9 essential gaming words decoded

Over the last few years, the video gaming industry has seen a huge boom, with a recent report from Accenture claiming the global industry value now exceeds $300 billion. At Collins Dictionaries, we’ve noted its impact on the day-to-day vocabulary of a nation. For example, the floss, the dance move popularised by online multiplayer game Fortnite, made the Collins WOTY shortlist in 2018.

Inspired by the inclusion of microtransaction in the dictionary this month, we’ve created a glossary of the essential terminology you need to know if you decide to enter the fray.


Let’s start with the basics. RPG, an abbreviation for role-playing game, has been used since the 1970s to describe a game which allows the player to assume the role of a character. But it’s not only this quality that characterises an RPG. Often, an RPG involves allowing the player to explore a fictional world, fight, gain skills and make choices that can have significant consequences. Popular RPGs in recent years include Skyrim, The Witcher, the Final Fantasy Series, and online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft.


If you’re reading this blog, the chances are you’re probably a noob. Occasionally spelled as n00b, this slang word is a variant of ‘newbie’ and is typically used to insult inexperienced players in a multiplayer environment. For example, if you’ve crash landed in World of Warcraft as a humble level one warlock, you’re definitely a noob. Don’t worry, we all have to start somewhere.


Not just Smurf-esque characters in James Cameron sci-fi films, avatars in the gaming sphere are images that represent the player on the screen in an online game or chatroom. Often these are customisable and can look different depending on the game, the platform, and even the console. For example, casual gamers might be familiar with the Nintendo Mii concept, in which owners of a Nintendo console can create their own personal avatar to play in a variety of family-friendly games.


A term which originated in traditional tabletop role-playing games back in the ‘80s such as Dungeons and Dragons, an NPC is a non-player character. In modern gaming, this typically means a character which cannot be controlled by the player or an AI. NPCs can have different levels of importance in video games: sometimes they’re a key character that impacts the trajectory of the plot, a companion as you play, or just a bit of code designed to populate the world of the game. NPCs have come back in a big way lately thanks to the Ryan Reynolds-fronted film Free Guy, in which an NPC becomes self-aware and tries to save their virtual world when the game faces deletion.


Closely related to the microtransaction, DLC stands for ‘downloadable content’ and it tends to be used as a catch-all word for any extra content that is introduced to a video game. It refers to add-ons players can purchase that weren’t featured in the game’s original release, and that will add extra features or content. This can be in the form of an expansion pack, as the Sims franchise has, or in-game purchases such as microtransactions offering small upgrades (such as outfits or emoticons) that players can buy at a low unit cost.


If you’ve been subjected to the world of remote working and Teams, Zooms or Google Hangouts (pick your poison) over the last 18 months, you’re likely to be well acquainted with the concept of a lag. A game lag is when there is a delay between the action of a player, or players, and the reaction of the server the game is being played on. It’s most commonly used in relation to online games, where a slow or unreliable internet connection can lead to mistakes or even players being booted from the game. Not what you want when you’ve spent seven hours searching for hidden treasure or you’re about to defeat that big bad.


Where there’s competition, there’s opportunity to create a whole new sport. Gaming takes a particular kind of skill and finesse, whether it’s fine motor skills or the ability to problem-solve. As people have invested more of their free time in playing – and mastering – their favourite games, many entrepreneurial gamers have found a way to turn their hobby into a profession. This has led to the rise of esports, where a video game is played competitively in front of spectators. This can be done at IRL events or through dedicated streaming platforms such as Twitch.


While this one might feel a little sci-fi, respawn is a gaming term that is believed to have first been used in the 1993 video game Doom. It refers to an instance when a player or an AI comes back to life after dying in-game, which can happen automatically or can be depend on whether you’ve collected tokens to enable it, such as the hearts in Zelda or extra lives in the Mario games. Not to be confused with ‘spawning’, which involves the creation of a character, item or NPC, or ‘despawning’, which involves the deletion of an entity entirely.


Depending on your generation, a mod is either a follower of a 1960s fashion trend which involved motorcycles, soul music and interesting haircuts, or it’s a way of customising video games with extra content. For video games, modding is the process of altering your game by downloading custom content created by other fans. This typically involves adding special code to your game which can unlock features that don’t exist for other players. As games have evolved, more and more developers have enabled modding as standard for passionate communities to share content.

By Rachel Quin
Rachel Quin is a freelance marketer and copywriter with a love of language, books and cats.

All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.

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