A better way to classify games

Shooter, puzzler, platformer, strategy game, RPG – these classifications, and more, should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s spent a bit of time playing games. But what makes a shooter a shooter? What are the shared themes underpinning two seemingly different genres? What might your own favourite genres have in common?

Well, a really interesting article in last week’s issue of The Escapist seeks to answer these questions. It proposes a new system of classifying games along two axes: Action vs Strategy and Exploration vs Conflict.

  • Action vs Strategy deals with how you play the game. Action games emphasise the player’s physical skill at controlling his/her on-screen avatar. Strategy games, on the other hand, are about planning, analysis, and working out how to get the most out of the avatar(s), rather than about direct control.
  • Exploration vs Conflict, meanwhile, focuses on what you have to overcome. Does the challenge in the game come from defeating opponents who are playing the same game you are, with the same objectives? Or does it come from discovering  and overcoming the environment? The former, what Soren Johnson might call a “symmetrical” game, is Conflict. The latter is Exploration.

This chart shows the outcome, how these categories can be mixed and matched into genres (page 3 of the article explains what the acronyms stand for – ACE = Action/Conflict/Exploration, AC = Action/Conflict, etc).


Now, at a glance, this chart/classification system seem perfectly tailored to my own game-playing preferences. My preferred genres are RPGs (both Japanese and Western), grand strategy, and turn-based strategy – which all neatly fall into the bottom and bottom-right slices of the chart. I also play real-time strategy, adventure games, and “builder” games – all of which are adjacent to my home base in the bottom right. And the genres I am sadly inept at – platformers, shooters, driving – all have one thing in common: they’re at the top of the chart. In other words, this chart tells me I am much better at “Strategy” than at “Action” games – which matches my own observations.

How about you? Where do your favourite gaming genres fall on this chart?