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An action-adventure game is a video game that combines elements of the adventure game genre with various action game elements. It is perhaps the broadest and most diverse genre in gaming, and can include many games which might better be categorized under narrow genres. The first known game in this genre is the Atari 2600 game Adventure (1979).[1]

With the decline of the adventure game genre from mainstream popularity, the use of the term (and the hybrid term "action-adventure") has been more liberal. It is not uncommon for gamers to apply the term "adventure" or "action adventure" to describe the genre of fiction to which a game belongs, and not the gameplay itself, sometimes to the dismay of adventure game purists.

There is a distinction between thematic genres and gameplay genres, as in this case they have very different meanings and etymology. "Adventure" is a reference to Colossal Cave Adventure and has no thematic or narrative meaning nor any connection to adventure movies. Similarly, while action games usually do have violent themes similar to action movies, this is not a requirement.

Action-adventure is a hybrid genre, and thus the definition is very inclusive, leading it to be perhaps the broadest genre of computer and video games. Typically, pure adventure games have situational problems for the player to solve, with very little or no action. If there is action, it is generally confined to isolated minigames. Pure action games have gameplay based on real-time interactions that challenge the reflexes. Therefore, action-adventure games engage both reflexes and problem-solving, in both violent and non-violent situations.

Studies have found that males tend to enjoy action-adventure games more than females.[2][3]


An action-adventure game can be defined as a game with a mix of elements from an action game and an adventure game,[1] especially crucial elements like puzzles.[2] Action-adventures require many of the same physical skills as action games, but also offer a storyline, numerous characters, an inventory system, dialogue, and other features of adventure games.[3] They are faster-paced than pure adventure games, because they include both physical and conceptual challenges.[3] Action-adventure games normally include a combination of complex story elements, which are displayed for players using audio and video. The story is heavily reliant upon the player character's movement, which triggers story events and thus affects the flow of the game.[4] Some examples of action-adventure games include The Legend of Zelda, God of War,[3] and Tomb Raider series.[5]

Exactly when a game stops being an adventure game and becomes an action game is a matter of interpretation.[6] There are quite a few disagreements in the community and in the media over what actually constitutes an action-adventure game. One definition of the term "action adventure" may be '"An action/adventure game is a game that has enough action in it not to be called an adventure game, but not enough action to be called an action game."[7] In some cases an action game with puzzles will be classified as an action-adventure game, but if these puzzles are quite simple they might be classified as an action game.[3] Others see action games as a pure genre, while an action-adventure is an action game that includes situational problem-solving.[7] Adventure gamers may also be purists, rejecting any game that makes use of physical challenges or time pressure.[3] Regardless, the action-adventure label is prominent in articles over the internet and media. The term "action-adventure" is usually substituted for a particular sub-genre due to its wide scope.


Although action-adventure games are diverse and difficult to classify, there are some distinct sub-genres. Popular sub-genres include:

  • First-person action-adventure, which make use of first-person shooter gameplay, forgoing constant action in favor of important adventure game elements such as environmental problem-solving and a complex plot. These are sometimes called Real-Time Adventure games or RTAs for short. A notable example of this is Metroid Prime and System Shock.
  • Third-person action-adventure, in which gameplay is in the third-person. Notable examples include games like Rune, Severance: Blade of Darkness and the Grand Theft Auto series.
  • Isometric platform games, which feature freely explorable environments with three-dimensional gameplay and two-dimensional graphics using an isometric projection.
  • Sandbox, which focus on non-linear gameplay in an open world. Notable examples include The Legend of Zelda, Assassin's Creed and the Grand Theft Auto series.
  • Platform-adventure games, which emphasize both exploration and puzzle solving, but also feature traditional platform game conventions. The most famous games of this type are the Metroidvania games.
  • Stealth games, which emphasize avoiding detection by enemies rather than engaging them in direct combat, leading to a greater emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving than other types of action games. A prime example of this is the Metal Gear franchise which helped establish this sub-genre.
  • Survival horror games, which emphasize "inventory management" and making sure the player has enough ammunition and recovery items to "survive" the horror setting. Survival-horror is a thematic genre with diverse gameplay, however, so not all survival horror games share these features. The Resident Evil franchise popularized this sub-genre and stands to date as the most popular franchise of its kind.


Action-adventure games are faster paced than pure adventure games, and include physical as well as conceptual challenges[6] where the story is enacted rather than narrated.[8] While motion-based, often reflexive, actions are required,[4] the gameplay still follows a number of adventure game genre tropes (gathering items, exploration of and interaction with one's environment, often including an overworld connecting areas of importance, and puzzle-solving).[2] While the controls are arcade-style (character movement, few action commands) there is an ultimate goal beyond a high score.[2] In most action-adventure games, the player controls a single avatar as the protagonist.[3] This type of game is often quite similar to role-playing games.

They are distinct from graphic adventures, which sometimes have free-moving central characters, but also wider variety of commands and fewer or no action game elements and are distinct too from text adventures, characterized by many different commands introduced by the user via a complex text parser and no free-moving character. While they share general gameplay dynamics, action-adventures vary widely in the design of their viewpoints, including bird's eye, side-scrolling, first-person, third-person, over-the-shoulder, or even a 3/4 isometric view.

Many action-adventure games simulate a conversation through a conversation tree. When the player encounters a non-player character, they are allowed to select a choice of what to say. The NPC gives a scripted response to the player, and the game offers the player several new ways to respond.

Due to the action-adventure sub-genre's broad inclusive nature it causes some players to having difficulty finishing a particular game. To compensate for this lack of the player's ability, companies have devised ways to give the player help, such as helpful clues, or allowing them to skip puzzles outright.[9]


The first action-adventure game was SEGA's Jet Rocket (1970), a 3D arcade game combining action gameplay with open-world adventure exploration. The first action-adventure video game was Taito's Western Gun (1975), which combined action gameplay with an open-world adventure environment.

Other early action-adventure games include Adventure (1979),[7] the stealth games 005 (1981) and Castle Wolfenstein (1981),[10] and the arcade game Tutankham (1982).[11]

According to Roe R. Adams (who worked on the Wizardry series of RPGs), early action-adventures "were basically arcade games done in a fantasy setting," pointing to Castlevania, Trojan and Wizards & Warriors as examples.[12]

The action-adventure later became an established genre with Shigeru Miyamoto's The Legend of Zelda (1986), which became a success due to how it combined elements from different genres to create a compelling hybrid, including exploration, transport puzzles, adventure-style inventory puzzles, an action component, a monetary system, and simplified RPG-style level building without the experience points.[13] The game was also an early example of open world, non-linear gameplay, and introduced innovations like saving on battery backup. It became one of the most influential games of the 8-bit era, inspiring action-adventures like Metroid and RPGs like Final Fantasy.[14] Zelda has since remained the most prolific action-adventure game series through to the preset day.[15] Zelda also created the open world action-adventure subgenre, which was later popularized by Grand Theft Auto III (2001).

Metroid, which featured a side-scrolling platformer format, itself created the Metroidvania platform-adventure sub-genre. Similarly, Metal Gear (1987) laid the foundations for the stealth game sub-genre, which would later be popularized by Metal Gear Solid (1998).

The cinematic platformer Prince of Persia (1989) featured action-adventure elements, inspiring games such as Another World (1991) and Flashback (1992). Alone in the Dark (1992) featured the use of 3D graphics, which would later be popularized by Resident Evil (1996) and Tomb Raider (1996). Resident Evil in particular created the survival horror sub-genre, inspiring titles such as Silent Hill (1999) and Fatal Frame (2001).[7] The action-adventure game genre has gone on to become more popular than the pure adventure games and pure platform action games that influenced them.[16]


  1. Rollins, A.; Morris, D. (2000). Game Architecture and Design. Coriolis Ed. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Luban, Pascal (2002-12-06). Designing and Integrating Puzzles in Action-Adventure Games. Gamasutra. Think Services Game Group. Archived from the original on 21 December 2008 Retrieved on 2009-02-05
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2006). Fundamentals of Game Design. Prentice Hall. . ISBN 0-13-168747-6.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Luban, Pascal (2002-12-06). Designing and Integrating Puzzles in Action-Adventure Games. Gamasutra. Think Services Game Group. Retrieved on 2009-02-05
  5. Gal, Viviane; Le Prado, Cécile; Natkin, Stéphane; Vega, Liliana (2002). Writing for Video Games. Proceedings Laval Ritual (IVRC). 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design. New Riders Publishing. p. 446. . ISBN 1-59273-001-9.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 A Brief - But Comprehensive - History of the Action/Adventure Genre (02-08-2005). Archived from the original on 29 January 2009 Retrieved on 2009-02-04
  8. Ryan, Marie-Laure (2002), "Beyond Myth and Metaphor - The Case of Narrative in Digital Media", Game Studies (The International Journal of Computer Game Research) 1 (1), archived from the original on 2 February 2009,, retrieved 2009-02-05 
  9. Luban, Pascal (2002-12-06). Designing and Integrating Puzzles in Action-Adventure Games. Gamasutra. Think Services Game Group. Retrieved on 2009-02-05
  10. DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 224. ISBN 0-07-223172-6.,M1. 
  12. Adams, Roe R. (November 1990), "Westward Ho! (Toward Japan, That Is): An Overview of the Evolution of CRPGs on Dedicated Game Machines", Computer Gaming World (76): pp. 83–84 [83], "Action adventures were basically arcade games done in a fantasy setting such as Castlevania, Trojan, and Wizards & Warriors." 
  13. Travis Fahs (2010-08-27). IGN Presents the History of Zelda - Retro Feature at IGN. Retrieved on 2011-01-25
  14. 15 Most Influential Games of All Time: The Legend of Zelda. GameSpot. Retrieved on 2010-01-24
  15. Most-prolific action-adventure video game series. Guinness World Records (1 Jan 2007). Retrieved on 17 April 2012
  16. Ernest Adams (2009-07-09). Sorting Out the Genre Muddle. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2009-05-23