There was a time when games had clear, simple labels. Adventure. Arcade. RPG. War/strategy. You knew, with fair accuracy, what to expect. These days, though, the lines have blurred considerably.

Now we have action/RPG, RTS with RPG elements, FPS with RPG elements, and action/adventure, to name the most popular terms. These and other labels are used, but definitions are lacking.

In an action/RPG, how much is action, and how much role-playing? Is there any role-playing, or do they just mean a character has stats and/or skills?

If it’s just stats, how does an action/RPG differ from FPS/RPG? For example, the upcoming Hellgate: London is not easy to categorize. It has FPS features, it has RPG features, and will probably remind people of Diablo (even the designers say that). So was Diablo really a third-person shooter with RPG elements? Not really.

The primary difference between a shooter and an RPG is that in RPGs, combat is determined by dice rolls based on character abilities, where a shooter’s success is based soley on the ability of the player to aim and fire using controls.

And where does that leave Oblivion? It has all the typical RPG elements, but combat is determined shooter-style (or maybe we should call it console-style), through the use of controls and timing. Is it then a “shooter/RPG”? If not, then how else can we describe it?

All this is not to say that mixing in elements from different game types is bad. But it does lead to some confusion as to what, exactly, a particular game is, what we should expect from it.

Even something as apparently simple as action/RPG is too vague. What is meant by “action”? If we say that Diablo II is an action/RPG, where it was all combat and no fancy moves, what about games that do have fancy moves, combination attacks, and maybe some running and jumping thrown in? Should we call them console-style RPGS?

We need clearer definitions for these “combination games”. Otherwise, players may pass up games they’d actually enjoy, because the label doesn’t mean to them what it does to the designers.