As with every form of creative arts or entertainment in the world today, there is usually a related field of criticism that seeks to deepen the audience understanding of and appreciation for the form itself. We see this is the field of film and also, music. When it comes to video and computer games, which are inherently part of a mixed media tradition, things get complex because they are not a passive experience for the audience they are aimed at, but rather an interactive experience. This means that there are new theoretical concepts which have had to be developed that borrow from traditional game theory and seek to create a language that reviewers and gamers alike can use to discuss games. This gives developers the advantage of being able to understand how their creations are being viewed by reviewers and fans, as well. The terms and concepts used in video game classification at the moment are still in development and likely will be for some time, but here is where things stand now.
Cooperative vs Non-Cooperative – This is the easiest classification to understand because it is at the root of game play. Games where players are in competition with one another are non-cooperative while games where players work together as a team or unit, even if they compete against other teams, are considered inherently cooperative. There are titles that incorporate both forms of play such as many MMORPGS that have groups or parties of players who will compete with one another and these are considered hybrids of this basic classification.
Simulation – This classification of games is simply a description of how close the game comes to imitating reality. The game that is able to re-create the laws of physics accurately, for example, would be considered part of the simulation class of games. These titles are not as focused on the gaming aspect of competition to win as they are about the environment shaping the way the player handles the gaming experience. They are generally less driven by stories and more by the possibilities of the virtual reality they offer.
Zero Sum vs Non Zero Sum – This is a division in games that is quite simple to understand. Zero sum is Latin meaning ‘no gain’. If players are each given the same amount of resources at the beginning of a game, such as with chess, and gain nothing over the course of play except a victory or defeat, then the game is a zero sum game. Games that involve the accumulation of resources, as is the case with most competitive strategy games games, then they are considered to be non zero sum in nature. An example of a non zero sum game would be Sid Meier’s Civilization where players seek to control not just the game board but to have the majority of resources in the game world by the end of the game.
Drama – This is a simple classification in that the games within this category are all about the tale unfolding during the game itself. Dramatic themes unfold and players generally control either a custom created avatar which they manipulate through the game world, or a pre-created character that is part of a larger story arc. These games are more closely related to film than any other classification.