March 24, 2012 -- If it sometimes seems as if you're speaking a different language than the video game fans in your household, that's because you are. As with any hobby, gaming has its own vernacular, including an Oxford dictionary's worth of esoteric slang and shorthand references for everything from game systems and genres to the types of people who enjoy them.
Thankfully for parents who've never touched a joystick (or, more accurately these days, gamepad or motion controller), learning to speak gamer doesn't require years of study in front of the PS3, Wii or Xbox 360.
But the good news is that, despite the hobby's sprawling growth into new areas like digital, cloud and social games, once you've mastered the basics, grasping more offbeat turns of phrase quickly becomes second-nature. (Or you could do what even the best of us are often forced to do in a pinch: Google the darn term.) Consider the following gaming dictionary a crash course in all things interactive entertainment -- memorize it, and who knows? You may even become proficient enough to talk with your kids about the latest games without making them burst into tears of laughter.
Achievement – Although it began as a specific term for special goals that can be completed on Xbox Live-enabled games in exchange for virtual badges, achievements now can be earned in many different types of games. Players earn special call-outs (e.g. virtual trophies), and in some cases points, for reaching certain goals in a game. In Xbox Live games, Achievement Points count toward a player's Gamerscore.
Avatar – The character a player controls in a game, or the personification of the player in a game's world.
Backward Compatible – When a game system can run games or use accessories created for an older system, the new system is considered to be backward compatible with the old system. Note that backward compatibility can apply to a system's software, hardware, or both. A system may be considered backward compatible even if some older software will not run on the newer system. For example, even though some Xbox titles will not work on the Xbox 360, the 360 is still generally backward compatible with Xbox software.
Beta – A pre-release, nearly feature-complete version of a video game that's more advanced, from a development standpoint, than an alpha version. In many cases, a developer releases a beta version of a game to identify bugs before a game's final release. This can apply to other forms of software as well. Beta tests can be public (open to everyone) or private (open to a select group of invited testers). Anyone taking part in a public or private beta test is a beta tester.
Boss – A notable enemy, usually one possessing much greater power than other foes in the game. A boss is typically found at the end of a game level.
Casual gamer – Someone who plays casual games and/or someone who plays games only occasionally.
Console – Typically refers to a home video game system that hooks up to a television, such as the Nintendo Wii and Wii U, Microsoft's Xbox 360 or Sony's PlayStation 3. Portable systems including the Nintendo DS or 3DS and PlayStation Portable or Vita are also sometimes referred to as consoles as well.
Cooperative – Adjective for a game, mode or quest that allows or requires two or more players to work together towards the same goal.
Easter Egg – A hidden message, object or feature found in a game that is generally unnecessary, unrelated and otherwise outside of the course of normal gameplay. Common examples of Easter eggs include messages from game programmers to fans and relatives, pictures of development teams and inside jokes.
Educational Games – Games that explicitly focus on educational topics or methods, such as "My Reading Tutor" and "Mario Teaches Typing." Educational games are not a genre in and of themselves, and games of practically any genre can have educational value.
Episodic Games – Bite-sized, value-priced games released serially in parts, like TV shows. Episodic games can be purchased individually or by the season.
Franchise – A set of games, often with similar names, that share one or more key characters, settings or styles of play. Used interchangeably with series. Franchises are generally named after a unifying character or the name of the first game in the franchise.
Facebook Games – Also known as social games, games that are playable on Facebook's social network are typically free, and usually contain multiplayer elements. Whether it's asking friends to cooperate in a task or just being able to tell others easily about achievements, Facebook games are designed with social play in mind. Developers have flocked to create Facebook games en masse recently because of the vast number of Facebook users who are potential game players.
Free-to-Play Games – Many new games are completely free to play right from your desktop or Web browser. So what's the catch? Often, these games are driven by in-game advertising or entice players to purchase subscriptions or virtual items within the game world via optional microtransactions.
Gamertag – Online nickname used by members of Microsoft's Xbox Live online multiplayer service.
Grief – A practice in which players try to ruin the experience of others in a multiplayer game. Types of grief include attacking lower-level characters without obvious reward, and using in-game chat channels to send antagonistic messages. Players who cause grief are called griefers.
Grind – The overly repetitive activities often required to advance in a game. Most often associated with leveling up in role-playing games.
Guild – In an MMO, organized groups of players who share resources and team up to adventure together are called guilds, although they may also go by other names such as corporations, alliances and factions. Guilds are generally led by a small group of players who organize events and set the rules and goals for the group. Given their collaborative nature, participation in guilds inherently involves interaction with other players, including friends and/or strangers.
Leetspeak – A loose patois of English and Internet shorthand used by online game players for quick communication inside and outside of games. Some common leetspeak terms/phrases and their definitions:
camper: A player who camps out in an advantageous position on a game map.
FTW: For the win.
gg: Good game.
gibs: A general term for any in-game death. Short for giblets, i.e. what an exploded character generally looks like.
leet/l33t/1337: Short for elite. Used as a term of admiration for an impressive in-game display. lol: Laughing out loud.
newbie/noob/n00b: A relative newcomer to a game; often used derisively to describe an ignorant player. "You don't know where to find heal spells? What a n00b!"
owned/pwned: A particularly savage defeat in a game. You totally got pwned by that rocket launcher. ROFL: Rolling on the floor laughing.
Kinect – A camera-based system from Microsoft that uses infrared sensors to track players' body position and movements, allowing them to control on-screen activity through physical motion. The Kinect camera add-on for Xbox 360 includes a built-in microphone, and allows up to two players to use their bodies to control games simultaneously.
Massively Multiplayer – Virtual worlds that exist online around the clock. Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games allow thousands of players to collaborate or compete together.
Machinima – A form of computer animation that uses a real-time virtual environment, such as a game development engine, to create a non-interactive movie. Typically, machinima is distinguished from in-game animations such as cutscenes, even though the same tools are often used in both. Pronounced "muh-SHEEN-eh-mah."
Microtransaction – A small, online purchase facilitated through a specialized digital distribution system, frequently made from inside games themselves, e.g. when a player pays $0.99 to instantly obtain more resources and power-ups, or speed up a building's construction. Many companies earn considerable profits by selling value-priced in-game items, and optional microtransactions are the most common way that free-to-play games make money.
Mods – A "mod," or modification, is an optional add-on typically created by someone other than the game's creators that changes featured settings, characters, weapons, vehicles and/or gameplay options. It is possible for mods to contain mature material, and since they're not rated by the ESRB, parents need to take extra care if allowing their kids access to them.
Motion Control – Refers to any video game or game system that requires users to employ physical movement in order to control the on-screen activity. Popularized by the Nintendo Wii, most console and handheld systems now contain some sort of gyroscope, accelerometer or motion-tracking device to allow for some range of gesture-based gameplay. Microsoft's Kinect camera system requires no controllers at all aside from the players' body. The Nintendo Wii uses gyroscopes and infrared sensors to track the placement of the controller. Sony's PlayStation Move combines a little bit of both of these systems, utilizing a camera and an ultra-precise controller. Even today's handheld systems such as Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita utilize some form of motion controls.
Point of View – How a player views a particular scene in a game and/or the physical perspective from which they do so.
Producer – The person in charge of managing a game's development team and ensuring that the game is released on schedule. Producers are usually employed by the game's publisher. The responsibilities of the producer can vary greatly depending on the company and the product being produced. An executive producer may oversee a number of games and production teams for one company.
Profile – A collection of settings and/or player information that can be shared between play sessions or among other gamers. Profiles can be exclusive to a specific game or piece of hardware or shared online.
Ratings – An evaluation of the age-appropriateness of a video game's content. In America, games are given the following ratings by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an offshoot of the Entertainment Software Association.
EC (Early Childhood): May be suitable for ages three and older.
E (Everyone): May be suitable for ages six and older.
E10+ (Everyone 10 and Older): May be suitable for ages ten and older.
T (Teen): May be suitable for ages 13 and older.
M (Mature): May be suitable for ages 17 and older.
AO (Adults Only): Should only be played by persons 18 years and older.
RP (Rating Pending): Submitted to the ESRB and awaiting final rating.
Sandbox – A type of gameplay that provides players with a broad variety of tools and allows them to determine their own objectives. Sandbox may also refer to so-called "open-world" games, in which players are free to progress and explore sprawling landscapes at their own pace.
Social Games – Free to play and designed for play on social networks like Facebook, social games can be enjoyed right from your Web browser. Using your social network account, you can play thousands of new releases in all genres, including card games, board games, and strategy games. Most are designed with multiplayer elements (online high-score tables, achievement sharing, collaborative goals, etc.) in mind, and financed by offering players optional microtransactions.
Troll – A message board poster who posts provocative claims and statements designed to generate a hostile or angry response. This behavior is referred to as trolling.
User-Generated Content – Some games allow players to customize nearly every part of the gameplay experience, sometimes creating their own characters, missions and levels. When players do this and share these creations with others, the results are known as user-generated content. User-generated content can be a great way to extend the life of a game, but parents need to be careful because this type of content is not regulated by the ESRB.