After a few years sat playing before the glowing altar at your desk, it’s easy to forget just how jargonistic PC gaming can be. PC games are fueled by communities, and if you can rely on a community to do anything it’s create its own language – for convenience, and also to reinforce the cult-like sense of belonging that comes with celebrating, discussing, and theorycrafting (we’ll get to that) for your favourite game.
Even if you’ve had your palm glued to a mouse for decades, you’re bound to have blind spots – and that’s precisely what this feature is for. Our grand PC gaming glossary aims to answer every question you might have about the hobby’s terminology, whether the confusion stems from the commands barked over voice chat in competitive shooters or the secrets of RPG character optimisation. All without having to ask a question on a subreddit, a doomed action that at best leads to stony silence and at worst to viral mockery.
MMORPG? What could possibly be confusing about a six-letter acronym which nobody ever says in full?
- o7: Often used in space game communities such as Eve Online and Elite Dangerous, ‘O7’ or ‘o7’ is a salute emoticon, the ‘o’ being the head and the ‘7’ being the arm.
- 4x: 4x is a genre of strategy-based games that have the player ‘explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate.’ It’s become a shorthand for deep, complex strategy games, with long campaigns. Examples include the Civilisation series. Despite their often grand scope, these games can involve a lot of micromanagement.
- 8-bit: 8-bit originally referred to the processors used in early computers and consoles such as the NES. Now the term tends to refer to an art or design style modelled on the games made for those early computers.
- AAA: AAA (read as triple-A) refers to games that have been made with a high budget, a big development team, and either come from a large publisher’s in-house team or a third-party with a lot of publisher backing.
- Abandonware: Abandonware is software that is no longer supported or distributed by its creator or company. Multiplayer games that are no longer playable after official servers are shut down are a form of abandonware.
- Adds: An add refers to additional enemies or minions that appear during a boss encounter.
- Aggro: Aggro is short for aggressive. It can also be used when a player is trying to get the attention of an enemy on the battlefield – getting into their aggro range.
- Artificial Intelligence/Computer (AI/CPU): In gaming refers to another player in the game not controlled by a human. AI can also mean the computer’s responses and behaviours. “The AI is very lifelike.”
- Aimbot: An aimbot is a tool used in FPS games that will allow the player to hit their target without having to aim their weapon. It helps players shoot more accurately at enemies. In most cases using an aimbot is considered cheating.
- Alpha: Alpha refers to a stage in the game development process. If a game is in alpha it means that it’s in the very early stages of development and is not feature complete. Typically, a game goes from alpha to beta and then to gold before release. (See also: Beta)
- Area of effect (AoE): Area of effect is a term that describes a type of ability. A healing spell in an RPG is an area-of-effect ability if it’s cast over an area rather than affecting a single target. It’s not a term limited to RPGs, though – the explosion from a rocket launcher in an FPS is its area of effect.
- Action roleplaying game (ARPG): ARPGs are a subgenre of RPGs that focuses on real-time combat and satisfying loot cycles, rather than complex and reactive stories. Diablo and Path of Exile are two of the best known examples. (See also: Roleplaying games)
- Asset flipping: Asset flipping describes a game that has been built largely using assets bought from a digital store as opposed to being built from scratch. It is often derogatory, though not entirely fair – many highly accomplished projects use bought assets to varying degrees.
- Asymmetric gameplay: Asymmetric gameplay is any instance where two or more players do not have identical tools. This could include any game where players start with different weapons, or field different armies, but it tends to be used most to refer to when two sides of a multiplayer game have radically different resources. For instance, in Evolve, one team is made up of four human hunters and the other comprises a single player controlling a superpowered monster.
- Asynchronous multiplayer: Asynchronous multiplayer games don’t require their opposing players to be present at the same time in order for a play to be made. For instance, people who play chess by email are playing asynchronously.
- Avatar: An avatar is a physical representation of a player inside a game.
- Balance: Game balance is the process of tweaking a game’s rules and systems to achieve fairness or maximum fun. In multiplayer games, balance is trying to make sure no character, class, weapon, or ability offers an unfair advantage. In single-player games, where players may often be excessively powerful, the balance is in making sure enemies maintain challenge to the player. (See also: Meta)
- Battle Royale: A genre popularised by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, battle royales are multiplayer games in which players compete to be the last person standing.
- Beta: Beta refers to a development version of a game. If a game is in beta it usually means it’s feature complete but not yet balanced, free of game breaking bugs, and ready to be released. (See also: Alpha)
- Buff: In videogames, buffs are temporary status effects that positively affect a player’s character. An example of this would be casting a spell to make a character invincible for several seconds. (See also: Debuff)
- Bullet hell: The term bullet hell refers to a subgenre of shooter games in which the focus is to avoid streams of incoming bullets, missiles, and enemy attacks. Often the screen is completely covered with waves of projectiles in a bullet hell game.
- Bullshot: A bullshot is a marketing image that appears to be taken from inside the game but is not actually representative of live game footage. For instance, a bullshot may use higher quality models, textures, and lighting than are actually found in-game.
- Camping: Camping is a tactic that sees a player finding a strategic location and staying there, waiting for enemies to come to them.
- Character class: In class-based games, no single character can use every ability in the game. Instead abilities are divvied up between the different classes. In a shooter it might be that only medics can heal other players, and only snipers can use scoped rifles, while only engineers can repair barricades.
- Checkpoint: A checkpoint is an area in the game where your progress is either automatically or manually saved. For instance, some games will save the action after the player completes an objective so that if they die they don’t have to repeat the entire mission. Others will require the player to interact with a particular object in the world to save.
- Chiptune: Chiptune is any music that is made using the sound chips of older PCs and consoles or emulators. It may sound like videogame music, but that isn’t essential.
- Clipping: Clipping refers to a graphics bug where one game model passes through another. This could include characters passing through a wall or a character’s hair coming out through their helmet.
- Closed/open beta: Closed betas are early released versions of a game that are only available to a select group of people to test the game. An open beta is an early version of a game that anyone can play and test.
- Combo: Combo is short for combination and refers to a string of connected actions. For instance, in fighting games combos are sets of attacks that, when played in sequence, are difficult to block and may also activate super moves. Pulling off a combo can be difficult and well-rewarded.
- Cooldown: Cooldown refers to the recharge time of an ability. In RPGs and MOBAs it’s common for a player’s abilities to take time to recharge before they can be used again.
- Crafting: Crafting refers to systems in games that let players combine items and materials to make something new. In RPGs, players can often create potions or improve their gear with materials they gather in the world.
- Critical hit: A critical hit is an attack that does extra damage. In some games, every attack has a percentage charge of being a critical hit, and in other games players may have to hit a weak point to do extra damage.
- Crowd control (cc): Crowd control refers to tactics that are used to help stave off enemies that swarm players in combat.
- Classic roleplaying game (CRPG): CRPG refers to Western RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and modern games built in the same style, such as Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin, and Pillars of Eternity.
- Debuff: Debuffs are temporary status effects that give a player’s character a negative side effect. An example of a debuff is a spell that reduces a character’s speed. (See also: Buff)
- Dialogue tree: A dialogue tree is made up of the branching statements and answers in a conversation. Often in games, dialogue is presented as a system that lets players choose from a set of pre-written statements that provoke a response from other characters.
- Downloadable content (DLC): Downloadable content refers to additional and/or bonus content for a game that developers release separately, often for a price. DLC can be as small as adding new character accessories, or as large as new storylines or maps.
- Damage per minute/Damage per second (DPM/DPS): The average damage your character can dish out. This is a useful statistic for optimising your character build.
- Digital rights management (DRM): Digital Rights Management is a collection of software or systems that protect digital and electronic media from being copied illegally. DRM is not just used in the videogame industry but also in other digital media like music and films.
- Dungeon crawl: A dungeon crawl is a game that focuses on players fighting through a dungeon, clearing rooms of enemies.
- Elo: The Elo rating system is used for fair matchmaking in competitive gaming. The Elo system places players of approximately equal skill together so that the competitive nature of the game stays fair. Elo goes back as far as a chess rating system and is named after the Hungarian physicist Arpad Elo, who created it. (See also: MMR)
- Elo hell: Elo hell is what competitive players call a specific situation in the Elo system. It refers to when a player wants to ‘climb’ up to the next level of competition but keep losing matches because they’re being put on teams with people of less skill.
- Emergent gameplay: Emergent gameplay is a kind of unscripted action that happens in games built of interconnected systems. For instance, in a game like Rimworld, a harsh winter ruins crops so colonists have to eat their pet dog, which makes them sad and fight with one another. None of that is scripted by the developer; it emerged out of the game’s systems.
- Emulator: An emulator is a piece of software that imitates an operating system or console so that games that aren’t made for a particular operating system can be played on it. For example, software that allows NES games to be played on PC is an emulator.
- Endgame/Elder game: The endgame or elder game refers to the activities designed for a player who has completed the main quest or reached the maximum character level in a game. In an MMO, the endgame is often based on raiding for better loot, or completing side-quests and weekly challenges.
- Engine: Game engines are the software games are built in. They can be generalist engines like Unity and the Unreal Engine, which many developers use to make different kinds of games, or they can be bespoke engines made specifically for one game.
- Experience points (XP): Experience points are something players earn in games for completing certain tasks and actions. This is typically the likes of killing enemies in combat, finishing quests, and beating challenges. The points can sometimes be spent directly on skills, or more commonly amassed until the player levels up, at which point, they are awarded skill points.
- Free-to-play (F2P): Free-to-play games cost nothing to start playing, but are often funded by microtransactions, and usually have systems in place to support that funding model.
- Farming: Farming is when a player visits areas in a game that are dense in enemies or resources that can be repeatedly exploited for experience points or crafting materials.
- Feed: Feeding is a term used in MOBAs when a player is repeatedly killed by the enemy team, providing that team with resources that let them pull ahead in the game. The player is ‘feeding’ the opposing team. Feeding can be deliberate or accidental. (See also: MOBA)
- Fog of war: This concept is used in many turn-based, and real-time strategy games to represent the uncertainty of enemy activity. In games where a player cannot see an enemy’s units because they’re out of view distance, they’re in the fog of war.
- Field of view (FOV): Field of view refers to a player’s range of vision in a game. Games can include a field of view slider so players can widen their perspective of a game, taking in more of the world at a time. Some players find that restricted fields of view cause nausea.
- First-person shooter (FPS): First-person shooters are games viewed from a first-person perspective, as though the player is looking through their character’s own eyes.
- Frames per second (fps):The speed a game is rendering to your screen is measured in frames per second. The faster a game’s framerate, the smoother it appears. Both 30fps and 60fps are considered standard, but VR games need to run at higher frame rates to avoid making players feel nauseous. (See also: Frame rate)
- Frag: When a player kills another player in a multiplayer game they ‘frag’ them. The term originally comes from the Vietnam War.
- Frame rate: Frame rate refers to the number of separate frames that are on screen at a particular time. The measurement is usually referred to as fps, which stands for frames per second – 24fps means 24 frames per second. (See also: FPS)
- Ghosting: Ghosting is used in competitive team-based games and refers to when a player is killed and they tell their teammates the whereabouts of the opposition player that killed them. It’s gaining information about the opposition’s location from a player no longer actively participating in the match.
- Glass cannon: A videogame glass cannon can refer to a character, unit, or vehicle that has an astonishingly high attack power but critically low hit points, a powerful but fragile object.
- Gone gold: When a game has gone gold, it means that its development has finished and it is ready to be sold. When games were released on CD-ROMs, developers would send a Gold Master copy for approval, indicating that the game was ready to be sent to distributors.
- Griefer: In online games, a griefer is a player who purposely tries to annoy or impede other players.
- Grinding: Grinding is performing a repetitive action for experience points or resources. An example would be looping through an area in a game where there are easy-to-kill enemies to get enough experience to level up.
- Head glitch: Head glitching is when a player is able to hide behind cover with only the top of their head showing, yet have full vision and can fire freely at enemies without obstruction.
- Hitbox: Hitboxes are used by developers to determine when a character in a game has been hit by an attack. Every object in a game that can be hit will have a hitbox surrounding it. When an attack collides with that space, the hitbox registers it and damage to the object is calculated.
- Heads up display (HUD): The HUD refers to the parts of the user interface that are always on the screen. For example, the health bar, ammunition, and score.
- Jungler: A Jungler is a role in MOBAs. The Jungler does not actively defend the map’s lanes, instead moving through the jungle, killing creeps, earning gold, and levelling up. (See also: MOBA)
- Kiting: Kiting is when a player uses a ranged attack to draw the attention of an enemy and pull them away from a group. The player can then run away, leading the enemy to a new location, where they stand a better chance of defeating them.
- Lag: Lag is the term for when a player’s inputs have a delayed impact on the game they’re playing. When a player experiences lag in an online game, because their internet is too slow or the server is overloaded, there’s a visible slowness to the game. (See also: Ping)
- Last hitting: In MOBAs, players only receive gold if they’re the person to score the last hit on an enemy before they die. Last hitting is a vital part of success in the game. (See also: MOBA)
- Limit break: A limit break is when a character in a combat game reaches a critical point and unleashes a powerful attack. The term originally comes from the special attacks in the Final Fantasy series.
- Loot box: Loot boxes are virtual containers holding a mystery item or items. Many developers sell loot boxes in free-to-play games as a way to monetise them.
- Macro: Macros are a kind of software that can be run to automate simple tasks in a game. Some MMORPG players use macros to craft lots of items in bulk.
- Mana: Mana is often used in fantasy games as magical energy. It’s usually the power that is spent to cast spells, and comes from a limited but regenerating pool.
- Matchmaking: Matchmaking is the system that populates the lobbies of multiplayer games. Some games match players of similar skill levels, others will fill lobbies with anyone who is looking for a game at the time.
- Mechanics: Game mechanics are game design choices that decide how a player actually plays the game. Mechanics are made by the game developer and can be features of the game like pressing the space bar twice to double jump.
- Melee: A type of fighting and battle style where you attack an enemy up close, either with an object (a melee weapon) or with your fists.
- Meta: A game’s meta comprises the strongest tactics and strategies in a game, particularly a competitive one. Professional players and a game’s community will influence a meta by discovering the most effective ways to play. For instance, if a particular tactic in Overwatch is very successful and lots of the game’s players start using it then it becomes part of the game’s meta. If players become bored with that way of play they might say the meta has become stale. A developer may patch the game or release new content that aims to combat the meta, like a new champion that is particularly good at countering the tactic that’s currently popular.
- Metroidvania: In Metroidvania games the world is often presented as a warren of interconnected rooms. At the start of the game, only a small part of the map is accessible because many of the entrances to rooms are locked or out of reach. However, as the player gains abilities and equipment, the world opens up to them and they’re encouraged to revisit old areas to discover new ones. The term comes from a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, two games that pioneered the design style.
- Microtransaction: A microtransaction is when you pay real world money for virtual items. Microtransactions can be used to buy the likes of loot boxes, cosmetic items, and power ups.
- Min-maxing: Min-maxing is when you develop a character or set of skills that maximises one desirable stat by ignoring others. This creates a character who is powerful in one particular way but weak in others.
- Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO): A genre of games where you play in an online universe with a large number of other players.
- Matchmaking Ranking (MMR): In games that matchmake multiplayer games based on skill, your matchmaking ranking is the rating that is used to pick your allies and enemies, with a view to making it a fair matchup. (See also: Elo)
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA): There’s a lot of variety in the MOBA genre, but Dota 2 and League of Legends are the most popular games. MOBAs are highly team-focused games, in which players can pick from a wide roster or heroes and usually need to destroy their opponent’s base to win.
- Mobs: A mob is a generic term for a game’s range of basic enemies. If it’s not a boss or a miniboss then it’s a mob.
- Mod: Some games allow you to modify them, adding new levels, characters, and weapons, even making whole new games within them. If you share those modifications they’re called a mod. Some of the biggest games on PC, like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike, started life as mods.
- Nerf: When a developer updates a game to significantly weaken a character or weapon, it’s said to have been ‘nerfed’. It comes from the game Ultima Online: when the dev team reduced the power of swords in melee combat, fans complained that it was like they were hitting each other with nerf bats.
- New Game Plus: There are some games that, once completed, unlock a new mode called New Game Plus. This mode lets players go through the game again but, often, it will let them keep gear from before and will make the enemies and other challenges significantly harder.
- No scope: When an enemy is killed in a shooter with a scoped weapon but without the player actually using the weapon’s scope, it’s called a no scope.
- Noob: Noob is short for newbie and refers to a player who is new at a game. Also spelled n00b.
- Non-player character (NPC): Refers to any non-hostile characters in games controlled by the AI instead of players.
- Over-powered (OP): A character, ability, or weapon that is deemed too powerful for the game it belongs to.
- Open world: Open-world games are not broken up into levels but are one continuous map that players are free to explore.
- Overworld: An area that connects different levels or areas in a game, and must be returned to frequently, is called the overworld.
- Patch: A patch is an update to a game that fixes bugs or other problems.
- Perks: A perk is a character trait that has a positive effect. In an RPG, a character perk might mean that, as they lose health, they gain attack power.
- Persistence: If your actions have lasting consequences in-game, they are persistent. For instance, in Skyrim, if you loot a room of items then it will stay empty forever – they won’t respawn.
- Persistent World: A game world that will continue to exist and develop even when players are not interacting with it.
- Ping: Ping is the measurement of network latency. It’s the time it takes for messages from your computer to reach the server you are connected to and vice versa. In multiplayer games, if you have a high ping then you may experience lag. The lower the ping, the better the connection. (See also: Lag)
- Player character: The character a player inhabits in a game.
- Power creep: When new content is added to a game, introducing more powerful units or abilities that leave older ones underpowered, it’s called power creep. (See also: OP)
- Procedural generation: Procedural generation, also known as random generation, is a design technique by which new content is built using an algorithm. What this means in practise is that a game can build new levels, items, textures, and characters by following a recipe written by its developers.
- Player vs environment (PvE): In multiplayer games where there are characters that players can fight which aren’t controlled by other players, that is PvE combat. There are some PvE servers in multiplayer games where you can’t attack other players, only computer-controlled enemies.
- Player vs player (PvP): Any combat between players in a multiplayer game.
- Pwn: Pwn or pwning is a term used when a player defeats another player. It comes from the misspelling of ‘own’.
- Quick time event: A quick time event is an action-based puzzle that challenges the player to perform a set of button presses in a short space of time.
- Raid: A raid is a mission in a game that tasks a group of online players with fighting through a difficult game area, full of enemies, sometimes puzzles, and usually ending with a boss..
- Ranged: Ranged refers to weapons or attacks that deal damage at distance – a crossbow is a ranged weapon because it can hit its target from a distance.
- Respeccing: Respeccing is short for respecialising. It’s when you reset your character’s skill points or abilities and change them to favour a different type of play style.
- Review bomb: Review bombing is when a large group of people try to lower a game’s rating by submitting negative user reviews. It’s a protest technique that is often used by people responding to an action by a developer.
- Roguelike: Roguelikes are a subgenre of games that feature permadeath and procedural generation. The subgenre is named after the 1980 game Rogue, which featured both those elements.
- Roleplaying game (RPG): In roleplaying games a player defines their character over the course of the game by selecting skills and abilities, and often by making permanent decisions in the story. They must earn experience points in quests and combat to spend on skills. It’s usually impossible to learn every skill and see every story outcome in a single playthrough
- Real-time strategy (RTS): In real-time strategy games players command multiple units at once as they try to battle an enemy that is able to make actions at the same time. As opposed to turn-based strategy games, where each player plays in sequence.
- Rubber banding: Rubber banding can either mean the way in which a game changes to handicap and assist players to keep a scenario competitive or on-screen behaviour when experiencing network latency. An example of the first is found in racing games – when a player is driving well and pulling away from their opponents, the AI starts driving faster to catch up with them. It’s as though the player in the lead has stretched a rubber band by pulling ahead and now it is contracting. The second is when a network issue means that, in a multiplayer game, a player’s computer and server think they’re in different locations, and so the server corrects this by teleporting them to where it thinks they should be. The player pings through the map like they’ve been fired by a rubber band.
- Sandbox game: A sandbox game gives players an open world but no set objective, meaning they’re free to do what they want. An example of a sandbox game is Minecraft.
- Save scumming: Save scumming is when a player saves frequently in a game and reloads whenever they make a poor decision, avoiding the consequences.
- Scrim: A friendly multiplayer match between two teams, as opposed to a game that will affect ladder rankings.
- Shovelware: Shovelware is used to describe computer software that needs to be installed alongside a game in order to play it. Steam was initially perceived as Half-Life 2 shovelware.
- Sim: Sim is short for simulation and refers to a type of game that is meant as an imitation of real life. An example of this is Euro Truck Simulator.
- Single-player: Single-player refers to games that are to be played by one person as opposed to multiple players.
- Smurf: A smurf is an experienced player who uses a new game account to get easy wins against new and inexperienced players.
- Speedrun: A speedrun is when a player tries to complete a game in the fastest time possible. A speedrunner will often exploit bugs in a game to trick their way through portions of it.
- Splash damage: Splash damage is a kind of area-of-effect damage that inflicts characters close to the impact point. (See also: Area of effect)
- Support: In a multiplayer game, a support is a role or character class which maintains a team instead of primarily dealing damage. Often supports will use healing abilities and stat buffs to keep a team alive and functioning. (See also: Character class)
- Tank: A tank can be a role or a character class and their job is to take the brunt of the enemy’s attack for their team. By drawing the attention of the enemy, a tank protects their teammates from attack so they can inflict their own damage in return. A tank may not deal much damage itself but will usually have a lot of health and armour. (See also: Character class)
- Telegraphing: In games, telegraphing is when an enemy or object gives an indication of what it will do next. For example, many bosses in games will telegraph an attack with an animation. This is so the player can learn to recognise that a particular attack is incoming and can therefore prepare for it.
- Theorycraft: Theorycrafting is when players develop strategies and character builds without actually acting them out in game. Often, players will theorycraft character builds and card decks when a developer reveals new abilities and cards for upcoming expansions.
- Toxicity: Toxicity or toxic behaviour is when a player or a group of people are being rude or abusing other players in game.
- Turn-based: A turn-based game is like a traditional board game in that players take it in turns to move their pieces and act. This is opposed to real-time strategy gameplay where battles happen without time delays or turn taking.
- Vapourware: The term vapourware refers to computer software that has been announced a long time ago, but hasn’t yet been released, and also hasn’t been publicly cancelled.
- Visual novel: Visual novels are games that tell stories with images and text dialogues. They’re a development of text adventures.
- Walking simulator: Walking simulators are games that let players explore an environment and do not have any combat. Walking sims step away from traditional gameplay such as win/lose conditions, battle systems, or giving the player a particular goal to pursue.
- WASD: WASD refers to a keyboard control scheme most often used to move a character. W is for walking forward, A for strafing left, D for strafing right, and S for walking backwards.
- World vs world (WvW): World vs world combat involves players from different servers fighting against each other.