strategy Explore, build and fight
Role-playing game Fight and use other skills to improve abilities

Note that the game’s tone and setting doesn’t matter. A first-person shooter is a first-person shooter so long as you run and gun. It doesn’t matter whether it is funny, suspenseful or scary, not does it matter whether it is set in a medieval dungeon or on the Moon. Games are about what the player does.

Genres also determines the balance between whether the game challenges the player’s physical (action) or mental (strategy) skills, as well as the balance between conflict and exploration.



Action Strategy
Fighter Real-Time Strategy
Platformer Adventure

When developing a new concept for a game, once pitfall you can avoid is to come up with the game’s genre first. Starting with a genre may tend to lock you into the expected game mechanics for the genre rather than creating innovative gameplay. If making your game stand out from the other games is your goal, start first with the player experience you want to have, develop mechanics to create that experience, and then classify it with the most fitting genre. A genre should be a descriptor, not a starting point.

Another pitfall that many other first-time game designers run into is trying to be innovative by combining genres. Mixing game genres and other elements is a risky proposition until your game design skills are sufficiently developed to understand all the strengths, weaknesses, and other attributes of these elements first. Become an expert in two genres before you decide to mash them together.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on August 3, 2015, in Game Design. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: