Most often when the question of accessibility is discussed in relation to video games, it’s in the context of making games playable for individuals with disabilities, such as the wonderful work done by charities like AbleGamers. However, as gaming becomes more and more prevalent in our culture, there is another aspect of accessibility that also need to be discussed: how to demystify games and introduce game mechanics to people who didn’t necessarily grow up with each new console generation.
The introduction of touch screens and mobile gaming have introduced people who never would have classified themselves as “gamers” to video games, but what about the “game curious?” Those who want to go beyond match-three puzzle or hidden object games, but might be intimidated by the excessive number of buttons on modern controllers or have trouble navigating 3D space?
If the latter does describe you, I am happy to say that there is a whole world of amazing games waiting for you, so I’ve written a little primer on game genres for individuals who might be newer to video games and don’t know where to begin, or for less skilled gamers like myself who want to broaden their horizons. These genres generally don’t involve memorizing complicated button combinations, lightning reflexes or perfect timing, so they’re perfect for gaming noobs like you and me.
Text Adventure/Interactive Fiction
Key examples: Adventure!, Depression Quest, Zork
Although seldom recognized as such, text adventures are some of the earliest examples of video games on record. As the name suggests, this genre is focused on text and branching storylines, with players typing in commands in order to navigate a virtual world. Although these types of games fell out of favor as computer graphics continued to improve through the 80’s and 90’s, a dedicated online community and new developer tools such as Twine have led to a recent resurgence.
Key examples: The Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Stardew Valley
Arguably the most popular video game genre (on the PC, at least), the management or sim(ulation) genre is as diverse and specialized as the people who play it. As the name suggests, these games involve managing a virtual world of some kind, which could be everything from a tiny farm to an entire solar system. Although a huge variety of games can claim to belong to this genre, they all tend to center around resource management and missions that simulate real world activities, such as driving a bus or making video games.
Visual Novel/Dating Sims
Key examples: Hatoful Boyfriend, Digital: A Love Story, Ace Attorney
This genre is sort of an off-shoot of the text adventure genre, but owing more to Manga and Anime than stories about grues. Cartoon-style images are accompanied by a variety of dialogue options with branching storylines and outcomes. Many popular visual novels focus on romance and love, with play revolving around a selection of suitors, hence the term dating simulator.
Key examples: The Secret of Monkey Island, Life is Strange, anything by Telltale Games
This genre ruled the PC in the ‘90’s, driven almost entirely by the games of Sierra and LucasArts. Also referred to as “point & click” adventure games, this genre revolves around talking to NPCs and collecting various items to solve puzzles in order to progress to the next part of the story. Recent games like The Wolf Among Us and Life is Strange have given new life to the genre by de-emphasizing the obtuse puzzles and replacing them with quicktime events or other narrative-specific mechanics.
Beat ‘Em Ups
Key examples: X-Men Arcade Game, Castle Crashers, Scott Pilgrim: The Movie The Game
Once a staple of the arcade, the beat ‘em up has somewhat faded from popularity, although intermittent indie gems do appear from time to time. This genre usually revolves around side-scrolling action where players simply need to mash buttons to destroy wave after wave of enemies. Certainly expert coordination makes for more kills, but you don’t have to possess expert skills in order to have fun. Bonus: these types of games are often multiplayer which makes them perfect for playing with friends.
Hack ‘N’ Slash
Key examples: Diablo, God of War, Torchlight
Although the precise definition of this genre has altered slightly in recent years, hack ‘n’ slash games are similar to beat ‘em ups in that a great deal of skill isn’t necessary to play them and have fun, although they are usually more open world than side scrolling. As the name suggests the main mechanic here is just to attack anything in your way until it explodes or dies or some combination thereof.
Key examples: Fire Emblem series, Final Fantasy Tactics, The Banner Saga
Often related to the RPG, but not necessarily, turn-based strategy games focus on grid-based combat, making positioning as important as choosing the right attack. Time is spent mulling over tactics, meaning combat is reflective and nuanced, unlike the adrenaline-pumping pace of the hack ‘n’ slash. The combat in these games is often closely tied to other mechanics, such as building character relationships, or developing tech trees.
While the descriptions above are short, I hope they give you an idea of the variety of genres available to those still developing their video game skills, and give you some suggestions on what to play next.