Advance Wars

As with any medium or specialised field, the world of video games has created a vast list of jargon that may not mean much to people unacquainted with the medium and its making. Try describing the latest anime roguelike MOBA with turn-based SRPG trappings to non-gamers and you'll be met with blank faces.

Video game enthusiasts — as with fans in any field — can often be linguistic sticklers when it comes to definitions. However, with the medium having grown to include such a broad range of genres, experiences and fans, ubiquitous language can get caught in a no-man's land between being specific enough for die-hard fans and functioning as useful chunks of terminology for non-experts. For some people, getting wound up by this lack of specificity is a full-time job.

We've taken a breezy look at how you pronounce certain gaming-related words before, and we thought it would be fun to look at a handful of gaming terminology that has been known to trigger forum wars in the past (and the present). The words below can mean something very particular to one person and something entirely different to another; laser-specific in one sense, or vague enough to be meaningless, depending who you ask.

So, let's take a lighthearted (repeat: lighthearted!) look at a few of the terms guaranteed to rile up somebody, somewhere — maybe even you (or us)...

"video game" or "videogame"?

"It's-a vidya game!"

Okay, let's start with probably the oldest, biggest one. For decades, some people have chosen to compound the words as 'videogame'. For many, this is grammatical blasphemy of the highest degree. For others, it signifies the birth of a specific and new interactive creation unlike any form of play that's come before. Some never really thought about it, couldn't give a monkeys, or just missed hitting the space bar when vomiting out their forum rant. And others still only ever write it as 'vidyagames'.

So what's the problem?

Well, back in the olden days, the games you played on your computer weren't called 'computergames', were they? Why would 'videogames' be different? The same goes for 'boardgames', 'ballgames', 'racketgames'...

No. Ball games. Computer games. Video games. Still, the debate goes on. Let us know your thoughts in the poll below.

How do you write 'video games'?



Popularised (though not coined by) Jeremy Parish, this portmanteau is very handy shorthand for a game with a large map containing rooms and areas that gradually unlock and are revisited as the player gains new abilities, equipment and items.

So what's the problem?

The Metroidvania genre has grown so large and influential that elements turn up all over the place these days. The tag has become increasingly vague, to the point that you may as well just call them all platformers, no?

Well, no. Say the word 'Metroidvania' and at the very least you know the ballpark you're in, even if the game itself is up for debate. It's still useful and the term's proliferation means that it'll continue to wind people up for a long while yet. Much like the next term...


Rogue Legacy

Everything's a roguelike these days, amirite? Named after the 1980 game Rogue, this contentious noun is used to describe a game that shares features with the aforementioned text-based dungeon crawler. These can include permadeath, procedural level generation and turn-based elements, and the varying degrees to which a game resembles Rogue results in a gamut of terms ranging from 'pure roguelikes' to 'rogue-lites', 'roguelike-likes' and downwards into a spiral of descriptors so granular that the will to live drains from you.

So what's the problem?

Overuse is the first one. Run-based games of this ilk have been in vogue for years now, and it feels like 50% of all press releases include the word 'roguelike'.

Secondly, the word 'roguelike' turns off large numbers of prospective players. For some, it signifies 'no saves' and 'procedural generation' when they'd rather explore bespoke, hand-designed levels in a more stress-free environment. As handy as the term is, any mention of Rogue has become an alarm bell for some, which is unfortunate because the spectrum of games it's applied to is very broad. You're highly unlikely to hate all games in this category, and it's a real shame that people are missing out on gaming gems because of a buzzword.

"ludonarrative dissonance"

BioShock Infinite

Coined by game designer Clint Hocking in a 2007 blog post on the subject of BioShock, this neat term is used to describe a scenario when a game's systems and mechanics (the ludic 'play' elements - from the Latin 'ludus') encourage behaviour that contradicts the nature of its characters or the story being told.

One frequently cited example is the fact that roguish (but not roguelike) Nathan Drake is, in fact, a genocidal criminal given the piles of corpses left in his wake. The narrative frames him as likeable, sympathetic guy while the gameplay promotes offing dudes by the dozen. In a game with a popcorn-style, Indiana Jones vibe, it's more humorous than distracting. In other games, that tension between story and gameplay can push you out of the experience; 'Ludonarrative dissonance' is an economic way to describe that complex idea.

Nathan Drake
Absolute monster, but ya gotta love 'im!

So what's the problem?

Embarrassment, perhaps? It's an unashamedly academic term and sticks out like a sore thumb when dropped into casual conversation: when Clint Hocking uses 'ludonarrative dissonance' in an essay, he sounds like a total boss; when you use it while chatting with your pals down the pub, you sound like a total asset. Hocking is a game designer of renown, and his first name is Clint — Clint! Your first name is not Clint*, ergo you cannot pull off 'ludonarrative dissonance' whatever the context.

Jokes aside, there's a large section of the video gaming audience actively opposed to viewing them as high art or worthy of deep academic analysis. Video games are just about fun right? Why do you have to pollute my hobby with all your highfalutin nonsense!?

While we can sympathise to a point, video games have the same potential as any creative form of expression. They can be anything from trashy time sinks to treatises tackling the weightiest, worthiest subjects — and sometimes many things simultaneously.

And just like literature or cinema or a ten-part Netflix series, tough subjects can be addressed with a deft, delicate touch or wielded with all the subtlety of a battle axe to the temple. Games continue to grow more sophisticated all the time, as does the language to discuss them.

*apart from you, Clint. How you doing?


Fortnite Chapter 2 Season 4

The term that applies when players access a game for free and publishers generate revenue through adverts and/or microtransactions, 'F2P' (or Free-To-Play / Free-To-Start) started as a 'freemium' business model for mobile games and quickly ballooned to include some of the biggest console video games in the world.

So what's the problem?

There's nothing specifically wrong with the term itself; it just carries negative connotations for traditional console gamers who are used to paying money upfront and not having their in-game experience disturbed with ads and paid upgrade paths. Backlashes against intrusive in-game monetisation for titles that are already full-price purchases are arguably justified when companies try to have it both ways (we're looking at you, EA), but most opposition to F2P seems to come from the model's origins and popularity in the mobile sector.