Like the press covering film and many other specialized fields, video game journalists use all sorts of jargon to convey to their knowledgable readers as much information about a game as quickly as possible. For non or newbie gamers, this can be extremely confusing.
Those of you in the latter camp, despair not. I have complied below an illustrated glossary of the main terms used to classify games by genre. Most games are a combination of one or more items from each of the sections below. For example, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a first-person shooter and Civilization 5 an isometric turn-based strategy game. Without further adieu, an Illuminated Glossary of Video Game Genres:
Side-scrolling: These games depict the action in profile, with the player character usually moving from left to right to progress. Most common in platformer and shooter games.
Top-down: The game world is viewed from directly above, and the player can usually maneuver in all four directions while progressing from bottom to top onscreen. Mostly used in strategy games and shooters, it has lost a lot of ground to the more 3D-friendly isometric perspective.
Isometric: A 3/4 overhead view in between side-scrolling and top-down. This has become the standard for many genres of games as the 3D era has progressed, including strategy and RPG.
First-Person: The player views the world through the eyes of their character. Most often used in shooters and RPGs.
3rd Person: The camera sits behind and above the player character for an over-the-shoulder view. This versatile view has become common in RPG, adventure, and shooter games.
Real-time (RTS): All players play simultaneously; the most common format. Covers everything from Tetris to Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Turn-based: Players take turns, like in a board game. Used to be common, but has faded in popularity.
Hybrid: Many RPGs use a hybrid of the two, with systems to restrict when players can perform certain actions but no outright turns. Even RPGs with purely turn-based combat could still be considered hybrids because their non-combat gameplay is usually in real-time, but they are not generally referred to as such.
Racing: Players race cars, trains, planes, or spaceships against one another.
Strategy: Games where a player controls multiple entities, usually with the goal of destroying a team of opposing entities.
Sports: Just like it sounds—players play sports.
Platformer: Players jump from one platform to another, usually battling enemies at the same time. Mario made this the most popular genre of gaming in the '80s and '90s, but they have since been surpassed by shooters, at least in America.
RPG: Role-playing games. The most plot-driven genre, typically featuring fantasy or sci-fi settings. RPGs usually feature slower combat than shooters or platformers, utilizing turn-based or hybrid turn systems.
Shooter: Players shoot things, usually each other nowadays.
Adventure: Games with strong characters, usually some puzzle-solving, and mostly third-person perspective.
Fighting: Games where two or more, but ususally two, players battle each other in unarmed combat or with close-range weapons.
Beat-'em-up: Players wander levels, alone or in groups, beating the heck out of enemies.
Sim: Another tough-to-define genre, sims are games that simulate aspects of normal life. These include dating games, flight simulators, The Sims, and other esoteric games that seek to mirror life realistically.