8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit Early video game systems had 8-bit and then 16-bit processors, which were much less powerful than today’s processors and meant the music and graphics were less sophisticated than they are today.
A-button Any button on a game controller labeled with the letter A. For most Nintendo games, the A-button controls the game’s most basic functions (selecting an item from a menu, opening a door, etc.).
achievement A special accomplishment by a gamer. Achievements are sometimes awarded within a game when a particular game goal is reached, and sometimes achievements are meta-goals achieved outside the game (sometimes called badges or medals or trophies).
action-adventure (genre) A game genre that combines adventure games—which focus on exploration and puzzle-solving—with action games—which involve shooting or fighting. If that sounds like any game to you, well, you’re probably right.
aggro (also: threat) The act of gaining the attention of a non-player character (NPC), usually in a massively multiplayer online game, causing the NPC to change behavior—usually to attack. Players are sometimes criticized when they trigger aggro by mistake, by getting too close to a monster, for example. Aggro is also used as a slang term for “aggravation,” as in “spouse aggro” (when a spouse gets angry because you’re playing too many video games).
AI Stands for “artificial intelligence.” AI in games is used to produce the illusion of intelligence in non-player characters. A famous AI is the GLaDOS character in Portal and Portal 2. She’s scary, and very funny too.
alt (alternate character) A character or avatar gamers create that is different from their main or primary character (“mains”). Alts are used most often in massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft. Some players create many alts, and sometimes players use alts to gather resources for their mains.
AOE Stands for “area of effect.” An AOE attack usually affects more than just the character it is targeted on; it will also create a hostile environment around them and damage other characters as well.
B-button Any button on a game controller labeled with the letter B. For most Nintendo games, the B-button controls the most basic attack function.
belt Item of armor for an avatar in World of Warcraft. Belts can be upgraded and sometimes strengthened with gems.
boss battle Like it sounds, battle with a boss (above). It cannot be avoided; most boss battles are essential for finishing a game. The final boss battle is the last boss battle of a game, and is typically the most challenging.
boss key In The Legend of Zelda franchise, the boss key is the special key required to gain entry to the final boss battle. It is usually kept in an unusually-colored treasure chest.
bot An automated character in a video game masquerading as an avatar controlled by a real human. In online games, bots are generally against the rules of the game but are often used to farm or collect resources around the clock.
Bowser The antagonist of most games in the Mario franchise. Bowser is the King of the Koopas, a turtle-like race. He has orange skin and a spiked, dark green turtle shell.
camping In multiplayer first-person shooters, campers are players that hold a single position and remain there, picking off enemies from impenetrable cover. This is looked down on because it effectively eliminates competition, giving the camper an unfair advantage. In other games, like MMOs, campers might kill a player and wait for them to return to claim their items back, then kill them again while they’re weak.
character class Especially in RPGs, class designates what special capabilities or attributes a character has.
chat Players communicate via text or through speakers. In multiplayer games different chat groups are referred to as channels.
check point See savepoint.
D12 A 12-sided dice used in tabletop gaming. A typical dice has only 6 sides, and is referred to as a D6, but there are many non-cubic die. The most common are D20, D12, D10, D8, D6, and D4. This Wikipedia article has more on the subject.
DPS Short for “damage per second.” Technically refers to the actual damage a character or weapon can deal per one second, but is also used to refer to a character with a high DPS, such as a rogue or assassin.
damage Usually refers to the numerical value of hitpoints lost when a character or enemy is attacked. For example, if a character hits an enemy with a sword, and the enemy loses 5 hitpoints as a result, the sword will have done 5 damage.
DM 1. See “dungeon master.” 2. Death match, playing till the last player or last team standing. Common in FPS games.
downtime (server) In online gaming, server downtime indicates that players will not be able to log onto the game. This can occur for several reasons, including technical difficulties, server maintenance, or server overload (too many players at once).
drop (loot) Enemies often carry items that the player might like. These items are referred to collectively as “loot,” but when an enemy dies, the loot is sometimes referred to as “a drop.” E.g. “What’d they drop?”
dungeon In multiplayer games, typically a special area that regenerates a new copy for each group or player that enters. Also referred to as an “instance.” It can also refer to a more traditional dungeon setting, however.
dungeon crawl The term originated in tabletop gaming, but has more recently been used to refer to players entering a dungeon or area and cleaning the place of enemies and loot. Players wishing to gain easy treasure or experience without engaging in a storyline will often go on dungeon crawls.
dungeon master The person who narrates a tabletop game. Commonly referred to only by initials, the DM is in charge of the storytelling component of a tabletop game, and is typically considered both omniscient and all-powerful.
emulator A program that allows a computer or other device to emulate the behavior of a game different video game platform. For instance, emulators are available for phones that emulate games that used to be available only on stand-alone arcade games or console games.
ESRB The Entertainment Software Rating Board. This is the organization responsible for rating video games, much as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rates movies. expansion (pack) Additional material for a particular game that is offered after the main game is released. Expansion packs often include additional areas, characters, or story lines.
experience (EXP, XP) Generally experience is earned in points. Characters may gain a certain amount of experience points from defeating enemies, crafting objects, and completing quests or missions. Typically a certain amount of experience will result in a character gaining a level, at which point new skills, rewards, or abilities are unlocked.
farming Some players “farm” for in-game money (gold pieces, typically) by ignoring quests and storylines and simply playing to find more treasure. Although individuals can farm on occasion, the term farming is generally used to refer to people who do this exclusively, often for real world payment. Farmers can sell in-game money to players for real value.
fighter (genre) Usually fighters pit two characters against each other, often in hand-to-hand combat. The player takes the role of one of the characters against a computer-controlled character or against another player.
FPS 1. First-person shooter. “First person” refers to the point of view. In a first person game, the camera positions you so that you are looking through the character’s eyes. Shooting, of course, refers to the action. 2. See frames per second.
free-to-play Many casual games and apps like Candy Crush or Angry Birds are free-to-play. These games cost no money to download, but rather make revenue from in-game microtransactions.
Game Over These fateful words appear when a player has used up his or her last life. At this point, their options are quitting, inserting more money, starting over from the last save point, or starting over from the beginning. That’s rough, buddy.
Ganon/Ganondorf The main antagonist for The Legend of Zelda franchise. Ganondorf is the King of the Gerudo, a tribe of thieves who live in the desert. Ganondorf has extremely powerful dark magics and usually wields the Triforce of Power. He is immune to most attacks, but is weak against silver arrows, light arrows, and the Master Sword. After the first phase of the final battle in Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf transforms into the animal-like Ganon.
griefer A player who repeatedly provokes other players or makes the gaming experience negative in other ways. For example, they might kill inexperienced and undefended players over and over again, steal loot from them, or block them from passing through an area.
healer (also: priest, monk) Character archetype commonly found in fantasy games. Healers typically act as support characters and have low defensibility and low attack ratings. They are, however, indispensable in most RPG games.
Hot Coffee A famous, normally inaccessible minigame from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which allows the player to control the game’s main character while he is having sex with his girlfriend. The secret level was discovered by hackers, and caused quite a scandal in 2005.
HUD Abbreviation of “heads-up display.” In gaming this refers to the data that appears on the edges of the screen. This data includes information such as health, experience, items, maps, units under the player’s control, and other metadata.
interactive novel A game, typically text-based, where a player interacts with the environment in order to receive the story. This often results in choose-your-own-adventure type of gameplay, with multiple endings to the narrative. The interactive elements of most interactive novels are minimal; players click and choose dialogue or action options from a list, then watch as the story unfolds.
joystick A maneuverable, pivoting stick used for controlling avatars within a game. Usually they’re only one aspect of a more complex game controller, but some joysicks are their own controllers.
key bind The technique of mapping a certain action or command to a specific keyboard key, thus creating a shortcut. PC gamers often create their own key binds in order to make it easier and faster to perform certain moves.
Let’s Play Some gamers record themselves as they play and post the videos online for others to watch. These are collectively referred to as “Let’s Plays,” and some Let’s Players have the most followed channels on YouTube.
Link The name of every protagonist of The Legend of Zelda franchise. There are many Links in the Zelda universe, and each is blonde, wears green, has pointed ears, and exhibits a strong level of courage. In most incarnations, Link’s voice is only heard in his dramatic battle cries. The exception is the Link of The Legend of Zelda television series, who needs to shut up.
Luigi The younger, taller brother of Mario. Together they are the Super Mario Bros., and have starred in a number of games together. He is distinguishable by his green hat and green shirt, and by the fact that he’s almost always being played by the younger sibling. Luigi recently starred in his own gaming franchise, Luigi’s Mansion.
machinima Movies made from editing together video game graphics and the machinima maker’s sound files (e.g., music, sound effects, and voice-overs). The term is a combination of “machine” and “cinema.”
Mario The star of dozens of Nintendo games including Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 64, Mario Party, Mario Kart, and Paper Mario. He is an Italian plumber usually found fighting the evil Bowser or rescuing his romantic interest, Princess Peach. He tends to appear with the same cast of characters, including his brother Luigi and the friendly dinosaur Yoshi.
meat shield Using one’s body to protect or defend. Tanks are sometimes referred to as “meat shields” because their primary purpose in combat is to take damage.
microtransaction or micropayment An online financial transaction that involves a small amount of money (less than $12). Many games, especially mobile or casual games, involve microtransactions. Sometimes microtransactions can add up and cause financial problems.
mini-map A small, local version of a map, typically appearing in the heads-up display. Mini-maps often show enemy locations, terrain changes, and nearby items. Often games with mini-maps also include larger, more expansive maps, but these are accessible from a different window.
mission See quest.
MMORPG A Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. These games contain roleplaying elements. The player builds their own custom character, focusing on the skills and even personality traits that they want to exhibit.
Nerf An update or effect in a game that changes how powerful a game element is. This could mean the developers releasing a patch that changes how much damage a character does, or it could mean a player casting a spell that makes their enemies less powerful. In both cases the action is called “nerfing.” The term comes from Nerf guns—weapons that don’t actually hurt.
OOC Stands for “out of character,” and refers to 1. any situation in which a character behaves unusually, 2. if a player is temporarily separating her/himself from her/his avatar for any reason (such as a conversation or snack break).
party (also: team) A team of players working together. Typically a player must manually “join party” or be invited to join, and a party usually has its own chat channel.
PC 1. In gaming, as elsewhere, PC is an abbreviation of “personal computer.” PC gaming differs from console gaming in several regards, though many of the games themselves are built for all platforms. 2. See “player character.”
Pikachu A variety of Pokémon. They are yellow, have stripes and pointed ears, and can electrocute their enemies. Pikachu are evolved from Pichu and evolve into Raichu. The main character of the Pokémon franchise, Ash, is usually accompanied by his loyal Pikachu, and they are often used as mascots for the Pokémon franchise.
platformer In platforming games, the player guides a character over a series of obstacles. These games are often sidescrollers as well, meaning the player sees the action from the side, moving the character from left to right.
player character (PC) A character that is manipulated by the player. The alternative would be “non-player character (NPC).”
potion A consumable item in many fantasy games. Common potions include health, mana, stamina, and various antidotes or potions for temporary buffs.
POV Abbreviation of “point of view.” POVs in gaming include first-person, second-person, third-person, and bird’s eye view. First-person places the player directly the character. Second-person places the player slightly behind and/or above the character. Third-person places the player far above the character. Bird’s eye view is also common, though typically reserved for RTS games.
powergaming Some players prefer to finish a game as quickly as possible. Powergamers can run through an entire session in one to three days, depending on how long the game was to start with. Powergaming is most common in MMORPGs.
Princess Zelda The titular character of The Legend of Zelda franchise. Zelda is not the protagonist of any Zelda games, but typically takes the role of the damsel in distress. Occasionally Zelda serves as a helper or guide for the protagonist Link. She is generally portrayed as a wise, kind, and spiritual person. Her family’s insignia is the Triforce, which also represents the three goddesses Farore, Nayru, and Din.
pull Used to describe a player gaining the attention of one or more enemies, especially if the enemies are part of a group. Pulling one enemy at a time, for instance, ensures that a player can pick them off without having to go up against more than they can handle.
puzzle game You’ll find puzzles in many game genres. An adventure game, for example, might have the player open a door by pulling the levers in the correct order. Figuring out how to open the door is the puzzle. Pure puzzle games involve only puzzle-solving—the most famous example is probably Tetris. As players progress in the game, the puzzles usually become more challenging.
pwn Originally a misspelling of the word ‘own’ used to signify a player defeating, beating, or winning a battle. E.g. “I totally owned you!” becomes “I totally pwned you!” due to the proximity of the P key to the O key. It was a common enough misspelling that many gamers adopted the slang purposefully. Variations include “pwnage” and “pwning.” Pronounced “pone.”
QTE Quick time events are actions that a player must take (or choose not to take) at the prompting of an on-screen signal—for instance, choosing to push another character out of the way before being shot. QTEs typically take place at critical junctures.
quest giver Typically an NPC (non-player character) who gives the player a quest or mission to accomplish. Sometimes the quest-giver doesn’t explicitly tell the player what to do, but the encounter triggers a mission or quest anyway.
R- and L-buttons The two bumper-style buttons accessible to the right and left fingers on a Nintendo game controller. They are not usually necessary for basic gameplay, but useful for advanced techniques.
sandbox Refers to a large, open-ended, in-game world where players can typically do what they wish in the order they wish. Sandbox worlds contrast to games in which the player is guided through a story.
sidescroller A two-dimensional game that requires the player to continue walking in one direction in order to proceed. Examples include Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sim See simulation. Can also refer to a human Sim character in The Sims.
simulation A simulation is a game that emulates real-life conditions. There are simulations for nearly everything. Common examples include city-building simulations, flight or driving simulations, sports simulations, and war simulations. Simulations are also used in teaching—for example, some business simulations are used in universities.
skill or skill tree Especially in roleplaying games, players can choose different skills to improve upon. A skill tree acts as a ladder where certain skills are only unlockable after achieving aptitude in others.
spawn When avatars or units regenerate or generate, particularly in an MMO, it is referred to as spawning or respawning. In many online multiplayer games, enemies must be killed multiple times by different players, and typically players will have to wait for the enemy to respawn before encountering it again.
spellcaster (also: wizard, magician, warlock) A character archetype often found in fantasy games. The spellcaster typically has high vulnerability, but is capable of dealing a large and diverse amount of damage from a distance.
strategy (genre) Strategy games often feature a top-down perspective and put the player in charge of managing resources and units. Strategy games usually allow players to follow a storyline, create their own maps, or to play against real people.
StreetPass A feature of the Nintendo 3DS system that lets users exchange game data and items.
survival horror Survival games, like stealth games, often revolve around avoiding detection. When combined with the horror genre, these games usually feature a heavily disempowered protagonist who can’t fight back, and who must flee or hide from their enemies.
tank A character whose job it is to take a large amount of damage while other party members attack an enemy. Tanks typically have a large amount of hitpoints, high defense, and very little magical ability.
teamspeak A chat channel in which only team members can be heard/seen.
tower defense A game genre that requires the player to defend their home base (or “tower”) from an onslaught of enemy fighters. Examples: Plants vs. Zombies, Ninjatown, League of Legends.
Triforce A sacred relic with wish-granting abilities. It looks like three golden triangles, and each triangle represents a different human trait: Wisdom, Courage, or Power. This symbol is repeated across all of the Zelda games and often signifies the Royal Family of Hyrule. It’s a very popular symbol in Zelda gamer culture for t-shirts, tattoos, hats, etc.
troll Colloquial nickname for a person who harasses others in a multiplayer game or just online. Trolls want attention and to get a rise out of people; they will say and do anything to get a reaction.
turn-based A style of gameplay where the player takes turns moving against another player or a computer. Turn-based games lend themselves to strategy, though there are also action-RPGS like the Final Fantasy games which use turn-based combat.
twink Slang for low-level MMO characters who receive equipment from higher-level characters so that they will be better equipped than others in their level bracket. Often it’s the same player transferring items from their high-level character to their low-level character. Twinking has strong connotations of cheating, because it gives the player such a big advantage. The term is derived from the LGBT term “twink,” but they are no longer related.
visual novel Like an interactive novel, but with specifically anime or manga-like art stylings.
Z-targeting A basic game function in The Legend of Zelda. It allows the player to target onto enemies, allies or objects.
Zerg The alien enemies in the Starcraft series of RTS games; the term “Zerg” now indicates the act of defeating an enemy using pure numbers rather than strategy or skill, due to the typical Zerg tactic of sending hundreds of units out to destroy enemies quickly and early.