The geeks’ lexicon

As with all artistic media and traditions, the world of video games has developed a unique and varied vernacular during its relatively short lifespan. Such terminology can often mystify and obscure the subject for the uninitiated, and even fans of games can frequently be confused by ambiguous or highly technical language. I will use this page to compile a glossary of game-related terms, not just to aid those unfamiliar with gaming to better understand the discourse, but also to better my own grasp of certain subjects.

Video gaming glossary:

‘Aesthetics’ – typically referred to as a game’s ‘art style’ in popular discourse.

‘Boss’ – an enemy combatant usually fought at key points in a game, such as at the end of a stage (see: ‘level’). As such, boss enemies tend to be more powerful and harder to beat than standard enemies, and usually have quite unique designs. Depending on the style of game being played, bosses may be common or infrequent (some games have none at all). Boss battles may play out in multiple stages, often structured around the boss changing ‘form’ in some way. Special categories of boss exist, including ‘mini-boss’ and ‘secret-boss’. The main antagonist of a game is typically the ‘final boss’. However, it is not uncommon for the villain of the game’s story to end up being structurally usurped by a more monstrous foe for the final gameplay encounter. Famous boss characters include: Bowser from Super Mario Bros., Ganon from The Legend of Zelda, GLaDOS from Portal, and Dracula from Castlevania.

‘Game design’ – The art of conceptualising how a game will play.

‘Game development’ – The process of actually producing a game.

‘Game dimensions’ – I prefer the rarely used ‘dimensionality’.

‘Gameplay’ – in simple terms, the way(s) in which a player plays – or is intended to play – a given game. Gameplay is the essence of the medium, and in almost all instances is predicated on interaction between the player and the game’s systems, mechanics and other design elements. As such, by definition gameplay should never be passive, though some contemporary games subvert this notion. There are many styles of gameplay, and the prevailing style within a game – as intended by its design – helps determine its ‘genre’ e.g. a game based solely around solving puzzles is a ‘puzzle-game’. Gameplay can also be understood in terms of the amount of people playing and how they play together – ‘single-player’ games offer a markedly different experience compared to ‘cooperative multiplayer’ games. Within certain genres and games it is possible for players to develop individual gameplay styles. Gameplay is unsurprisingly informed by many things, including: ‘game design’, ‘game dimensions’, ‘game mechanics’, ‘playability’, ‘player perspective’.

‘Genre’ – Largely determined by style(s) of gameplay and game design, along with aesthetic and thematic/narrative elements.

‘Level’ – 1) the single most common way of structuring a game. The game is divided into individual stages referred to as ‘levels’: reaching the end of one level allows the player to move onto the next. Levels are often grouped into ‘worlds’.
2) a skill or proficiency level, use in RPGs and similar games to indicate how much you have developed your player-character (either generally or in particular regards).

‘Metroidvania’ – a particular genre of game, in which game design is focused upon action, adventure and exploration in a traditionally 2D side-scrolling platform-game setting. The genre is named after two franchises that were early expounders of such a style of gameplay: Metroid and Castlevania.

‘Platformer’ – a game in which the gameplay is based around traversing lateral (and/or occasionally vertical) stages, largely through jumping and running mechanics. The term is short for ‘platform game’, as archetypal games in the genre feature stages in which suspended platforms facilitate much of the jumping. Platformers typically use traps such as bottomless pits and enemies that move in patterns to obstruct – and potentially defeat – the player. There exist both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional platformers, as well as games that fall into several subgenres such as ‘action-platformer’. Famous platform game franchises include: Super Mario Bros., Megaman, Rayman, Crash Bandicoot.

‘Playability’ –

‘Player perspective’ –

‘RPG’, ‘JRPG’, ‘WRPG’, ‘SRPG’ etc.

‘Style’ –