PC gaming terms and their true meanings

The PC Gaming Glossary

In 2015, we asked regular PC Gamer writer and all-round lexical savant Richard Cobbett to create a brief glossary of PC gaming's most important terms and their modern definitions (with a few additions of our own). Since the language of gaming is constantly mutating, we've expanded the glossary with new words this year.

Join us for a tour through the words of PC gaming, both old and new.

Letters A-D

AAA: Industry talk for ‘big and amazing game’. Since nobody will admit to actively making crap, almost nobody will admit to going below AA.

Abandonware: A nice sounding but legally-meaningless term for games no longer sold and thus deemed fair to download for free. Respectable abandonware sites will remove any that return to the market, such as via GOG, even if their current rights-holders had nothing to do with the original and ambitiously think a game that nobody actually liked back in 1995 is now worth $10 and nobody involved with its creation should get a cut.

Achievement: An in-game recognition of your ability, specifically your ability take a sense of pride in such things as playing 500 multiplayer games or collecting a hundred hats. Originally referred to actual achievements, but people didn’t like them being so hard to achieve.

Action: A niche genre defined by things happening, sometimes things involving movement.

Adventure: A point and click-based genre involving wonderful worlds, often hilarious dialogue, epic tales, and mindbending puzzles that any sane person would solve by taking $20 to the nearest hardware store instead of stealing from tramps and whipping up chlorine gas.

Aimbot: A cheat that cheaters use to have the computer aim for them, the cheats.

ARPG: Action RPG. Or a grammatically incorrect way of saying ‘an RPG’.

Assassin’s Creed: Ubisoft wishing you a Happy New Year.

Autosave: Something you know you shouldn’t switch your PC off during, but occasionally feel the urge to just to stick one to that smug spinning icon.

Avatar: A player character, usually customisable. Come in many flavours, occasionally including tall and blue, but none worse than that M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Battle pass: A to-do list you pay for. See free to play.

Battle Royale: Games in which you hide inside an increasingly smaller series of circles.

Beta: See Finished game.

Boss: A particularly tough enemy that proves its wits and tactical savvy by either living in a room designed to kill it, or a dungeon containing a weapon which is its only weakness. May repeatedly attempt to charge and headbutt you despite being knocked unconscious with every failed attempt.

Buff: A beneficial effect placed on a character to make them stronger or shinier. Debuff is the negative, yet Debuffest is highly regarded.

Bullet hell: Games and mechanics that involve filling the screen with dangerous projectiles. It is not clear what the bullets did to deserve their damnation. Probably jaywalking in improbable expanding patterns.

Bunny hop: The act of jumping in a first-person shooter, specifically to be annoying.

Cheese: Any strategy that enables players to win in a manner unforeseen by the developers. Cheese is increasingly spreadable thanks to the internet. (And always delicious.)

Checkpoint: Thing that you die a hundred times before reaching.

Cooldown: The amount of time you have to feel depressed between using cool attacks.

Console: Something non-PC owners will need once their new toy becomes outdated.

cRPG: Computer Role Playing Game. Typically like playing a party based game of Dungeons and Dragons with your friends, only without the need for a Dungeon Master to handle the action, dice to determine results, or indeed, friends.

Cover system: A way of spending entire battles staring at the side of a crate, occasionally popping up into the air to trade shots like they’re Pokémon cards.

Crouch jump: A height-giving move better appreciated than imagined.

Class: In which the vast possibilities of the universe are condensed into a few more easily balanced archetypes, the female variants usually wishing they got proper armour.

Closed beta: A brief period of time where developers give a game to fans to test, and then pretend that all of their problems and complaints will actually be fixed before release.

Cutting edge: About $400 more than you secretly know you actually needed to spend.

Cutscene: A scene intended to convey plot, which in most cases should have been cut.

Difficulty level: A decision you’re asked to make by psychically predicting what the developer's definition actually entails, and are then stuck with even if they turn out to be sadists.

Double-jump: An affront to physics so common, it is its absence that often feels strange.

DLC: The rest of the game you bought.

Dungeon: A sprawling world of monsters and treasure and occasionally a cell. It is rarely particularly clear who built these things and why. But on the plus side, loot!

DRM: An expensive and controversial way of making pirates wait almost a week to play the latest games, sometimes.

Letters E-K

Early Access: A way to get access to your future favourite games long before they’re any fun, and be sick of the sight of them by release. And often pay more for the privilege.

Episodic: With the exception of Telltale games and very few others, a guarantee that the game you just bought will never be finished and you should not get too attached to anyone.

E-sports: A growing craze in which prodigious expert gamers can make millions and earn the acclaim of the world, before old age takes them in their mid-20s.

Emergent: Action coming from the interplay of systems rather than being scripted, though quite often with nudging behind the scenes to make cool stuff happen.

Escort mission: The art of making any game suddenly excruciating by putting the player’s success in the hands of an uncontrollable, useless, usually suicidal AI idiot.

Exclusive: Game everyone will be able to play in a year, max.

Exploit: A cheat that you’re not supposed to use, especially if it reveals developer sloppiness. Can result in a ban if online, often more out of pique than actual damage done.

F: Thanks to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the universally understood key pressed to pay respects.

Fall damage: Because the designers hate you and your stupid legs.

Field of view: At high settings, lets you roleplay being an owl that thinks it’s human. An owl with an Uzi.

Farming: The art of standing around and gathering the same item or killing the same monster to progress through the game without having new experiences or fun.

Finished game: See beta.

Fog of war: The unseen battlefield/world, even in games that let you play with futuristic units and satellite systems, or games like Beyond Earth where you arrive from space.

Free to play: A delightful sweep of games, their goals ranging from simply getting lots of players in and hoping some pay up, to pay mechanics so hostile that they might as well swear at you every time you put in your credit card number.

Games For Windows Live: A painful reminder of torture survived.

Ghost: A live replay of Patrick Swayze’s best performance. Can you beat it?

God game: A genre of enjoying ultimate power over little worlds of inevitably abused subjects. Ironically died out after everyone lost faith in the market.

God mode: Invulnerability to most or all things that might cause injury; also spelled ‘IDDQD’.

Griefer: A player in an online game who gets their kicks by trolling, blocking, killing, and annoying other players. According to Dante, future inhabitant of the Fifth Circle of Hell.

Grinding: The art of turning a good eight hour game into an excruciating 20 hour one by padding out fun with calcified not-fun.

Health potion: A thing that can recover you from the brink of death, if not beyond, yet nobody ever remembers when a character gets hurt in the course of the plot.

Immersive sim: Games in which you shoot, level up skills, talk, hack terminals, use vents, eat out of bins and read countless diaries of the recently deceased.

Indie game: A game claiming to be indie, be it from one person working in a shack to a company funded by newspaper magnates or discovered leprechaun gold.

Influencer: A person who plays games for an audience, and is legally required to sit in a gaming chair while doing so.

Instance: A section of a multiplayer world cut off for just you and any members of your party to adventure in and explore without those pesky other humans getting in the way.

JRPG: Japanese Role-Playing Game. Plays like a novel that needed an editor with a machete broken up by fighting, cool music, and ridiculous hair.

Kill streak: Sometimes just a commendation for multiple kills in one life, other times a bonus for being better than everyone else, which helps make you even more better than everyone else.

Letters L-Q

Lag: The ultimate excuse for poor performance, whatever you think it means. (ed. note: can we all please agree that it doesn’t refer to framerate?).

Lane-pusher: What we briefly called MOBAs when Chris Thursten told us not to call them MOBAs. See MOBA.

Level: Thing your parents and every TV writer who has to make up a game for a show thinks that all games are still split up into, to the sadness and amusement of all gamers watching.

Loot box: A thing you pay for in a game to have a 3% chance to get the sparkly hat you actually want.

Ludology: Fancy way of saying ‘stuff about games’.

Microtransactions: An ongoing industry attempt to redefine the word ‘micro’.

Mana: The limited resource that takes all the fun out of being a wizard.

Matchmaking: An attempt to automate finding an opponent suitable for every skill level, sometimes stymied by rocks and particularly slow animals not owning copies.

Middleware: All that nonsense that pops up at the start of the game to tell you how it made its trees and what powers its physics engine and other things they know you don’t and never will care about.

Mob: A single enemy. It made sense at the time.

MOBA: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. A magic incantation guaranteed to summon hordes of angry MOBA players demanding you not call them MOBAs. See Lane-pusher.

Mouselook: A way of using the mouse to scan the environment while moving and shooting that seems like the easiest thing in the world until you watch your parents try and do it.

Multiple endings: Something to watch on YouTube after finishing a game once.

MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. A genre that began as an exciting glimpse into a world where everyone could play together in fantasy kingdoms, before being completely swallowed up by Personal Quest design and ironically becoming one of the most actively antisocial genres and one of the hardest to play with your friends.

Myst: Gaming’s most ironic hit.

Nerf: Your favourite character/weapon sucks now, while everyone else’s remains OP.

Noob: The most accursed type of human, all others emerging from the womb able to pull off advanced Dota 2 strats while rocket-jumping in another game at the same time.

NPC: A non-player character. Often has a missing dog or cow you need to find; sometimes sells you things.

NVIDIA: The way it’s meant to be played. Unless AMD paid for their logo at the start of the game instead. Then that.

Open world: Most games trap you in a small box. These games offer a much bigger box.

Overpowered (OP): Thing that just killed you. See nerf.

Permadeath: One life, one chance. Also a really bad haircut.

Persistent World: The game goes on whether you’re there to do things or not, though probably doesn’t actually change all that much unless you’re gone for years.

Pixelbitching: Having to sweep the screen in search of the one hidden or obscure item that will allow progress, from the Where’s Waldo Game Design School of Fuck You.

Pog: Once shorthand for Play of Game, now a broad expression of something cool or surprising happening. See Pogchamp.

Pogchamp: A popular Twitch emote of streamer Ryan Gutierrez's face, captured in a moment of exaggerated surprise. Named for a video in which he wins a game of Pogs (ask a thirtysomething). See Pog.

Port: A chance to play a game made for the consoles that performs about as well as trying to play it on the previous generation’s hardware. If you’re really lucky.

Procedural generation: The art of creating game worlds, items, and more using algorithms instead of handcrafting. The promise is that this will create games you can replay forever, though finding guns with 0.5% faster reload speed gets old long before forever.

PvE: Player vs. environment, where players team up against enemies rather than each other; trying to overflow landfills with empty bottles of Mountain Dew.

PvP: Player vs. player. A staple of action games, and every forum/comment thread.

Quest: A word that began as a suitable descriptor of epic tales of action and adventure, but quickly became the polite way of saying “Shit To Do”. Slay a dragon to save a kingdom? Quest. Kill 10 rats? Quest.

Quick time event: An innovation in games that helped developers offer exciting, thrilling battles filled with action, which nobody is watching because they’re too busy looking out for button prompts and flashing arrows. Named for the quick time in which they stopped actually being an event, and for being about as interactive as the average .mov.

Letters R-Z

Replay value: A thing no game ever has as much of as it claims to.

Real-time strategy: A genre in which the goal is to build refineries very quickly.

Retrogaming: Going back to play games, usually from childhood, and then realising the controls are rubbish.

Rocket-jumping: A one-time Quake physics glitch turned standard gaming ‘leap really far’ technique. Unlikely to work on a real battlefield, but has anyone actually tried?

Roguelike: A game that probably has nothing much to do with the original Rogue anymore, save permadeath, randomisation, and a difficulty measured in giga-aaarghs.

Roguelite: A game built around randomization, but with progression that makes it more likely you'll one day see the end. See Roguelike.

Romance: A heartfelt series of interactions where two lost souls find each other by means of one checking an FAQ to see what they want and giving them twelve of them.

RPG: Role-Playing Game. A genre that lets you explore fantastical worlds of pure imagination, which almost inevitably turn out to be a bit like a Rennaisance Fayre with set character archetypes and big spiders. Sometimes take place in space instead.


                ʁꓕX OИ

RTX Off: RTX Off.

Simulator: A joke game. Formerly a simulation of something that people might actually want to simulate, like flying, or running a theme park.

Season pass: In which a publisher that’s convinced you to gamble on their new game being good gets you to double-down by agreeing you’ll definitely want more of it afterwards.

SLI: Scalable Link Interface. An ancient, now-forgotten NVIDIA technology for combining the power of two graphics cards.

Sliding block puzzle: A declaration of creative bankruptcy from a developer, and permission to hit them in the face with a banana-cream pie at the next available opportunity.

Soulslike: Games that relish killing you, then make you trudge back to the location of your corpse to get your stuff back. 

Speedrun: The art of using in-depth knowledge of games and glitches to break them over an expert’s knee and finish them faster than you can say “Good grief, the final level alrea-“ Sometimes assisted by tools and scripts, other times mastered by players for whom hitting a button at the correct eighth of a second is no big deal.

Stealth mission: Frustrating exercise where you know you could just take out everyone in your way, much like you have in every single encounter up to this point and after, but aren’t allowed to because Reasons.

Strategy: Big-picture decisions; something your entire team ignores. See Tactics.

Streamer: A person who plays games for a live audience, and is legally required to sit in a gaming chair while doing so.

Survival: The genre devs can checkbox if they slap a hunger meter and basic crafting onto their action game.

Survival Horror: A genre devoted to making you think that death could come at every minute, until that wears out, when it usually resorts to lots of jump-scares. Boo!

Sus: Any behavior that can reasonably, or often unreasonably, be considered suspicious. Examples include standing still and playing a particular color.

Tactics: Small-scale decisions, such as jumping, lying down in mid-air, landing on your stomach, and shooting someone in the head in one motion. See Strategy.

Theorycrafting: Replacing the magic of a game’s world with hardcore maths and an army of people who will tolerate nothing beyond the current One True Build in their teammates.

Touchscreens: The first step to getting greasyscreens.

Twinking: Handing down high level gear to low level characters to help them along their journey, much to the envy/annoyance of others.

VR: An immersive way to play videogames if you can get the helmet strapped on just right, and get the drivers working, and calibrate the sensors, and fight through the motion sickness.

WASD: Conventional controls on a US/International keyboard, where W is up, A and D strafe, S goes backward, and most other keys are chosen at random.

Wallhack: A common cheat that allows one player to see enemies through walls, or sometimes shoot/attack through them without so much as a “Here’s JOHNNY!”

YouTuber: A person who records themselves playing games for an audience, and is legally required to sit in a gaming chair while doing so.

Zombie: Ferrous metal which is constantly pulled toward the electromagnet you swallowed.

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