2.5 D – Can refer to 2D games with 3D polygons for graphics ( New Super Mario Bros., Viewtiful Joe ) or (more rarely) to 3D games with 2D sprites for graphics ( Doom) . Or to games with an isometric view, like Solstice for the NES.
AAA – Peacock term for big, rich companies that have huge advertising budgets. An "AAA title" is simply a very famous one with lots of hype leading up to it.
Abandonware – The sketchy gray area between piracy and legitimate ownership. Abandonware games are those that have long been discarded and/or forgotten by their creators. As there is no way to purchase these games, many people (even those who condemn piracy) see no moral or legal problem with distributing these old games in order to keep them alive. The best abandonware site is probably Home of the Underdogs . ( alternate link ). Be sure to click their ads to support them!
Action – Almost all video games involve action, so having a genre called action seems superfluous. Games placed in this genre may be shooters, platformers, or just about anything.
Adventure (1) – Any game with elements of exploration or item-hunting. Used far too frequently by advertisers. Most games labelled "adventure" are actually "find the hidden object" platformers like Jak & Daxter or Donkey Kong 64.
Adventure (2) – A more specific term for games in which the focus is on the player solving puzzles and using items in the correct configuration. Also known as Point-and-Click Adventure games. Many Visual Novels are dumbed-down versions of these. See also Text Adventure.
AFK – Away from keyboard.
Aggro – Gaining the attention of a (usually) computer-controlled enemy. A useful strategy for deliberately taking hits so your allies can attack the enemy from behind, or drawing enemies out one by one so you can fight them at your leisure.
AI – Artificial Intelligence.
Art – An arrangement of items that is considered pleasing. Just kidding, no one uses that definition. When people talk about video games and art, they are generally being irritating windbags who don’t realize how nebulous the word is and how pointless it is to argue whether or not a particular example of media counts as art or not. Rarely in these conversations do people actually talk about gameplay. Both indie games and big-budget film wannabe games attempt to be arty in different ways.
Balancing – Ensuring that the selection of characters doesn’t leave any at an unfair advantage over the others. More important in games popular for use in tournaments than in single-player games.
Beat-Em-Up – A 2D or 3D game in which the player controls a character who runs through levels beating up minor enemies, usually followed by a boss fight. Different from fighting games due to the "minor enemies" part.
Bit – The smallest unit in computing. The term relates to video gaming mostly during the late 1980s through mid 1990s in which game system processors were measured in bits. Advertising during those times frequently bragged about how many bits this or that console was and therefore what it was capable of producing. Modern advertising focuses on the same thing but no longer uses the term Bit.
Boss – An enemy that is much stronger than the rest of the crowd. Some games are comprised entirely of boss fights. The first boss fight in a video game was for 1981′s Space Invaders -inspired GORF .
Boss Run – A series of bosses in a row with no normal enemies in between. Often appear at the end of Capcom games such as Mega Man and Viewtiful Joe .
Buff (1) – An in-game event that increases a player’s stats or utility in some fashion. The mushroom in Super Mario Bros. is a buff.
Buff (2) – When a character, item, or skill is increased in strength or utility in a patch. The opposite of Nerf.
Bug – An unintentional error in a game’s programming. Can be something as minor as a character’s visuals being the wrong color or can be a devastating glitch that renders the game unplayable.
Build – The collection of items and skills chosen for that particular game or character for a specific purpose. “My new build gives me maximum DPS for my class.” In Real-Time Strategy games, a build is the order in which a player sets up offenses, defenses, and structures.
Bullet Hell – Nickname for extremely difficult shmups. See also Shmup.
Cheap, Cheese – Anything that is considered unfair or overpowered. The mating call of the Scrub.
Chipping, Ticking – In fighting games, blocking an enemy’s attack usually still does a tiny amount of damage to the blocker, which is known as chip damage. In Street Fighter II ‘s heyday, this was often considered Cheap and therefore worthy of beating the user with a bicycle chain. Scrubs took their codes of honor seriously in the 1990s.
Combo – A series of moves performed in a fashion that links them together without pause. Typically used in fighting games but can occur in any type of game where moves can be done in quick sequence.
Copy Protection – A barrier placed either at the start of a game or early in it for the purpose of frustrating pirates. Usually involves looking in the game’s manual to get a certain password. The manual, of course, is only available to people who legitimately purchased the game. Copy protection was very common in the 80s and early 90s until internet cracks made it obsolete. See also DRM.
Cover-based – Popularized by Gears of War , this is a mechanic in first- or third-person shooters that is exactly what it appears to be: Hiding behind walls (usually waist-high concrete ones) and occasionally poking your head out to shoot at enemies. Differentiated from other shooters in which the player is usually a near-invincible Rambo who guns down enemies by the thousands.
CRPG – Computer Role-Playing Game. Typically open-ended and Western, as opposed to linear Japanese RPGs. Examples include Wizardry and Fallout . See Role-Playing Game.
Dating Sim – Usually a specific type of visual novel that offers a little bit more complexity, but only in the form of choosing which anime chick you want to marry and how you manage your time to interact with characters and events. Often but not always pornographic.
DC – Disconnect, disconnected. Or might refer to the Sega Dreamcast. Or DC Comics.
Demo (1) – A free and incomplete version of a piece of software (not necessarily a game) distributed to increase awareness and interest in the full product. Can also be Shareware.
Demo (2) – Demonstration. The computer-controlled introduction in the title screens of games such as Super Mario Bros. or many early arcade titles. Also called an Attract Screen.
Demo (3) – A program that represents no product per se, but is a demonstration of the technical chops of the creator. Demonstrates a new or technically impressive programming feat in a small amount of memory or disk space.
DLC – Downloadable content. Usually but not always costs money. Can range from frivolous junk like new costumes to actually useful things like new levels and characters. Very often just a cheap way of getting money from suckers who have to conspicuously consume everything in sight. Especially irritating when they charge you real-life money for content that is already on the game disc. Miraculously, there are still legions of morons who defend this practice.
DPS – Damage per second. A build that creates the most efficient killing possible. Most important in MMOs, MOBAs, and real-time strategy games.
DRM – Digital Rights Management (that’s newspeak if I ever saw it). The process by which access to a game is arbitrarily limited by the creator. Intended to curb piracy and to a lesser extent online cheating. Examples include Diablo III requiring the user to be connected to Blizzard’s server at all times, Spore limiting the amount of installs of the game that the buyer can initiate, and other methods that usually do more to irritate legitimate buyers than pirates.
Dummy, Dummied – Information that has been removed from the game but still remains hidden in the game’s files. Examples can include characters, levels, and items that didn’t make the final cut of the game. Usually only accessible with external cracking of some sort. The Cutting Room Floor is a site dedicated to these.
Dungeon Crawl, Dungeon Crawler – A simple game (usually a Role-Playing Game) featuring labyrinths full of monsters to kill and loot to collect. Invented with Dungeons & Dragons and ported to video games forever after. Examples include 1981′s Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, 1985′s The Bard’s Tale, and all Roguelikes.
Easter Egg – A piece of hidden information within the game. Typically humorous and has no effect on gameplay. Most instances of Easter Eggs are simply pop culture references, but in the 1980s and 90s it was common to have unauthorized messages, images, and even angry rants hidden in the code. There’s a couple websites dedicated to finding these. Easter Eggs are often Dummied.
Engine – "A system designed for the creation and development of video games." An engine will often be reused in sequels or in Mods.
Escort Mission – Any instance in a game where the player must escort a (usually weak) NPC through an area, defending them from traps, enemies, and poor AI along the way. Notoriously unfavorable with most gamers, though game makers frequently keep adding them. I wrote a kinda crappy article on the subject. The only good escort missions I can think of are 2004′s Half-Life 2 and 2005′s Resident Evil 4 .
Fetch Quest – Any kind of filler quest (usually assigned by some random NPC and necessary to complete the game) that has no relevance to the overall plot. Usually entails getting an item, but can be anything from that to rescuing a missing person to clearing out the mine of monsters so the workers can return there. See also Filler.
Fighting Game, Fighter – A genre that pits one character against another without distractions such as obstacles or minor enemies. Often differentiates between 2D and 3D fighting games. Examples include 1984′s Karate Champ , 1991′s Street Fighter II , and 1998′s Soul Calibur .
Filler – Unnecessary content added to artificially lengthen a game. Usually exists so marketing scum can put "50 hours of gameplay" on the back of the box when only 10 of those hours are worthwhile. RPGs usually get the worst of this.
First-Person Shooter, FPS – A game involving shooting stuff with the camera looking through the playable character’s eyes. Examples include 1980′s Battlezone , 1993′s Doom, and 1998′s Half-Life .
GG – Good game. Said after an online game by good sports whether they win or lose. The Scrub will never say this unless he is being condescending.
Grind, Grinding – The boring hamster-wheel-like process of fighting enemies to slowly get stronger. Found in the weaker RPGs of all time periods but especially prevalent in MMOs, which require a lot of player time to get up to snuff.
Hack – Originally referred to either to someone making (completely legal) changes to computer hardware or software. More commonly refers to illegally breaking into someone else’s computer system, or simply cheating at a game to gain an unfair advantage.
Hack-and-Slash – A Beat-Em-Up with weapons instead of fists.
Hitbox (1) – An invisible (to the player) graphic, usually a rectangle or series of rectangles, that surrounds an in-game object’s visible graphics to determine what areas in which they can receive damage. If that’s confusing to you, here’s an image that explains it more clearly .
Hitbox (2) – A joystick with buttons instead of a joystick or d-pad. Here’s a website where you can buy one.
Hitstun – The time between when a character is hit/damaged and when they recover. In fighting games, this means that further hits can be thrown in during this time to create a combo.
Homebrew – People making their own games or other applications for proprietary consoles. Sometimes this involves modification of the hardware or breaking copy protection, meaning homebrew mods can enable piracy. The homebrew programs can be genuine homebrewed games and applications, but the term is most often a euphemism for pirated games, as are "backups".
Hotfix – A patch applied to an online game without temporarily closing the servers down to make sure it works. Can be risky, but if your online-only game has a game-breaking bug, it may be necessary.
Indie – Independently produced. This can be good or bad; many game creators will apply this label to themselves in a purely emotional attempt to imply creativity and auteurship even in the absence of these qualities. Indie games will very frequently be lazy 2D sprite-based platformers with huge ugly pixels in an attempt to appeal to nostalgia but will also be careful to have none of the challenge of the 80s platformers they ostensibly seek to imitate. You can also apparently call your game "indie" even if you have heavy corporate backing and hundreds of employees . Who’s bitter? Not me.
Input Lag – See Lag (2).
Interactive Fiction – See Text Adventure.
IP – Intellectual Property. A copyrighted franchise or the trademarked characters within it. If you want more details, you’ll have to ask a lawyer.
JRPG – Japanese Role-Playing Game, as opposed to Western CRPGs. See Role-Playing Game.
KS – Kill Steal. When a team works together to defeat an enemy and one member of the team claims credit for the victory. This is the rallying cry of arrogant, entitled idiots in multiplayer games. You can troll them by claiming it really stands for "Kill Secure".
Lag (1) – The unnatural slowing down of a game due to a poor internet connection. Frequently blamed for losses, and once in awhile is legitimately responsible for losses.
Lag (2) – Input lag. The delay between the player pressing a button and a response occurring on the screen. Many LCD televisions have input lag; do some research on brands and models before purchasing one. Limiting input lag is extremely important for rhythm games and fighting games because of their need for perfect timing.
LAN – Local Area Network. Refers to the process of hooking up several computers by cable to ensure instant, lag-free connections. LAN parties are typically used for people playing Starcraft or whatever against their friends, or for tournaments. LANs were more common in the 90s before the age of broadband internet. Notably, Starcraft II is not playable over LAN, much to the irritation of the entire nation of Korea.
Load-Bearing Boss – An instance of when, after beating a boss, the boss’ lair crumbles for one reason or another. Exists to add dramatic tension after a final foe is defeated. A common trope in video games as well as film and other media. Can occur within gameplay (as with Metroid or Space Gun ) but can also occur in cutscenes, as with the ending to Ninja Gaiden for the NES.
Loading Screen, Loading Time – When a game has a lot of data to load and forces the player to wait. A lazy loading time indicator will be a screen that simply says "Loading"; most modern loading screens will have the decency to include an animation or mini-game. One method of disguising loading times is having the player walk through long corridors while the loading occurs; this was used in games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and MDK .
Meme – Any thought, idea, or image that spreads rapidly. Naturally, the most obnoxious ones typically become the most popular. Not unique to video gaming. I wrote an article on my least favorite memes .
Metagame – The game within the game or some pretentious crap like that. The metagame is where, in multiplayer games, you not only improve your skills with the game but also consider the opponent’s possible strategies and prepare against them. An example would be if you’re playing Street Fighter II against someone who likes to play a close-range character like Zangief, you can pre-emptively counter him by picking a character good at keeping the opponent at bay, like Dhalsim or Guile.
Metroidvania – A portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania , the awkwardly-named Metroidvania is a genre of action games with heavy exploration elements. Examples include 1986′s Metroid , 1987′s Legacy of the Wizard , and 1996′s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night .
Miniboss – An enemy (usually appearing halfway through a level) that is stronger than the typical cannon fodder but not as strong as a regular boss. Also the name of a pretty good NES cover band .
MMO, MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Something resembling an RPG with a huge online world full of both bots and human players. By far the most popular at the time of this writing and for the foreseeable future is Blizzard’s World of Warcraft . Previous contenders include Everquest and Ultima Online .
Mob – MMORPG term for computer-controller monsters. Irritatingly, may refer to a single monster and not an actual group, as the word "mob" implies. A friend told me that it is short for "mobile", which is not at all intuitive.
MOBA – Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Beginning with Starcraft maps and Defense of the Ancients (a highly complex map series for Warcraft III ), early MOBAs combined aspects of the real-time strategy genre with common RPG elements. The name is somewhat misleading because it appears as if it could apply to first-person shooters or other genres, but it is usually only used in this specific context, though it occasionally (and confusingly) refers to online multiplayer Worms clones. Other examples include League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth .
Mod – Modification. Fans of a particular game or engine will modify it to create new, roughly similar games from the same base. Good examples include the Team Fortress Classic and Counter-Strike mods for Half-Life .
Multiplayer – Offline multiplayer is simply more than one person playing a console (or computers connected on a LAN) in the same room playing each other. Online multiplayer obviously involves an internet connection.
Nerf – When a character, item, or skill is decreased in strength or utility in a patch. Draws comparisons to the Nerf line of foam and plastic toys . According to legend, the name originates from an Ultima Online player complaining that his newly-weakened sword felt like he was hitting enemies with a Nerf bat. The opposite of Buff (2).
Noob, Noobie, Newb, Newbie – Generally derogatory term for a new and unskilled player who doesn’t understand the nuances of a particular game, and usually refers to those who don’t want to learn. Everyone is a newcomer at first, so be patient with them.
NPC – Non-playable character. Computer-controlled entities within the game.
OP – Overpowered. May refer to a specific character, item, or build. Also, on internet message boards, it can refer to the "original poster".
Padding – See Filler.
Palette Swap – The process by which a sprite’s colors are replaced but the basic art and outline remain the same. Enables a game creator to artificially add content to a game rather than developing a new sprite from scratch. Common for adding filler/padding to a game’s length and therefore often seen as lazy, though on old systems it was a technical necessity to save memory.
Patch – An update to a game where bugs are fixed, characters are balanced, and/or content is added. Before every game console was connected to the internet, patches were a expensive headache to get to players, but the problem is mostly resolved.
PC – Player Character. The character(s) within the game that the player controls directly.
Platformer – A 2D or 3D action game in which the focus is navigating a level by jumping on various platforms and bypassing obstacles. The quintessential platformer is 1985′s Super Mario Bros. , though there are earlier examples such as 1982′s Pitfall.
Polygon – A simple 2D shape combined with many other such shapes to create the illusion of a 3D object.
Pubstomper – Nickname for a character, item, or build that excels at beating new players due to their inexperience but is easily shut down by high-skill players. The "pub" refers to public games as opposed to professional ones.
Quick-Time Event – When a prompt to press a button or joystick movement appears on screen and punishes the player for not pressing it in time, that’s a Quick-Time Event. A lazy and shallow method of interacting with the game, as even primitive games like 1962′s Spacewar! had a greater degree of control than pressing a single button. Common in the God of War franchise, Heavy Rain, Uncharted, and anything else that obviously wants to be a movie.
Rail Shooter, On-Rails Shooter – A first- or third-person game in which the player scrolls automatically through a level while shooting at enemies and obstacles. Examples include 1985′s Space Harrier , 1995′s Time Crisis , and 2002′s Panzer Dragoon Orta .
Real-Time Strategy, RTS – Exactly what the title says, for once. The most popular is 1998′s Starcraft , though earlier examples include 1981′s Utopia and 1989′s Herzog Zwei.
Recurring Boss – A boss that makes repeated appearances throughout the game, often with some kind of enhancement with each new iteration. Often seen as filler, but not always bad. Common in Capcom games.
Rhythm Game – A game in which the player controls the input in tune with music. Examples include 1996′s PaRappa the Rapper , 2005′s Guitar Hero , and 2007′s Rock Band .
RNG – Random Number Generator. Most games have some element of randomness, and there are multiple programming methods for simulating this.
Roguelike – A type of Dungeon Crawler featuring randomly generated levels and permanent player death. Famous for their brutal difficulty and sparse graphics. Named after 1980′s Rogue. Other examples include 1987′s Nethack , 1994′s Ancient Domains of Mystery, and 2010′s Dwarf Fortress. There’s a decent podcast about Roguelikes here .
Role-Playing Game, RPG – A very heavily contested term with multiple definitions.
Role-Playing Game, RPG (1) – A game with multiple players relying on a pre-established set of rules and the imagination of the players. The most popular is Dungeons & Dragons. Also called Pen & Paper RPGs or Tabletop RPGs.
Role-Playing Game, RPG (2) – Any game with numbers and crap. Yes, people will actually attempt to apply the term to anything with math involved. Popular examples include the Fallout series and the Final Fantasy series (though they are significantly different from one another).
Role-Playing Game, RPG (3) – A game in which a role is truly played and controlled by the player, who determines the actions and choices of the characters in an organic and flexible manner. Fallout and Deus Ex are some of the few games that can claim this definition.
Run-and-Gun – A side-scrolling action game with a moving character and lots of shooting. Examples include Contra and Gunstar Heroes.
Salty – Angry, sad. Refers to salty tears.
Save Scumming – Saving the game, performing an action, and repeatedly reloading until the desired result is achieved. Typically abuses the Random Number Generator. Common in games with gambling; viewed with scorn by fans of Roguelikes, who see it as dishonorable.
Scrolling – The process by which the game screen moves in one or more directions. May be either forced or player-controlled.
Scrub – The most basic definition is “bad player”. Egomaniac Dave Sirlin expands on this by identifying a scrub as not only a bad player, but one who has a prideful and nonsensical notion that he is always victorious. If a certain item or technique or character beat them, then that thing is unfair and should not be used, and anyone who uses it is cheating. If they undeniably lose to an opponent’s pure skill, then that opponent is a tryhard who lives in his parent’s basement, has no life, etc. For the scrub, no loss is considered legitimate; all wins lead to gloating, and of course the other guy only won because of lag.
Shareware – A piece of software (not necessarily a game) distributed with an expectation that if you keep it you must pay for it, but with no technical way to enforce this expectation. See also Demo, DRM.
Shmup, Shoot-Em-Up – A genre of games in which the player controls a small ship or character that fires bullets at incoming enemy ships. Began with one of the very first games, Computer Space , and popularized with Space Invaders . Considered a niche genre these days, especially as more and more complex variations such as the Touhou series have appeared.
Shooter – Can refer to first- or third-person shooters, to shmups, to rail shooters, or to run-and-guns. Confusing, I know.
Smurf, Smurfing – When an experienced player in a game creates a new account either for the purpose of disguising themselves as a new player and using their skill to easily defeat inexperienced opponents, or (more selflessly) to guide a low-level friend along until they learn the ropes. The term originates from Warcraft II , where players named PapaSmurf and Smurfette would do the former. Sometimes used in non-gaming contexts with a meaning similar to sockpuppeting .
SNK Boss – Notoriously overpowered bosses with unfair advantages. Some enjoy playing against them (I most certainly do) and some don’t. Obsessive-compulsive nerd site TV Tropes has a good list of them .
Speedrun – "A speedrun is an undertaking wherein someone plays a game with the intent of finishing it either as quickly as possible or as completely as possible." I wrote an article on the subject if you want some more detail.
Sprite – A 2D bitmap graphical representation placed on a background or field of some sort. The huge majority of games were sprite-based until progressing technology made polygons more viable.
SRPG – Strategy Role-Playing Game. Typically the same as a regular JRPG but involves a lot of number crunching and has the characters set on a grid. Examples include 1995′s Tactics Ogre, 1997′s Final Fantasy Tactics, and 2003′s Disgaea.
Stealth – Exactly what it says: A single sequence or an entire game devoted to running, hiding, and tricking enemies rather than confronting them directly. The first example is probably 1980′s Castle Wolfenstein , but 1998′s Metal Gear Solid , Tenchu: Stealth Assassins , and Thief: The Dark Project (yes, all from the same year) popularized the genre. Some games, such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker have forced and out-of-place stealth segments, to the consternation of many players.
Text Adventure – The earliest form of Adventure (2). Because of hardware limitations, the games were entirely in text with no graphical representations. The result was adventure games with exploration and puzzles, typically but not always written in the second person ("You open the door, you look into the bag," etc.). The genre still has an active fanbase that continues to create new games . Also known as Interactive Fiction.
Third-Person Shooter – A game involving shooting stuff with the camera positioned behind the playable character’s shoulders. Examples include 1996′s Tomb Raider, 1998′s Metal Gear Solid , and 2006′s Gears of War .
Tower Defense – A genre in which towers and obstacles are placed on a field to fight incoming hordes of enemies to prevent them from reaching a goal. Popular with players who like to plan ahead rather than using twitch reflexes. Examples include 2007′s Desktop Tower Defense (natch), 2008′s Gemcraft , and maybe 1990′s Rampart.
Trainer – An unauthorized program used for cheating in a game by monkeying around with the code, usually with hexadecimal. The name comes from the theory that a new player will use the cheating program to make the game easier until they train themselves to be good at the game without it. In reality, however, they are almost always used for simple god-moding, but they can occasionally do interesting things like creating items.
UP – Underpowered. May refer to a specific character, item, or build.
Vector – The Betamax of video game graphics, vectors were an alternative to sprites in which a series of lines and circles were utilized to create wireframes for the game’s display. Though common in the 1970s and 1980s arcade games, vectors fell out of favor due primarily to the special monitors required to produce them, as sprites and polygons can be displayed on regular television screens. The only home system to use vectors was the Vectrex, though nowadays all 3D and some 2D games use vectors for game assets. Some SNES games were made by rendering 3D models to 2D sprites, such as Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, and Another World.
Visual Novel – A simple genre of games in which player interaction is limited to scrolling through text and occasionally selecting options from a menu, though they can also involve management of time or resources. Usually cranked out en masse by lazy anime companies to get a quick buck from minimal effort, though some (like 2010′s Ghost Trick ) are more complex and interesting.
Yomi – Similar to the Metagame, Yomi is the thought process where you consider what your human opponent is going to do and then reacting in that fashion. Like, if you know they’re going to use strategy x, use strategy y, which counters strategy x. But they might be expecting that and use strategy z, which beats strategy y. Popular and therefore meme-d in fighting game circles, where you can expect to hear jokes about things like "layer 15 Yomi" whenever one player outguesses another. WEBS WITHIN WEBS!
Zoning – Refers to the practice of using moves and strategies to keep the opponent in a position that suits you (not them) best. This can be as simple as keeping them at a long distance or can be more complex, involving keeping an enemy at an exact distance where their options are limited. Generally a fighting game term but is also important in RTSes, MOBAs, and any other genre where positioning is important.
Last updated November 1, 2013.