The Modern Gamer’s Glossary
Whether youʼve been playing for a long time or just getting into the hobby, we throw around a lot of terms in our discussions of games, and it can be easy to get confused. It’s impossible to create an exhaustive list of every term that falls in and out of common usage around the gaming landscape, but there are some words that we repeatedly see misunderstood or questioned.
Here are some of those most commonly used and misunderstood terms, and a shortform definition of what they mean and how they’re most commonly discussed. In addition, we’ve paired up several words that are often used either in conjunction with one another, or are commonly misused in context.
A descriptor we reserve to discuss a game’s capability to support players of all types, specifically those with sensory, physical, or cognitive impairment or any disability that might affect the enjoyment of the experience.
A competitive game in which the players are not on equal footing, or in which the competing teams each control different characters or elements that are unique from their opponents. A common variant is one-versus-many, in which a single player competes against everyone else, but usually with significant advantages.
An online multiplayer genre in which players compete to be the last person or team standing, often with scavenging, survival, and area exploration elements. A shrinking zone of play often time-limits the match.
Also called the golden path, this refers to the most direct point from game beginning to end for completion of the core story or experience, but without experiencing side content, replay, or other optional elements.
Gameplay experiences that arise through player experimentation, creativity, or discovery, but not explicitly outlined or bound by the structure or story of the game.
Defying easy classification, games may be designated indie because they are actually independent games, or may alternately have an indie “feel,” even while following a more traditional publishing release model. In either case, a combination of innovative systems or narrative, experimental nature, artistic goals, unique aesthetics, or small team size earns a game this label.
An angled graphical view reveals the characters from above and to the side and shows more of the surrounding environment than a top-down perspective might allow.
Most-effective-tactics-available (meta) refers to the combination of character build, weapons, or other factors that lead to the highest chance of success in a game. Often discussed regarding a game in a particular moment, or the current meta. Alternately, in narrative and thematic terms, the technique of self-referential commentary on the game or genre being played.
An informal designation often used around exploration-focused games with gear- or ability-gated progress, a non-linear interconnected map, and gradual improvement of abilities, weapons, or skills. The term is sometimes considered an oversimplification but is always part of the heritage established by Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games feature large populations of players in a shared playspace, interacting in a large and open shared world. While some games are pure MMOs, the term also discusses games that borrow specific mechanics or ideas from the genre.
Multiplayer online battle arena games feature two teams competing on an established environment or battlefield, often delineated by distinct travel lanes. Players usually control a single character whose weapons or abilities expand throughout the match, often with strategic implications.
A method of level, character, or other feature generation that algorithmically mixes random elements to create a unique result, often to present a novel experience to the player each time they engage with a game.
A style of monetization in which players pay a fee for access to specific in-game content as it’s released. Sometimes manifesting as a tiered layer of progression unavailable for those who haven’t paid for access, frequently time-limited. A battle pass may be part of a season pass or, in some cases, synonymous.
A recent term referring to the rapid expansion of games modeled in part from the Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls games. They’re usually characterized by pronounced difficulty, lost currency or progress on death, and a methodical timing-based approach to combat.
An industry term that has come into common usage, indicating high-budget games from the most prominent publishers or developers.
An increasingly common designation for a game supported by multiple ongoing updates, patches, and changes – potentially over years – often representing major or even fundamental restructuring of major mechanics or available experiences. Sometimes called living games.
User interface (UI) refers to the components, menus, and graphical elements that help a player navigate a game, including but not limited to health, maps, currency, or abilities. A user interface may include a Heads-Up Display (HUD) of information available during play, such as an ammo counter.
This article originally appeared in Issue 345 of Game Informer.