The following is a list of terms and jargon to help better understand gamers and their culture. Hopefully many of these terms will better clarify concepts addressed on this site as well as grant a better understanding of issues associated with videogame designers, developers, and players.
action/adventure – One of the most common game genres. This format covers a broad range of sub-genres (i.e., fantasy, horror, and sci-fi). An action/adventure game is one that puts the player in a setting with a challenge which requires resolution through a typical quest. This usually takes the form of a story that unfolds as different objectives are accomplished.
camera – The view of the player during a game. Since most titles do not enable the player to control this view (though more are beginning to offer this feature), it is referred to as though it is a perspective controlled by someone else. Hence, the screen provides a view of another place as though captured and transmitted via camera.
color palate – The choice of colors that designers can use to create the visuals in a given title. Newer titles have practically no limit on the number of colors used, whereas older systems prevented designers from using more than what the hardware could handle. The number of colors in a palate is represented through a measurement entitled “bit depth.” This is a binary-based scale that dictates how many colors can be held in the RAM for the video processor. The following are common examples:
4-bit = 16 colors
8-bit = 256 colors
16-bit = 65 thousand colors (approximately)
24-bit = 16.7 million colors (approximately)
console – A dedicated video game system. Unlike a computer, these devices are more like appliances. For example, their architecture is usually closed. Whereas computer users may add additional cards or upgrade processors to their systems, console users might have a few external peripherals, but that is the extent of the customization of their hardware. These limitations can decrease their appeal. However, their adherence to a standard architecture (and their resulting cost-effectiveness) increases their appeal.
DOS – (disk operating system) This term is most commonly used to refer to the original operating system for IBM PC compatible machines first marketed in 1981. It resides in some form in all versions of Windows. It is immediately recognizable by its default black background and white text prompt. It requires that the user have a knowledge of its commands which must be typed at the prompt in order for it to execute them.
FAQs – (Frequently Asked Questions) In the context of games, these resources are not limited to a list of questions with corresponding answers. For gamers, the term FAQ refers to any posted document filled with structured information. For example, GameFAQs (the website) hosts what are called “in-depth FAQs” that provide detailed, step-by-step information on how to accomplish particular tasks within games.
first-person shooter – A three-dimensional game that places the player in the point of view of the protagonist. Though these titles often limit game play to shooting everything that moves, they encourage a sense of immersion by enabling a player to look around as though he or she is actually in the virtual environment. Wolfenstein 3D is recognized as the first of these computer-based virtual reality killing experiences.
game play – (aka gameplay) This is, most simply, the experience associated with actually playing a game. On one level, game play refers to how well a game responds to the player’s input. On another level, it refers to the transparency of the interface. Players evaluate game play based on how effectively they can control the onscreen action and whether that action matches a player’s expectations.
engine – (aka graphics engine or 3D engine) An engine is the underlying code upon which a 3D game is built. It tells the computer how to apply textures to surfaces, whether or not objects are solid (i.e., rocks and walls) or not (i.e., fog or water). It enables the designers to define the laws of the virtual world, such as boundaries and gravity.
hypertext – Though often misinterpreted as non-linear navigation, hypertext is the concept of multi-threading and cross-linking information in such a way that an individual can choose his or her own linear path through that information. The World-Wide Web is an example of an ever-growing collection of sites that form a hypertext environment. An individual can start reading at any given point and by clicking particular links, can choose a series of pages that present information in the order requested.
interactive fiction – Though this term could generically refer to any form of narrative that requires the audience to participate in order to propel the story, it has a specific reference in the context of computer games. It is the name for text-based games made popular by Infocom during the early to mid-1980s. Examples include the initial three titles of the Zork series, Crowther and Woods’s Adventure, and Scott Adams’s Adventureland.
interface – This is the manner in which a player interacts with a game. It includesthe physical controller itself (e.g., joystick, mouse, keyboard) as well as the programming by which the game responds to input from such devices. For example, a game that requires a player to press the space bar, hit number keys, and move the mouse at the same time would be considered a poor interface because of the logistical difficulty of hand placement. A good interface is one so easily understood and so transparent that the player need not think about pressing the buttons, but can focus on executing the actions.
logic train – A series of choices that lead to an outcome. This is essentially astructure for navigation. The logic train maps the potential decisions available to a player in a given title. It usually refers to a linear sequence, whereas the term decision tree is usually used to describe branching options available to a player.
MUDs – (Multi-User Dungeons) These games are the original online multi-playergames. Essentially they are a type of text-based adventure (e.g., Zork or Colossal Cave) in which multiple players can participate simultaneously. Unlike current online games like Tribes or Phantasy Star Online, the original MUDs had no graphics, so the experience more closely reflectedthe imaginative nature of the original pen and paper RPG, Dungeons and Dragons.
navigational logic – The options and their structure as provided to a player in thecontext of an immersive experience. The following are specific types of navigational structures:
linear navigation – The act of following a series of experiences insequential order. (For example, reading a recipe step by step.)interactive linear navigation – Proceeding through a series of experiencesthat require participation. The majority of video games fall into this category. They have a single starting point and a single ending point; and one path leads from one to the other. The interactive element is that the player must accomplish things along the way in order to proceed down the path. (Think of this as following a recipe step by step.)
interactive branching navigation – This structure adds choices to the pathand required player participation. At key points, the player can choose how the experience will proceed and, eventually, how it can end. Unlike interactive linear navigation, interactive branching often provides the player with opportunities that shape the ending of the game. (Imagine following a recipe for cookies that gives you the option to put in nuts and offers you a choice of almonds, walnuts, or pecans.)
partial non-linear navigation – This navigational structure enables theplayer to choose how and when to accomplish certain goals. Though the goals consist of a series of tasks that must be accomplished in a linear fashion, the order in which the goals are accomplished is not as restricted. (Picture having to prepare enough cookies for a party. While the order in which you make them is not important, the order of the recipes themselves is.)
non-linear navigation – True non-linear navigation is a rare concept, even in life. We tend to impose structure on our activities either during or after to provide a framework for understanding what we are doing or have done. Perfect non-linear navigation would enable a player to choose to do anything at any time. A player would be able to change an experience in mid-stream and start on something else. (Picture throwing the cookie batter out and deciding to make a cake instead.)
particle effect technology – This is a technology that Sony integrated into thePlayStation 2 that enables the system to process what appears to be organically generated randomized information. The processors take advantage of algorithms dedicated to represent atmospheric conditions that naturally occur. Instead of using predictable formulae, this technology attempts to simulate more realistic natural patterns. For example, it facilitates the creation of realistic fog, rain, and water rippling effects.
platform – This term is used to identify which system can run which games. Theterm platform can refer to the many different consoles as well as computers. For example, if a game is developed for the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, and the GameCube, it is multi-platform. The same can be said if a game is available for PlayStation, Macintosh, and PC.
platformer – (aka platform game) A game genre that requires the player to navigate a complex series of challenges and timing them carefully (i.e., jumping from ledges and dodging obstacles). Super Mario Bros. is a classic platform title.
pre-rendered video – Many games that are distributed on compact disc takeadvantage of the extra space by incorporating animated sequences that disclose information about the setting, characters, or situation in which the player is involved. Since the majority of these games use computer generated 3D graphics to represent the environments, the animated sequences do, too. However, by creating animated sequences ahead of time using more advanced equipment and capturing it in the form of movie shorts that are triggered at different times during the game, the developers can incorporate visual elements into video games that rival scenes in Hollywood films. These sequences are often referred to as prerendered video.
RAM – (random access memory) This is the virtual space inside a computer orvideo game console in which a program becomes accessible. RAM enables a player to interact with the programming and experience the game.
reader reviews – These are game reviews submitted by players to many sites on the Web (i.e., GameFAQs). Unlike reviews seen in magazines and official reviews written by those who maintain larger game-related websites, these reviews allow a player to see how his or her peers feel about a title.
replay value – Many players lose interest in a game once they have completed it. This is particularly true for immersive titles in which the greatest draw is the sense of exploring and discovering. Once the surprises of a game have been discovered, the adventure may not be as exhilarating. Replay value is players’ judgment of a game’s ability to pull them back for continued play once it has been completed.
RPG – (role-playing game) A game that enables a player to experience a virtualquest. During the quest, the player enhances the abilities of a character or group of characters through a series of encounters. These encounters provide experience and rewards that make the character(s) more powerful. If the player is successful, the character(s) will have had enough preparation for the final confrontation at the end of the game and a great foe will be defeated.
synchronic narrative – An story that unfolds in response to a player’s actions in the present. Its opposite, diachronic narrative, is a historical background that provides a purpose for action in the present.
walk-throughs – A step-by-step account of how to complete a game. Though onemay question the purpose of a document that removes the explorative and experiential nature of an immersive title, these documents can prove helpful when a player is “stuck.” Players tend to use these works to answer specific questions, rather than as a roadmap of the entire game.