Video Game Dictionary: A Glossary of Terms

Video Game Dictionary: A Glossary of Terms

If you need evidence for the growth and maturation of video games, consider the rapid expansion of game-related jargon. Long gone are the days when you just pulled out “the Nintendo” if you wanted to click around for a few hours. Sure, there was some pseudo tech-talk about how many “bits” a system had. And Sega formulated a beauty of a lie with a mysterious technology called “Blast Processing” that helped Sonic the Hedgehog make Mario look as graceless as a fat plumber (hey, wait). Ultimately, though, those terms were attached to empty definitions that were tailored to impress thirteen-year-olds.

Game-related vernacular has blossomed since, and it actually means something now. Here’s a quick primer on the terms that are often attached to articles and blog posts about “new” games.

Downloadable Games – Generally, full games that can be acquired through a download service (e.g. Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, WiiWare, PlayStation Network, the Apple App Store). Downloadable games are usually far cheaper than their retail counterparts, but don’t have the same level of depth–though that’s rapidly changing, and downloadable games are available in every conceivable genre as a result. Interestingly, downloadable titles are not a modern invention. In the 1980s, the “GameLine” service sought to distribute Atari 2600 games via a telephone line, and Sega attempted Genesis game distribution over a cable line.

Downloadable Content (“DLC”) – Downloadable content refers to digitally distributed add-ons for a game that’s already on the market. Some examples of DLC include new levels, new multiplayer maps, and new items. Games that allow for DLC might be bought at retail initially, though digitally distributed games can be upgraded via DLC as well.

Social Games – Games that allow (or require) the player to interact with other players. Technically, any game that allows for a Player 2 or beyond is a social game. In the modern industry, however, the term is most frequently used to describe games that are played over a social medium, such as Facebook. Ex.: Zynga’s FarmVille uses the player’s Facebook account to interact with his or her friends. From there, they’re encouraged play along and perform tasks on each other’s farms.

Free-to-Play (F2P) – A term that’s most frequently used to describe games that let the player enjoy a massive multiplayer online (MMO) environment for as long as they like without paying for it. Players who do cough up the requested monthly fee are given full access to everything the world has to offer, though some F2P adventures also allow players to purchase certain quests and items a la carte. The F2P formula is meant to compete directly with subscriber-based games like World of Warcraft, which requires a set monthly fee from its players.

Web Games/Flash Games – Web games (also “browser games” or “Flash games”) run off an Internet browser like Firefox or Internet Explorer, and are usually based on the Flash software platform. Web games expand a multitude of genres, but are most frequently puzzle games, adventure games, interactive worlds, and strategy games. Most web games are entirely free, or are based on the free-to-play formula.

Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) – Massively multiplayer online games–sometimes referred to as “Massively mulitplayer online role-playing games” (or MMORPGs)– are multiplayer games that often have thousands of players interacting at the same time. MMOGs include a wide variety of genres, though role-playing games have long been the favorite, as teaming up with others and formulating a strategy is often necessary to take down particularly huge baddies.

Cloud Computing/Gaming – With cloud computing, several remote servers stream resources and data on-demand through a broadband Internet connection back to your PC, hosting the software and handling heavy lifting in terms of code crunching distantly. This technology is especially beneficial for gamers, who can sign up with services like OnLive or Gaikai if they want to play popular games on their PC or their television without the need for the latest cutting-edge computer or any kind of a game console.

Mobile Gaming – On-the-go gaming that’s usually done on a smartphone-based platform, like Apple’s iPhone or various Google Android devices. The term can also refer to handheld game consoles like the Nintendo 3DS or Sony PSP, though some bloggers prefer to make a distinction between “mobile gaming” and “handheld gaming”–in other words, gaming on a multifunction smartphone versus gaming on a system that was designed specifically for the task.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. Don’t forget l33t n00b and camper

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