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Glossary of Video Game Terms
Whether you're a gamer or just shopping for one, these common terms should help you out.
Accessory: In gaming, this refers to a distinct piece of hardware that is required to use a video game console, or one that enriches the gameplay experience; essentially, accessories are everything except the console itself. This includes controllers, headsets, cables, and any specialized peripherals.
Alienware: A subsidiary of Dell™ that makes dedicated gaming computers. Alienwares generally have better processors and more RAM than the average computer, as well as a dedicated graphics card, as opposed to integrated graphics.
Amiibo: Nintendo's near-field communication (NFC)-based platform, which uses physical action figures to represent in-game characters, similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Unlike those titles, Nintendo's Amiibo figures will work with several games, such as Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, and Yoshi's Woolly World. Figures will include iconic Nintendo characters like Mario, Pokemon's Pikachu, and The Legend of Zelda's resident hero Link.
Backward-compatible: Able to play games or use accessories from an older generation of hardware. For example, the PlayStation 2 was backward-compatible with the first PlayStation, meaning that PS1 games could be played in the PS2. Once a common feature, backward compatibility is becoming increasingly rare; of the current-gen systems, only the Wii U has this function, meaning it can play Wii games.
Blu-ray: A high-definition digital optical disc used for movies and video games. Blu-rays typically store around 50GB of data, five times the storage capacity of the DVD format, and are capable of displaying Full HD resolution. Currently, the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3 are the only consoles with built-in Blu-ray players.
Console: Also called a "system," it's non-PC video game hardware. Generally, consoles refer to gaming systems that are meant to be hooked up to a television, as opposed to standalone handhelds. Examples of consoles are the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U.
Controller: A device used with video game hardware to provide input to the game; more simply, it's what's used to control what is happening in the game. Each console manufacturer has its own specific first-party controllers (for example, the PS4's DualShock 4), while third-party manufacturers also offer alternative controllers for each console. Controllers are also sometimes used with PC games as an alternative to the mouse-and-keyboard setup.
Developer: This could refer to a company that actually physically makes a game or an individual that does the same. Game developers often turn to publishers to cover the cost of printing, advertising, and/or distributing games; however, some publish directly to their games' platforms (such as Steam or the PlayStation Network). Those that forgo the traditional developer/publisher relationship are known as indie developers, and their products often referred to as indie games.
Disney Infinity: An action-adventure game series published by Disney Interactive that uses physical action figures and discs to represent in-game characters and items. The first wave of figures and gameplay included a range of new and classic Disney characters, like Frozen's Anna and Elsa, The Incredibles' titular family, and Fantasia's Mickey Mouse. The second wave, Disney Infinity 2.0, introduces Marvel characters into the mix.
DLC (downloadable content): Though individual games might be downloadable, DLC specifically refers to add-on content for video games downloaded through channels such as Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, or Steam, to name a few. This additional game content varies in price and content; some popular uses for DLC are expansion packs, character skins, multiplayer modes, and extra weapons.
Downloadable: A game or other piece of content that can be downloaded and saved on a hard drive, as opposed to being contained on a physical disc. Popular channels from which people download games are Valve's Steam, EA's Origin, Microsoft's Xbox Live, and Sony's PlayStation Network, to name a few.
D-pad (directional pad): The four-directional cross-shaped button on a controller or handheld system, usually operated by the left thumb.
DualShock: Sony's first-party brand of controllers for the PlayStation family of consoles. There have been four iterations of the DualShock, one for each generation of Sony consoles, with the DualShock 4 currently accompanying the PlayStation 4.
ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board): The board that assigns ratings to games meant to serve as a guideline for parents and guardians of younger gamers. Though not legally enforced, most retailers take ESRB ratings seriously and will not sell M-rated games to individuals under 17.
The ratings generally found at most retailers are as follows:
Ethernet: A wired Internet connection. While ethernet connections don't allow for the portability and convenience of Wi-Fi, they can sometimes result in faster download and upload speeds and more reliable connections while playing online, making them advantageous in certain situations.
Face buttons: A set of buttons usually found on the right side of the controller or handheld system with some denomination of letters or shapes to identify each one. For example, the DualShock famously uses an X, circle, triangle, and square to mark its face buttons, while Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U controllers use A, B, X, and Y.
First-party: A game or accessory made by the same company as the platform on which it appears. For example, the DualShock 4 is a first-party PS4 controller. Super Smash Bros. is a first-party Nintendo game.
FPS (first-person shooter): A popular game genre in which the camera is centered on the protagonist's weapon, giving the player that character's perspective. Classic games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D helped popularize the genre, while more modern series like Halo and Call of Duty keep it thriving year after year.
Full HD: 1920x1080 resolution, also written as 1080p. To experience games in Full HD, you must have an HDTV or monitor capable of such resolution; be aware that even with a high-def display, not all games are presented in 1080p.
GamePad: The Wii U's first-party controller. The GamePad is unique in that it looks similar to a tablet, with a touchscreen and stylus, but also has the face buttons and analog sticks of a controller. It can be used to control games as you play on the TV, or, for some games, for off-screen play (meaning you can see and control the action right on the GamePad screen).
Generation: A period of time in video game history determined by which consoles were new at that time. For example, the 16-bit era of the early 1990s (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, etc.) was the fourth generation of video games; the industry is currently in its eighth generation, which kicked off with the Wii U in 2012 and continued with the releases of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2013. The latest (or upcoming) game systems and their accompanying games are often referred to as "current-gen" or "next-gen."
Handheld: A portable gaming system, such as the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita. Handhelds typically run on built-in rechargeable batteries and are designed for portable use. Current-gen handhelds also have secondary features beyond just playing games, like Wi-Fi, social networking built into the interface, and various social features and apps.
Hardware: The physical components of anything used to play video games (as opposed to the games themselves). This includes consoles, handhelds, and controllers.
Headset: A combination of a headphone and microphone typically used for communicating during online multiplayer games.
HDMI pass-through: A feature of the Xbox One that allows a high-def device to be connected to the console, which is then connected to the HDTV via HDMI. Its primary function is to allow users to watch cable television through the Xbox One, which adds Kinect voice controls and the ability to snap live TV to the side of the screen while playing a game.
Kinect: Microsoft's motion-sensing device, which adds motion control and voice commands to its consoles. There are two different versions, both simply called Kinect; the first iteration was launched in 2010 for the Xbox 360, with the newer version (featuring a 1080p camera and improved motion and voice recognition) was bundled with the Xbox One during its 2013 launch.
Microsoft: A major video game publisher and electronics manufacturer. Though Microsoft has been around since the 1970s, it didn't enter the video game domain until 2001 with the release of the original Xbox. To date, Microsoft has released three consoles: Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. It is also the publisher of several major gaming franchises, including Halo and Gears of War.
MMO (massively multiplayer online): Just as the name states, an MMO is a game played exclusively online that can support a large number of players, with some MMOs boasting subscribers in the millions. This type of game was popularized with the rise of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, though other genres have entered the MMO space as well, such as MMOFPS titles like Planetside 2. Costs vary from game to game: some MMOs are free to play up to a certain level; some are free after purchasing the initial game disc; and some have monthly subscription fees.
Mobile game: Generally refers to games played on portable devices, particularly those not primarily designed to play games, such as smartphones and tablets.
NFC (Near Field Communication): An electromagnetic wireless technology that enables communication between two devices, generally with a shorter range than Bluetooth technology. Disney Infinity, Activision's Skylanders franchise, and Nintendo's forthcoming Amiibo platform are a few ways video games utilize NFC technology.
Nintendo: Founded in the late 1800s as a card game company, Nintendo rose to prominence as a video game developer and hardware publisher in the early 1980s. Its initial successes were based around the handheld Game & Watch platform and the Donkey Kong arcade game, and the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (called the Famicom in Japan) in 1985 helped the video game industry recover from a major crash in the early 1980s. After conquering the console market, Nintendo released the Game Boy in 1989, which was the first in a long line of successful handhelds.
To date, Nintendo has released six consoles: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Nintendo 64, Gamecube, Wii, and Wii U. The Game Boy was eventually succeeded by the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, Nintendo DS (in various iterations), Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo 2DS.
Nintendo Network: Nintendo's online service for the Wii U and 3DS, used both to play multiplayer games online and as a social platform. The Nintendo Network has no subscription fees.
Nintendo TVii: A service for Nintendo's Wii U that allows users to access services like Hulu Plus and Netflix (which require separate subscriptions) and their own cable network through the GamePad controller. Nintendo TVii content can be watched on the television or GamePad display, with social networks and extra information about the content integrated and readily accessible via the controller.
Online multiplayer: A catch-all term for games played over the internet with other people; this includes competitive multiplayer, MMOs, cooperative titles, and more across all consoles, handhelds, PCs, and other devices. Each gaming console has a proprietary service for online gaming (such as Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network) that may require a subscription fee; on the PC, online gaming is generally free, unless the game itself requires a fee.
PlayStation: Sony's video game brand; the name designated to the publisher's consoles and handhelds since the launch of the original PlayStation in 1995. Since then, Sony has released three subsequent PlayStations (aptly named the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4) and two handhelds: the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation Vita (often called PS Vita or just Vita).
PlayStation Camera: An optional motion-sensing accessory for the PlayStation 4 that has two built-in cameras and a microphone.
PlayStation Eye: A digital camera for the PlayStation 3. Complete with a built-in microphone, it was used as an optional peripheral for some PS3 games, as well as all PlayStation Move titles.
PlayStation Move: Sony's motion-sensing controller accessory, introduced as an optional PlayStation 3 peripheral in 2010. A bit reminiscent of the Wii Remote, the Move looks sort of like a wand with a ping pong ball on top, and has the familiar PlayStation face buttons on its body. Also compatible with the PS4, the Move can be used alone or with the secondary Navigator controller, depending on the game.
PlayStation Navigation: A one-handed secondary controller meant to be used with the PlayStation Move, similar to how the Wii's Nunchuk is used with the Remote.
PlayStation Network (PSN): Sony's online gaming and digital media service for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PSP, and PS Vita. Through the PSN, gamers can play online multiplayer games, as well as purchase and download new games and DLC. Though online gaming is free on the PS3, it requires a PlayStation Plus subscription on the PS4; however, there's no fee on either system for using third-party streaming apps (such as Netflix), aside from their separate subscriptions.
PlayStation Now: A streaming service used to provide PlayStation content to Sony's various devices, which includes HDTVs and mobile devices as well as gaming systems. The service is sent to enter open beta in summer 2014, and will give access to a library of PS3 games for per-game or subscription fees.
PlayStation Plus: A paid subscription service for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita (only one subscription is needed across all Sony devices). It's required for multiplayer gaming on the PS4, but not the other systems. Additionally, PS+ gives subscribers access to early demos, automatic system update downloads, discounted games, and a rotating library of free titles.
PlayStation TV: A streaming device that allows you to remote play PlayStation 4 games from any location with a Wi-Fi connection. PlayStation TV also provides access to streaming PS3 games and certain PlayStation Vita, PS1, and PSP games, as well as movies, TV shows, and music from the Sony Entertainment Network.
Publisher: In video games, the publisher is the company responsible for manufacturing and marketing the games that may have been developed internally or by an outside developer. Some games, generally referred to as indie games, forgo the publishing process by being released directly to digital distribution services by their developers.
Rumble: A feature of most console controllers made popular in the Nintendo 64/PS1 era. It makes the controller vibrate based on contextual situations, which vary from game to game; popular uses are to build suspense or let the player know he or she is in danger.
RPG (role-playing game): Like tabletop RPGs, video game role-playing games usually emphasize characters and story, with statistical means of progression (generally a leveling system based on experience gained in battle). Many subgenres of RPGs exist within games: MMORPGs like World of Warcraft; tactical and strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyria Chronicles; turned-based RPGs like the early Final Fantasy games; and action RPGs such as Kingdom Hearts and Fallout 3.
Western and Japanese-developed RPGs often vary in style; more traditional RPGs with turn-based combat made by Japanese developers are often referred to as JPRGs, with action-based combat role-playing games sometimes called ARPGs.
Software: The actual games themselves, whether on physical discs or digitally downloaded.
Sony: A major video game publisher and electronics manufacturer. Sony's roots date back to post-WWII Japan, but it didn't enter the video game market until the release of the first PlayStation in the mid-90s. Sony is also the maker of the popular DualShock line of first-party controls and a number of first-party franchises, among them Uncharted, Killzone, and LittleBigPlanet.
Steam: A digital distribution service created and maintained by software publisher Valve, most notable for the Half-Life and Portal series. Available for Windows, Mac OS®, and Linux, Steam itself is a free service that acts as an online game store. The games themselves vary in price, though Steam is notorious for holding frequent sales, including its annual Summer Sale that has steep discounts on popular games with new deals every day. Steam also allows PC games to be easily optimized for an HDTV via Big Picture mode.
Steam Box: A computer build specifically for gaming on an HDTV, particularly meant for playing Steam games. Currently in production from Valve and a number of computer manufacturers, Steam Boxes were supposed to launch with the new Steam operating system and controller. However, due to Valve's delay of these services, the first Steam Box (the Alienware Alpha) will instead launch with a custom overlay for Windows 8 and an Xbox 360 controller.
Streaming: In gaming, this could refer to the act of playing video games over an Internet connection that aren't actually available on your hard drive via services like PlayStation Now. It also refers to the act of live streaming, or playing video games live for an audience using services like Twitch. Live streaming is one of the defining features of the eighth console generation, with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One utilizing Twitch support.
Stylus: In electronics, this refers to a utensil meant to be used with a touchscreen device.
Skylanders: An Activision-published video game franchise that utilizes NFC technology, making digital representations of physical character models appear in-game.
Third-party: A game or accessory published by a non-console maker. For example, the Assassin's Creed series, which is published by Ubisoft and appears on multiple systems, is a third-party game, and Ubisoft is a third-party publisher.
Touchpad: A specialized surface that can translate the motion and position of a user's fingers to a relative position on the screen. You may be familiar with the touchpad on your laptop, but video games are also incorporating this technology into various devices, like the PlayStation 4 and Vita.
Touchscreen: A display you can interact with by touching it with an object, typically a finger or stylus. The Nintendo DS popularized the use of touchscreens in gaming, and they're now used on the Wii U's GamePad and PlayStation Vita's display.
Triggers: A fixture of most modern, traditional controllers, triggers are generally located at the top of the controller, behind the shoulder buttons. They're typically used for zooming and firing in shooters, gas and reverse in driving games, and various other functions.
Twitch: A live-streaming service that allows gamers to broadcast themselves to (potentially) a wide audience. Any gamer can set up his or her own Twitch channel for free, though live-streaming may require additional equipment. Consoles with built-in Twitch functionality, like the PS4 and Xbox One, eliminate the need for a separate cable box and other accessories.
Ultra HD: Ultra HD refers to displays with a resolution of at least 3840x2160 (sometimes referred to as 4K resolution or 4K2K resolution) and aspects ratios of at least 16:9.
Wi-Fi: Wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high speed Internet and network connections; you may just know it as wireless Internet or wireless LAN.
Wii Remote: The primary controller for the Nintendo Wii system, this motion controller can be used alone or with a Nunchuk attachment; some games require it to be turned sideways, emulating the simplicity of an early NES controller. The Remote is also compatible with the Wii U and used for many multiplayer games on the system, like Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8.
Xbox: Microsoft's video game brand, which debuted in 2001 with the original Xbox. That was succeeded by the Xbox 360 in 2005, which was in turn succeeded by the Xbox One in 2013. Unlike PlayStation and Nintendo, there is no handheld Xbox line.
Xbox Live: Microsoft's online gaming service, which launched on the Xbox in 2002. Xbox Live helped popularize online gaming on video game consoles; the other systems of that generation, the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, did not utilize online services at launch. Though Xbox Live has been discontinued on the original Xbox, it's still up and running on the last-gen Xbox 360.
There are two versions: Xbox Live Gold, a $60 annual service required to play games online that also provides access to different free games monthly; and Xbox Live Silver, a free service needed for access to basic online functionality.