Hats. While I’ve never been much for wearing the things, I find them stacking up virtually as time marches on in the Ten Ton HQ. One of the many hats I’ve managed to acquire over the years is being responsible for the internal and external classifications we use for both the content we create, and the games we choose to cover.

As I went about refining some of the interlocking mechanisms for classification we currently employ over the past weekend, it dawned on me that the gaming industry uses some pretty darn wonky terms to describe entire genres of video games. While many are surprisingly straightforward – FPS or First-Person Shooter being a prime example – there are plenty of others that are confusing, misleading, or just plain terrible.

Being the epitome of optimism in all things, I decided to whip up a quick rundown of some of the most terrible video game genre terms. If I were truly being optimistic, I’d hope that maybe one day the industry might adopt some better terminology. But given how entrenched some of the following terms have become, I highly doubt any such change will be forthcoming, at least within my lifetime.

Real-Time Strategy

I decided to lead with Real-Time Strategy (RTS) because it tends to be one of the more deceptive terms used to describe a gaming genre. The real-time component largely describes the fact that player interactions within the game are being made in real time, and helps differentiate the type of gameplay from turn-based strategy, for example.

I consider this a Terrible Term though, because it can be misleading for consumers who are unfamiliar with RTS games. The games largely focus on systems that do not, in fact, conform to real time standards. Everything from base building, to unit production, to resource gathering, and everything in between run on a very unnatural clock.

Above: I've recently been playing the campaign for Grey Goo, and am thankful that base building isn't actually in real time

For these games to be truly real-time, you’d log in and tell some minions to go about building a new structure for your base… and then check back in a month or two to see how things are progressing. Since that doesn’t exactly sound like much fun, and would make eSports tournaments last for decades rather than days, RTS obviously would be more aptly called Enhanced-Time Strategy.


Imagine a world where every single genre of video games paid direct homage to the originating title:

  • MMORPGs would be called MUDlikes
  • First-Person Shooters would be called Wolfenstein 3Dlikes
  • World of Tanks and Armored Warfare would be classified as Combatlikes after the Atari 2600 port of the original Tank arcade game

You see how this could get messy very quickly.

Off all the obscure and non-consumer friendly video game genre terms, I would have to rate Roguelike the biggest offender. If you don’t believe me, ask ten random people if they know what the heck a Roguelike is. I’d be shocked if you got a single correct response from anyone other than core gamers.


Wait, what?

In the entertainment industry – when looked at from a broader perspective – using X’s as a classification mechanism typically refers to varying degrees of pornography. XX could largely be considered ‘softcore’ while XXX refers to ‘hardcore’ porn. So 4 X’s must be really, really, really extreme hardcore porn, right?

Nope, it’s the term used to describe games in which you “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”. This term originated back in 1993 in a preview of Master of Orion for Computer Gaming World by a chap named Alan Emrich. If you think I was joking with the above reference to pornography, the punchline is that the XXXX rating Emrich used for Master of Orion was, in fact, a pun on the XXX rating for pornography.

As comical as I find that little nugget of video game history, the 4X term is pretty terrible for describing a specific type of video game to consumers unfamiliar with the genre. Then again, it could be worse. We could be calling the things Master of Orionlikes.

Rail Shooter

So I actually did a little experiment with this one. At a recent trip to my local Starbucks I asked 5 random strangers if they know what a Rail Shooter is.

One of them suggested I might find them at Lowes or Home Depot. Another suggested that real hunters don't use things like deer stands and shooting rails. Two just looked at me like I’m nuts, while the final person was at least in the right ballpark. They were correct in that it refers to video games, but they thought it described games in which you rob trains.

Combining the data collected, I’ve surmised that Rail Shooter is a video game genre in which crazy people purchase supplies from their local home improvement store and use them to rob trains from a deer stand. Makes sense to me.

Beat ‘Em Up

Do I really need to explain why this is one of the worst video game genre terms ever?

According to the official Wikipedia entry, the genre is described as:

Beat 'em up (also known as brawler) is a video game genre featuring melee combat between the protagonist and an improbably large number of underpowered enemies.”

That pretty much describes every single MMORPG I’ve ever played as a melee class. It also describes bizarre games like Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad, among others. If you’re not familiar with the absurd glory of Bikini Samurai Squad, here is a random video from the Almighty YouTube.


Chances are, some of you are bound to agree with at least some of the above, some will assume I’m simply trolling, and others will consider me an idiot for daring to challenge the esteemed naming conventions of an industry much, much larger than myself. And there’s a good chance that some of you are absolutely right.

On that note, it’s time for me to scamper back into my secret underground laboratory and contemplate content classifications and similar nonsense. Be sure to drop a note in the comments below if you feel so inclined, as I do genuinely enjoy discussing this type of thing with other gamers when the opportunity arises. 

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Sardu 1
Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.