Single-screen video game

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As you play Space Invaders, you'll only ever see this single screen.

A single-screen video game is a video game genre based, not on a mechanic or theme, but rather a lack of variation in appearance and game play. Single-screen video games are those which do not have any significant changes to what the player sees or does on the screen throughout the bulk of the game. This is contrasted with games where they player can move their character into other areas of a larger map, or those which have many different sections.


My family's first console was a second-hand Atari 2600 which came with a couple dozen cartridges, most of which were single-screen video games. Because of this, I have a nostalgic fondness for the genre, but, as one who tries to understand the complexities of video games, I still recognize that they're extremely limited.


I define a single-screen video game as one where what is displayed on the screen appears essentially the same throughout the bulk of game play. That is, if you were to record a video of someone playing the game, nearly all of the frames in the video would look very similar (excluding potential one-offs like title screens and game over screens). This is contrasted with games which have significant changes in the on-screen appearance throughout the course of game play. For example, compare the two shooters Space Invaders and Vanguard. No matter how many levels deep you get into Space Invaders, the game will always look and play the same, however, Vanguard has multiple zones each with its own background that scrolls in different directions and has unique enemies.

I don't know of any video game databases which include a genre of this type, but I think it's an important distinction to make and one which largely separates video games before and after 1980.


Most early video games are single-screen games, consider Computer Space (1971) and Pong (1972). These games were not single-screen out of choice, but rather necessity as the hardware of the time couldn't handle many complex images. Games developed for minicomputers at universities were being made with more complex imagery in the mid 1970s seen in games like Airfight (1974) and DND (1974), but the simplicity remained popular for commercial video games for several years as can be seen with popular titles like Space Invaders (1978) and Asteroids (1979).

As hardware became stronger and cheaper, inroads were made toward making more complex games. Pac-Man (1980) for example is mostly played in a single-screen with a static maze, but it adds several cutscenes and an animated attract mode which add to the complexity, and other games around the same time were bucking the single-screen trend like Mystery House (1980) and Adventure (1980) which are composed of many "rooms" which, though they look similar, greatly expand the imagined size of their game worlds. As the 1980s got underway, games began to really grow in their complexity like with the varied zones of Vanguard (1981), the long tiled maps of Xevious (1982), and the complex isometric scrolling backgrounds of Zaxxon (1982).

By the mid 1980s, hardware was both strong and cheap enough to never have to run in a single-screen ever again, however, some titles kept with the style simply because there was no need for additional bells and whistles, like Microsoft's Solitaire (1994), or purely for aesthetic reasons, like popular puzzle game 2048 (2014).


This is a list of single-screen games which are important to me. For the full list, see the category.

Title Released Developer
2048 2014-03-09 Gabriele Cirulli
Combat 1977-09-11 Atari
Duck Hunt 1984-04-21 Nintendo
Freecell 1991-??-?? Microsoft
Galaga 1981-09-?? Namco
Megamania 1982-??-?? Activision
Pac-Man 1980-05-22 Namco
Taipei 1988-??-?? Dave Norris
Tetris 1989-07-?? Bullet-Proof Software
Yars' Revenge 1982-05-?? Atari