The Video Game Critic's
Glossary of Video Game Terms

Updated Feb 25, 2018

Achievements: A system installed by Microsoft which awards the Xbox 360 player with virtual trophies after performing certain predefined feats in games.

AI (Artificial Intelligence): This term describes how smart CPU-controlled characters behave in a game. For example, if an enemy soldier runs for cover when he sees a grenade, it's an indication of AI. It's generally harder to defeat foes that display good AI.

Action Replay: A device like the Game Genie or Game Shark, allow the player to enter codes to enable cheats or select stages.

Analog control: Unlike digital control, which simply registers as "on" or "off", analog control is highly sensitive and takes into account to what degree a button or joystick is pushed. It provides much greater precision, and in many 3D games it lets use the same joystick to walk or run.

Anime: Japanese cartoon drawing style typified by short characters with colorful hair and large eyes. In video games, this style in most common in RPGs, especially those released in the 1990s.

Anti-Aliasing: A programming technique (or hardware capability) that automatically smoothes jaggy edges, often used in older games for making low-resolution images look more attractive.

Attract Mode: This mode is most present in early consoles like the Atari 2600. When not being played, the games cycle colors to minimize the possibility of having an image burn into the screen. For modern consoles this is done by dimming the screen after a period of inactivity.

Beat 'em up: Term used to describe side-scrolling 2D fighters such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Also known as side-scrolling brawler.

Bit: In the early 90's, this term was often used (and misused) to measure the technical capabilities of a console. For example, the NES was 8-bit because its CPU could process 8 bits of information at a time. Likewise the Genesis is 16-bit. As technology has progressed this measurement became irrelevant.

Boss: In many video games, particularly fighters and shooters, each stage ends with an encounter with a creature or robot that is typically much larger and tougher than the normal enemies. Which begs the question: Why do they hire henchmen much weaker than they are?

Bullet Hell: Term used to describe difficult 2D "twitch" shooters with waves of raining missiles.

CGI: Computer Graphic Imagery, often used in cut-scenes in the era of the Playstation and Saturn. These pre-rendered animations were usually far more sophisticated than game graphics for the time.

CPU: Technically it stands for Central Processing Unit, the brain of any computer. But in the context of video games it's a general term used to describe computer-controlled players. For example, when playing a basketball game you might control one player while the others are controlled by the CPU. In many single-player games your opponent is the CPU.

Camera: In most 3D games a player's vantage point tends to change, often on-the-fly. For example, in Tomb Raider you view the action from behind your character, but during certain situations (like death-defying leaps) the angle may change to a side view for dramatic effect. Your ability to manipulate the view (swing, zoom) is "camera control".

Camp:: Technique often used in first-person shooters, where the player will hide in a corner or hard-to-see spot, taking out opponents from there.

Cel-shaded:: Used to describe a style of graphics similar to classic cartoons, in which objects are outlined in black and filled with solid colors.

"Charge" Attack: Typically found in fighting and shooting games, this move that requires the player to hold the joystick and/or buttons for a few seconds before unleashing a strong attack.

Cheats: Special codes that allow a player to bypass the normal limitations of a game. Typical cheats allow you to gain extra lives, become invincible, skip stages, etc. Some cheats are built into games, while others can only be accessed using devices like the Game Shark or Game Genie.

"Cheap hit": A hazard that is difficult or impossible to avoid. Often used to describe traps or bosses.

"Cheated Death": A term used to describe how you miraculously survived a hopeless situation. Often seen in games like Galaxian.

Clipping: A 3D graphics technique used for hiding parts of objects that should be obstructed by another object. Clipping problems result in hidden areas being visible and objects that don't overlap correctly.

Collision Detection: The ability for a game to recognize when two objects collide and react in a reasonable manner. Games with collision detection issues tend to offer a poor gameplay experience.

Combo: A string of moves that can be executed in rapid succession. Most often seen in fighting games.

Component Video Cable: This cable separates the video signal into three wires that carry the red, green, and blue signals. A red and white plug are used to transmit the audio. Component is the next step up from S-Video: RF < composite < S-Video < component < HDMI

Composite Video Cable: A video cable with a single yellow plug (usually along with the red/white audio cables). Produces better quality than RF but not as sharp as S-Video.

Console: A system dedicated to playing video games. This does not usually include PCs or hand-helds.

Control Pad: A large controller employed by Nintendo's Wii U console. The device had a touch screen that provided an alternate screen for the game, often to select items or reference a map.

Continue: A mechanism pioneered in arcade games which allows the player to continue playing where he left off after the game has ended. Many NES games offer continues, but they are usually limited.

Cut-Scenes: Short intermissions typically presented between stages to advance the storyline. These can be live or computer-generated videos clips, and are usually non-interactive.

DLC (downloadable content): For online-enabled games, DLC can extend the life of the game by allowing the publishers to add new features and missions to the game long after the initial release for a modest price. In practice however publishers have been known to withhold substantial chunks of the game to be sold piecemeal as DLC. For this reason DLC has become very controversial.

Difficulty Switches: Available on certain Atari consoles (like the 2600), these switches let you to set separate skill level for each player. In general A is hard and B is easy. These switches can serve other functions as well.

Directional Pad: An cross-shaped button that allows the player to select from eight directions (including diagonals). Popularized on the NES controller in 1985.

Digital control: Buttons or directional controls that only registering each direction or button push as "off" or "on". Analog controls on the other hand provide a fine degree of control.

Double-Jump: In certain platform games, you can perform a second jump after the first while in mid-air, allowing you to reach high platforms.

Dragon Punch (aka Shoryuken): Devastating upward punch made popular by Street Fighter 2.

Easter Eggs: Undocumented objects or features hidden inside of video games. The first Easter Egg was a secret room in the Atari 2600 game Adventure (1980). These sometimes take the form of built-in cheat codes.

Emulation: A computer program that mimic a video game console, allowing a player to play game images (aka ROMs) on their computer. Emulation is popular for gamers who want to experience systems and games that are no longer readily available.

FPS: First Person Shooter. Examples are Doom, Bioshock, and Call of Duty.

Fatality: In certain fighting games this is a gruesome act inflicted on your opponent after defeating him. It was popularized by the Mortal Kombat franchise in 1992.

Fireball (aka Hadoken): Burning projectile attack thrown from a fighter's hands. Made popular by Street Fighter 2.

First-Person: A point of view which lets you view the action through your character's eyes. You never see you own body, except maybe your arms. This perspective was made popular by flight simulators and shooters like Doom.

Flicker: Common in early video game consoles, this visual glitch makes certain objects look transparent and hard to see. It was often the result of hardware limitations or poor programming.

Frag: A term associated with shooting something in a first-person shooters, usually a human-controlled opponent.

Framerate: A term that describes the smoothness of motion in a game. The image on a television screen is really a series of still images shown in rapid succession. A normal television show is broadcast at 33 fps (frames per second). Certain games cannot display the action at this rate due to various reasons, and as a result the animation can appear choppy. Higher frame-rates (like 60 fps) result in more attractive, fluid animation.

Full Motion Video (FMV): Popularized by the Sega CD in the early 90s, FMV games allowed the player to interact (to a limited degree) with pre-recorded live or computer-generated video.

Game Genie: A popular device in the early 90's that allowed you to enter "cheat" codes into games on consoles such as the Genesis or Super Nintendo.

Game Shark: A product from the late 90's that let you use cheat codes in games for systems like the Playstation or Saturn.

"Glory Seeking": Taking a particularly dangerous course of action for the opportunity to score bonus points. For example, pursuing the short-lived vegetables in Dig Dug.

Hack: A game that "reuses" code from an older game. Usually a hack plays much the like the original game (except for some graphical tweaks), although certain hacks incorporate extensive modifications. The Atari 2600 system is the system best known for hacks.

HDMI cable: Cable used to carry high definition signal from a console or another device to a HDTV.

High Definition (HD): Describes a display with at least 720 lines of video, with 1080 being most common. Formerly the standard was 480 lines. The Xbox 360 was the first console to support the format.

Homebrew: A video game programmed and released for a video game system through unofficial channels, and designed by an independent person or small team of people. Most homebrew games are produced for systems that have long since been discontinued from the retail market, such as the Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis.

Hyperspace: Popularized in Asteroids (1980), this defensive move causes you ship to disappear and reappear in a random location. It's useful to escape dangerous situations, but can sometimes place you in an even worse predicament. Death on re-entry is also possible.

Indie game: Games published by individual programmers or small teams. These games are usually smaller in scale and available download-only.

Interlaced video: Technique used to display video on analog/CRT televisions, where even lines and odd lines are alternately drawn. Games that display in this mode often experience input lag when played on HDTVs, as the image must first be deinterlaced before it's displayed.

Invisible Wall: Often seen in 3D adventures, the player is confined to an area with invisible boundaries.

Isometric View: Instead of viewing the action from above or the side, an isometric view allows you to look at the action from a diagonal, tilted overhead angle.

Joy-Con: Controller for the Nintendo Switch, comprised of two connected sides which can each function as their own standalone controllers.

Joystick: Popularized by Atari in 1977, a controller which allows the player to select eight directions. A joystick controller also has one or more buttons.

Kart Racing: A genre popularized by Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992), involves a group of cartoon characters racing tiny go-carts.

Keypad: Video game controllers with a 3x4 grid of numbered buttons built in. This was popular in early 80's console controllers, like those for the Intellivision or Colecovision.

Kinect: Motion sensing, hands-free controller that appeared for Microsoft's Xbox 360 in 2010. The box-shaped device, usually position on the TV, used a pair of cameras to recognize the distance and body position of the player(s). A Kinect 2 was initially packaged with the Xbox One console, but it was discontinued after the motion control craze subsided.

Konami code (aka Contra code): For certain Konami NES titles, pressing "Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Select Start" enables cheats. In the most famous example, Contra, the code awards the player with 30 lives.

Light gun: A controller that allows the user to point at the screen and "shoot" objects. Made popular on the NES by the game Duck Hunt.

Loot box: For online enabled games, it has become a popular practice for the publishers to incorporate "loot boxes" into games with contain a grab bag of random items. The concept because controversial when publishers began selling these for money, blurring the line between gaming and gambling.

Microtransactions: For online-enabled games, microtransactions is a scheme developed by publishers to nickel-and-dime players by charging them small amounts for a large number of items not available in the base game. Companies like Electronic Arts have been heavily criticized for their use of microtransactions. See also DLC.

Mini-games: A small game-within-a-game inside a video game. Certain games such as Mario Party are basically just collections of minigames.

Multiplatform: A term indicating a game is available for more than one platform. For example, Call of Duty is available for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Multitap: A device that allows you to plug in more controllers than the console has controller ports for.

NTSC: Analog video standard used by North America and Japan featuring 480 visible lines. NTSC games are not capable with the PAL format used by Europe and most of Asia.

Noob (slang): An inexperienced player that foolishly goes online only to get "pwned" (or dominated).

Nunchuk: A controller attachment for the Wii featuring an analog stick and motion control. When attached to a Wiimote, allowed for two-handed control, useful for games like boxing.

Open World: Unlike traditional games that are heavily constrained by artificial boundaries (like the screen), open-world indicates the ability to explore far and wide. The concept is widely associated with the Grand Theft Auto series.

Overlay: Included with older consoles like the Intellivision, overlays are a thin piece of plastic that slide over the buttons on a keypad, labeling the keys for the functions that pertain to the game.

PAL: Analog video standard used by Europe and most of Asia featuring 576 visible lines. PAL games are not capable with the NTSC format used by North American and Japan.

Pack-in Game: A game that comes packaged with a system. For example, the NES pack-in was Super Mario Bros, the Genesis came with Sonic the Hedgehog, and the Playstation had Ridge Racer.

Paddle: Atari 2600 controllers that consist of a knob that turns and a single fire button. These controllers allow for precise side-to-side movements.

Platform Game: A game that requires you to jump between platforms of various sizes. These games also typically involve collecting items and pouncing on enemies. Examples include Super Mario Bros (NES), Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis), and Jak and Daxter (PS2).

Polygons: Small individual shapes that fit together to form complex 3D models. Detailed 3D objects can be composed of thousands of polygons.

Port: A game translated to run on a platform other than it was originally developed. For example, some Amiga games were ported to consoles like the Genesis.

Power-Up: An item that imbue the player with special abilities or attributes. Some power-ups only last for a limited time.

Pre-rendered graphics: Used in many early 3D adventures, the scenery is static and viewed from a fixed camera angle. One advantage is that pre-rendered scenery is usually more detailed. Examples are Myst and the original Resident Evil.

Progressive Scan: The method of displaying video in most HDTVs. Unlike interlaced video, progressive scan draws each line of video in sequence.

Pwned (slang): Owned, beaten, defeated. Originated from a typo of "owned".

Quick-Time Events: These often appear to be cut-scenes, but will prompt the user to quickly press a button or move the controller to successfully complete the sequence. Made popular by the game Shenmue (Dreamcast).

RF (Radio Frequency) Cable: A low quality signal sent over coaxial cable (used for cable TV). These cables were commonly used for old video game systems. They produce the lowest quality video signal that is susceptible to interference.

RPG: See Role Playing Game.

Rapid-fire: Allows you to shoot fast and continuously by tapping the fire button, or in some games, simply holding it down. Sometimes known as "turbo".

Real-time: Normally used to describe combat sequences in some RPGs, the action does not stop to allow you to enter commands. This is the opposite of "turn-based".

Resolution: A term that describes the level of detail in a game's graphics. An image on a television screen is actually a series of pixels strung together. High-resolution images appear more detailed and lifelike, which low-resolution images tend to look blocky or jagged.

Respawn: A term often associated with first-person shooters, describes the act of returning to the field of play after being killed.

Role-Playing Game (RPG): Lengthy, slow-moving games with elaborate storylines that typically involve going on a quest. Although traditionally turn-based, modern RPGs tend to incorporate real-time elements.

Rumble Pack: A device that plugs into a controller to provide vibration feedback.

S-Video cable: A video cable that produces better video quality than a composite cable, but not as good as a component cable. S-Video improves on composite by separating the color and luminance signals.

Sandbox: Describes an open-ended, go-anywhere style of play employed in games like Grand Theft Auto 3.

Shmups: Short for "shoot 'em ups". Often used to describe frantic 2D shooting games.

Shoulder buttons: Found on the controllers of most modern systems, these are located on the back side of the controller. These are usually pressed with your index fingers and are often analog (touch sensitive). Also known as "triggers".

Shovelware: Cheap, poorly programmed games that often flood the market to take advantage of a new trend or system.

Slow-down: When more objects are on the screen than a system can handle, a game can slow down, often to the detriment of the gameplay.

Smart Bomb: Popularized by Defender (1981), this weapon instantly destroys all visible enemies on the screen. These are only available in limited supply.

Sprite: Animated images that form objects or characters in 2D games. These were supplanted by the 3D, polygon graphics of the mid-90's.

Survival Horror: A genre popularized by Resident Evil (Playstation, 1996). A survival horror game is an intense 3D adventure involving encounters with zombies or other monsters.

Switchbox: Often used with older video game consoles, this device allows you to switch between game and television signals.

"Tempting Fate": A generally unwise decision involving toying with an enemy in order to gain the opportunity to score bonus items or points. This can sometimes be seen in Pac-Man games.

Texture Mapping: The programming technique that draws graphical patterns on polygons. This allows smooth surfaces to appear bumpy or shaded.

Third-Person: Unlike first-person, this point of view lets you see the character you are controlling.

Thumbstick: A cross between a joystick and directional pad, a thumbstick is small enough to control with a thumb, but offers analog precision. It was introduced by Nintendo with its Nintendo 64 console in 1996, and is now standard issue on all controllers.

Track-ball (aka Trak-ball): A special controller that contains a ball (roughly the size of a cue ball) you roll with your hand. This provides a fine degree of directional control, and was made popular in early arcade games like Missile Command and Centipede.

Trigger: See "Shoulder buttons".

Turbo (aka Nitro): The ability to speed up for a short stretch, this is common in racing games.

Turbo: Turbo controls are usually associated with the ability to flip a switch to initiate rapid-fire mode. Most commonly associated with the Turbografx-16 controllers.

Turn-based: Normally used to describe RPG combat sequences that pause the action to allow the user to enter commands between attacks.

Virtual Reality (VR): A computer-generated environment that allows the player to feels as if they are in a different world. This is usually facilitated by the use of a headset which covers the player's eyes and ears. Special controllers are often used to allow the user to perform action like "grabbing" virtual objects.

Wall-jump: Move often used in platform games, allowing the user to elevate by vaulting off a wall. Sometimes you can perform this move many times in succession to reach very high places.

Wimote: The primary controller for the Nintendo Wii (2006) featuring motion-sensing capabilities. The controller also housed a speaker, and the ability to point to the television like a light gun. For games that requires a thumbstick, a "nunchuk" controller attachment was available.