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When Did Action Games Become Popular? A Comprehensive Look at the Evolution of the Genre

Action games have been a staple of the gaming industry for decades, providing players with an adrenaline-fueled experience filled with thrilling gameplay and heart-pumping action. But when did these games become popular? How did they evolve over time to become the beloved genre that they are today? In this comprehensive look at the evolution of action games, we’ll explore the history of the genre, from its humble beginnings to its current state of popularity. Get ready to join us on a journey through the world of action games and discover when they became the must-play games that they are today.

The Origins of Action Games

Early Arcade Games

In the early days of video games, the genre that would come to be known as “action games” was still in its infancy. However, the seeds of what would become a hugely popular genre were planted in the early 1980s with the release of several influential arcade games.

One of the earliest and most influential action games was “Space Invaders” (1978), which was developed by Tomohiro Nishiyama and released by Taito in Japan. The game was later licensed to be released in the United States by the Midway division of Bally. In “Space Invaders,” players controlled a laser cannon at the bottom of the screen and had to defend against waves of alien invaders. The game’s simple yet addictive gameplay, along with its colorful graphics and catchy music, helped to popularize the action game genre.

Another influential early arcade game was “Donkey Kong” (1981), which was developed by Shigeru Miyamoto and released by Nintendo. The game starred a character named Jumpman (later renamed Mario) who had to navigate a series of platforms and obstacles to rescue a damsel in distress from a giant ape named Donkey Kong. The game’s innovative use of platforming and obstacle-jumping gameplay mechanics would go on to influence countless action games in the years to come.

In addition to “Space Invaders” and “Donkey Kong,” other early arcade games that helped to shape the action game genre included “Galaxian” (1979), “Pac-Man” (1980), and “Defender” (1980). These games, along with many others, laid the groundwork for the action game genre as we know it today.

Home Consoles and the Rise of Platformers

The advent of home consoles revolutionized the gaming industry, allowing players to experience action games in the comfort of their own homes. The early 1980s saw the emergence of platformers, which were simple games that featured a character running and jumping across obstacles. These games were designed to be accessible to a wide audience, and their popularity quickly soared.

One of the earliest examples of a platformer was “Pitfall” (1982), which was developed by Activision for the Atari 2600. The game featured an adventurer named Pitfall Harry, who navigated through a series of jungle environments, avoiding hazards and collecting treasures. “Pitfall” was a critical and commercial success, and it set the stage for the development of future platformers.

Another influential platformer was “Super Mario Bros.” (1985), which was developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game starred Mario, a plumber who embarked on a quest to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of the evil Bowser. “Super Mario Bros.” was praised for its innovative gameplay mechanics, such as the ability to jump on top of enemies and the introduction of power-ups like the “Super Star,” which granted players temporary invincibility.

The success of “Super Mario Bros.” helped to establish the platformer genre, and it inspired countless imitators and sequels. The game’s influence can still be felt today, as many modern action games owe a debt to the formula established by “Super Mario Bros.”

In addition to “Pitfall” and “Super Mario Bros.,” other notable platformers from the 1980s included “Donkey Kong” (1981), “Mega Man” (1987), and “Castle Wolfenstein” (1981). These games were instrumental in shaping the action game genre, and they continue to be celebrated by gamers and critics alike.

The Golden Age of Action Games

Key takeaway: Action games have come a long way since their inception in the early 1980s. From early arcade games like Space Invaders and Donkey Kong to modern 3D games like Super Mario Bros. and Doom, action games have evolved significantly in terms of gameplay mechanics, graphics, and storytelling. The genre has also seen a rise in popularity with the advent of home consoles and the introduction of new gaming hardware, leading to more immersive and engaging gameplay experiences. As we move into the future, action games are set to continue evolving, with trends like games as a service, virtual reality, and cross-platform play shaping the genre’s development.

The 1990s

The 1990s was a pivotal decade for the action game genre. With the widespread adoption of 3D graphics and the introduction of new gaming hardware, action games became more immersive and engaging than ever before. The following are some of the most notable events and releases that defined the action game genre in the 1990s:

The Rise of 3D Graphics

One of the most significant developments in the 1990s was the widespread adoption of 3D graphics in video games. With the release of the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in the late 1980s, 3D graphics had already begun to transform the gaming landscape. However, it was in the 1990s that 3D graphics became truly ubiquitous, thanks to the release of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64.

The Emergence of New Characters and Franchises

The 1990s also saw the emergence of several iconic characters and franchises that would go on to define the action game genre. Some of the most notable examples include:

  • Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider series, which debuted in 1996, featured the adventures of Lara Croft, a fierce and resourceful archaeologist who traversed the globe in search of lost treasures and ancient artifacts. The game’s combination of exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat made it an instant classic, and Lara Croft herself became a cultural icon.
  • Mario and Luigi: The Super Mario series, which had debuted in the 1980s, continued to evolve and innovate in the 1990s. In addition to classic side-scrolling platformers like Super Mario World and Super Mario 64, the decade also saw the release of games like Super Mario RPG and Mario Kart 64, which expanded the series’ scope and gameplay mechanics.
  • Solid Snake: The Metal Gear series, which debuted in 1987, reached its zenith in the 1990s with the release of Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation. The game’s stealth-based gameplay and intricate storyline made it a critical and commercial success, and its protagonist, Solid Snake, became one of the most recognizable and beloved characters in gaming history.

The Influence of Movies and Pop Culture

In addition to the emergence of new characters and franchises, the 1990s also saw the action game genre begin to draw inspiration from movies and pop culture. Games like GoldenEye 007, which was based on the James Bond movie of the same name, and Tomb Raider, which drew inspiration from Indiana Jones and other adventure movies, demonstrated the potential for action games to be more than just simple platformers or shooters.

Overall, the 1990s were a pivotal decade for the action game genre. With the rise of 3D graphics, the emergence of new characters and franchises, and the influence of movies and pop culture, the decade set the stage for the action game genre to continue to evolve and innovate in the years to come.

Iconic Characters and Franchises

The Golden Age of Action Games, spanning from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, saw the emergence of numerous iconic characters and franchises that have since become synonymous with the genre. Some of the most notable franchises during this period include:

  1. Mario: Nintendo’s flagship character, Mario, debuted in the 1981 game “Donkey Kong” and has since appeared in numerous successful games, such as the “Super Mario” series, “Mario Kart,” and “Mario Tennis.” His adventures, often accompanied by his brother Luigi and Princess Peach, have captivated gamers of all ages.
  2. Link: The protagonist of the “Legend of Zelda” series, Link, first appeared in the 1986 game “The Legend of Zelda” and has since become an iconic figure in the action game genre. Link’s quest to save Hyrule and its inhabitants has spawned numerous critically acclaimed titles, showcasing his agility, combat skills, and magical abilities.
  3. Sonic the Hedgehog: Debuting in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog brought a new level of speed and platforming to the action game genre. His fast-paced adventures, accompanied by his loyal friend Tails, have captured the hearts of gamers worldwide, with numerous successful titles and spin-offs released across various platforms.
  4. Duke Nukem: Debuting in 1991 with “Duke Nukem,” the titular character quickly became a symbol of the action game genre. Known for his one-liners, wisecracks, and ego, Duke Nukem’s adventures have spanned multiple games, with the most popular being “Duke Nukem 3D,” which has been regarded as a classic first-person shooter.
  5. Doomguy: First appearing in the 1993 game “Doom,” the nameless protagonist, often referred to as “Doomguy,” has become an iconic figure in the action game genre. As a space marine, Doomguy battles demonic forces in a dystopian world, with the franchise’s fast-paced gameplay and impressive graphics setting the standard for first-person shooters.

These franchises, among others, have left an indelible mark on the action game genre, paving the way for future titles and influencing countless developers.

The Evolution of Action Games in the 21st Century

Technological Advancements

In the 21st century, action games have undergone a significant transformation due to technological advancements. The gaming industry has experienced a tremendous leap in graphics, processing power, and storage capacity. These advancements have allowed developers to create more immersive and engaging action games that capture the imagination of players worldwide.


One of the most notable advancements in the 21st century has been the improvement in graphics. With the introduction of powerful gaming consoles and PCs, action games have evolved from simple 2D sprites to stunning 3D environments with lifelike characters and textures. This shift has allowed developers to create more realistic and engaging game worlds, making the gaming experience more immersive and exciting.

Processing Power

The increase in processing power has also allowed for more complex game mechanics and AI. Developers can now create more intricate enemy AI, which provides a greater challenge to players. Additionally, more sophisticated physics engines have been implemented in action games, providing a more realistic and dynamic gaming experience.

Storage Capacity

The growth in storage capacity has enabled developers to create larger and more intricate game worlds. This has allowed for the inclusion of multiple characters, enemy types, and environments, which adds variety and excitement to action games. Additionally, the larger storage capacity has allowed for the inclusion of high-quality audio and voice acting, which enhances the overall gaming experience.

In conclusion, the technological advancements in the 21st century have significantly impacted the evolution of action games. These advancements have allowed developers to create more immersive and engaging game worlds, providing players with a more exciting and dynamic gaming experience.

New Genres and Subgenres

In the 21st century, action games have continued to evolve and diversify, giving rise to new genres and subgenres. One of the most notable trends in recent years has been the emergence of “games as a service” models, which rely on ongoing updates and expansions to keep players engaged over long periods of time.

Another important development has been the increasing focus on narrative and character development in action games. Many modern action games feature complex storylines and well-developed characters, allowing players to immerse themselves in rich and engaging worlds.

Additionally, there has been a growing interest in exploring mature themes and addressing social issues in action games. This has led to the development of games that tackle topics such as politics, war, and identity, offering players the opportunity to engage with complex and thought-provoking ideas.

Some of the most popular new genres and subgenres in action games include:

  • Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs): These games pit teams of players against each other in intense, strategic battles. Examples include “League of Legends” and “Dota 2”.
  • Battle Royale: In these games, players are dropped onto a large map and must scavenge for weapons and supplies while fighting to be the last person or team standing. Examples include “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds”.
  • Roguelikes: These games combine action gameplay with elements of roguelike games, featuring permadeath and procedurally generated levels. Examples include “Spelunky” and “The Binding of Isaac”.
  • Action-Adventure: These games combine action gameplay with elements of adventure games, featuring open worlds and exploration. Examples include the “Uncharted” series and “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”.
  • Survival Horror: These games blend action gameplay with horror elements, featuring terrifying enemies and environments. Examples include the “Resident Evil” series and “Outlast”.

Overall, the 21st century has seen a significant expansion of the action game genre, with new genres and subgenres continuing to emerge and push the boundaries of what is possible in video games.

The Impact of Action Games on Popular Culture

The Gaming Industry

Action games have played a significant role in the growth and evolution of the gaming industry. With their fast-paced gameplay, intense action, and engaging storylines, these games have captivated players of all ages and skill levels. In this section, we will explore the impact of action games on the gaming industry, including their influence on game design, technology, and marketing.

The Rise of Console Gaming

One of the most significant impacts of action games on the gaming industry is the rise of console gaming. As action games became more popular, console manufacturers like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft began to focus on developing consoles that could handle the demands of these games. This led to a significant increase in the power and capabilities of console hardware, allowing for more immersive and realistic gameplay experiences.

The Emergence of First-Person Shooters

Another impact of action games on the gaming industry is the emergence of first-person shooters (FPS) as a dominant genre. FPS games, which are characterized by their first-person perspective and fast-paced combat, have become some of the most popular and lucrative games in the industry. Titles like Doom, Quake, and Halo have set the standard for FPS games, and their success has inspired countless imitators and innovations.

The Influence of Action Games on Game Design

Action games have also had a significant impact on game design as a whole. The success of these games has inspired developers to push the boundaries of what is possible in terms of graphics, sound, and gameplay mechanics. Many of the most popular game design techniques and concepts, such as open-world exploration, dynamic combat systems, and skill trees, have been influenced by action games.

The Role of Marketing in the Popularity of Action Games

Finally, the popularity of action games can also be attributed to the marketing efforts of game developers and publishers. Through targeted advertising campaigns, influencer partnerships, and social media promotion, action games have become household names and cultural phenomena. The success of these marketing efforts has helped to create a demand for action games, which has in turn fueled the growth of the gaming industry as a whole.

Overall, the impact of action games on the gaming industry has been profound and far-reaching. These games have inspired countless innovations and have helped to shape the industry into what it is today. As the industry continues to evolve, it is clear that action games will remain an important and influential part of the gaming landscape.

Film and Television

Action games have had a significant impact on popular culture, particularly in the realms of film and television. The influence of these games can be seen in the themes, characters, and storylines of many action movies and TV shows. Here are some examples of how action games have influenced film and television:

Influence on Action Movies

Action movies have always been popular, but the influence of action games can be seen in the way they are made. Many action movies now feature fast-paced, over-the-top action sequences that are reminiscent of the games. For example, the “John Wick” franchise, which stars Keanu Reeves as a retired hitman seeking revenge, features non-stop action sequences that are reminiscent of the “Assassin’s Creed” and “Uncharted” game series.

Influence on Television

Action games have also had an impact on television, particularly in the realm of science fiction and fantasy shows. Shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Mandalorian” all feature characters and storylines that are reminiscent of the games. For example, the “The Walking Dead” features a group of survivors fighting for their lives against hordes of zombies, while “Game of Thrones” features a complex world of politics, magic, and dragons.

Influence on Animation

Animation has also been affected by the popularity of action games. Shows like “Naruto” and “Dragon Ball Z” feature characters with special abilities and epic battles that are reminiscent of the games. These shows have become very popular among gamers and non-gamers alike, and have helped to popularize the action game genre even further.

In conclusion, the influence of action games on film and television cannot be ignored. The fast-paced, over-the-top action sequences and characters found in these mediums are reminiscent of the games, and have helped to popularize the genre even further. As the popularity of action games continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how they continue to influence popular culture in the future.

The Future of Action Games

Upcoming Releases and Trends

As the action game genre continues to evolve, it is important to look at the upcoming releases and trends that are shaping its future. In this section, we will explore some of the most anticipated action games set to release in the coming years, as well as the trends that are likely to influence the genre’s development.

Most Anticipated Action Games

Some of the most anticipated action games set to release in the coming years include:

  1. Cyberpunk 2077: This highly anticipated game from CD Projekt Red is set in a dystopian future and features an open-world, non-linear storyline. Players will take on the role of a mercenary in a cyberpunk world filled with advanced technology and dangerous criminals.
  2. Halo Infinite: The latest installment in the iconic Halo series, Halo Infinite promises to deliver a thrilling campaign and multiplayer experience. The game’s developers have promised to listen to fan feedback and deliver a more accessible and streamlined experience.
  3. God of War: Ragnarok: The sequel to the critically acclaimed God of War (2018), this game follows Kratos and his son Atreus as they venture into the Norse realms to fulfill a prophecy. The game promises to be a darker and more mature adventure than its predecessor.

Trends Shaping the Future of Action Games

Several trends are likely to influence the future of action games, including:

  1. Games as a Service: Many game developers are embracing the “games as a service” model, which involves releasing new content and updates for games over an extended period. This approach promises to keep players engaged and invested in their favorite games for longer periods.
  2. Virtual Reality: Virtual reality technology is becoming more affordable and accessible, which is likely to lead to an increase in the number of action games designed for VR platforms. This could potentially revolutionize the way players experience action games.
  3. Cross-Platform Play: With the rise of cross-platform play, players can now play games with their friends on different platforms. This trend is likely to continue, making it easier for players to connect and play their favorite action games together.

Overall, the future of action games looks bright, with exciting new releases and trends shaping the genre’s development. Whether you are a fan of first-person shooters, hack-and-slash adventures, or something in between, there is sure to be an action game to suit your tastes in the coming years.

Challenges and Opportunities


  1. Increasing Competition: With the rise of mobile gaming and indie developers, the action game genre faces increasing competition from a diverse range of titles. This requires constant innovation and creativity to stand out and attract players.
  2. Evolving Player Expectations: As technology advances and players become more sophisticated, the bar for quality and innovation is constantly raised. Action game developers must stay ahead of the curve to meet these expectations and keep players engaged.
  3. Legal and Ethical Concerns: The gaming industry is under increased scrutiny for its content, leading to stricter regulations and ethical considerations. Action game developers must navigate these challenges while still delivering engaging and exciting experiences.


  1. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: The integration of VR and AR technologies offers new possibilities for immersive and interactive action game experiences. Developers can push the boundaries of what’s possible and create unforgettable gaming experiences.
  2. Cross-Platform Play: The growing trend of cross-platform play opens up new avenues for collaboration and community building. Action game developers can tap into larger player bases and foster a sense of community across different platforms.
  3. Gaming as a Service: The shift towards gaming as a service model provides opportunities for ongoing support, updates, and monetization. Action game developers can maintain player engagement and generate revenue through regular content updates and seasonal events.


1. When did action games first appear?

Action games have been around since the early days of video games. The first action game is often considered to be “Space Invaders,” which was released in 1978. This game was a simple shooter that allowed players to control a cannon and shoot at aliens that were descending from the top of the screen.

2. When did action games become popular?

Action games became popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the release of games such as “Super Mario Bros.,” “Mega Man,” and “Contra.” These games featured fast-paced gameplay, exciting action, and challenging levels, which helped to establish the action genre as a staple of the video game industry.

3. What are some of the most popular action games of all time?

Some of the most popular action games of all time include “Super Mario Bros.,” “Tetris,” “Doom,” “Half-Life,” “Metal Gear Solid,” “Resident Evil,” and “Call of Duty.” These games have all had a significant impact on the action genre and have helped to shape the way that action games are designed and played.

4. How has the action game genre evolved over time?

The action game genre has evolved significantly over time. Early action games were simple and focused on straightforward gameplay mechanics, such as shooting and jumping. As technology has advanced, action games have become more complex, with more advanced graphics, more intricate storylines, and more varied gameplay mechanics. Additionally, action games have expanded to include a wide range of sub-genres, such as platformers, shooters, and beat ’em ups.

5. What is the future of action games?

The future of action games is likely to see continued evolution and innovation. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more realistic graphics, more immersive gameplay, and more advanced AI. Additionally, we can expect to see the continued development of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, which have the potential to revolutionize the way that action games are played. Overall, the action game genre is likely to remain a staple of the video game industry for years to come.

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