Get in the Game: 10 Gaming Terms Decoded


Gaming terms can be as foreign to non-gamers as technical jargon and quantum mechanics, but a closer look at the gamer’s glossary reveals many of the words to be intuitive extensions of words and concepts familiar to the non-gamer. Here are some gaming terms defined and explained for the gamer in all of us.

Roguelike refers to a type of video game that tends to include random level generation, where players will experience a different layout each time they play, and permadeath, or no regeneration after defeat. The name comes from the game Rogue released in 1980, which popularized the dungeon crawl scenario in video games. Outside of gaming, the word rogue has been historically used to describe thieves and mischievous types. Its more modern definition speaks of unpredictability and an uncontrollable nature, much like the randomness of roguelike games.

In gaming, a tank is a character that draws attackers away from other players. Outside of gaming, this term carries the weight of being both a verb and a noun: to tank is to fail, and a tank can either refer to a large vessel that contains liquid or gas or an armored vehicle. In boxing, going into the tank can also mean rigging a fight or losing on purpose. This meaning jibes with the gaming sense of tank, as these characters are designed to sacrifice their own health in order to let other players succeed.

For many of us the word camping conjures s’mores and singalongs, but in gaming, camping can hold a negative connotation. The term refers to a tactic involving hiding in a safe area for extended periods of time in order to get easy kills without risking death. This reflects one sense of the word camp outside of gaming: “to take up a position stubbornly,” as in protest or occupation of an area.

A mob refers to any living and moving entity in a game. This can mean playable and non-playable characters, animals or monsters. In games such as Minecraft, mobs are affected by the physics of the game and can be hurt, just like the player’s character. The term is short for mobile, although players have also reimagined it as an acronym for such phrases as “monster or beast.”

One type of aggressive mob in Minecraft is the Ghast, a ghostlike monster that makes high-pitched screeches, has red eyes and floats. Ghasts are also a type of monster in Dungeons & Dragons, where they are characterized by a nauseating stench and a paralyzing touch. HP Lovecraft’s series of works Love Cycle also features a creature called a ghast that dwells in the underworld. The word itself is related to ghastly, which means “shockingly frightful or dreadful” or “resembling a ghost.”

In gaming, the term sandbox refers to a kind of level design in which players can explore freely, with limited structure, if any. Sandbox games typically lack invisible walls and linear levels, which allows the player to decide how and when to pursue objectives. This type of game play echoes the creative freedom that children enjoy in sandboxes of the non-digital variety.

Biomes in Minecraft (as well as other similarly open-ended video games) are regions within the game that display different characteristics, such as vegetation, temperature and resources. This is a literal interpretation of the scientific term biome, which is used in ecology to describe a “biotic community” with distinctive animal and plant life.

The Nether is a type of biome in Minecraft. Hell-like, it is home to a variety of hazards such as lava and monsters exclusive to The Nether. It can only be reached through a Nether Portal, and can be used as a shortcut to Overworld destinations. Outside of gaming, the word nether is used as an adjective meaning “lying beneath the earth’s surface.”

Grinding is particularly common in role-playing games and refers to when a player engages in a repetitive activity, usually to gain character progression. This sense reflects several definitions of grind, including “to smooth or wear down,” an inherently repetitive task, the more informal sense of “to labor or study,” and even the more negative sense of “to oppress or torment.”

Metroidvania (sometimes called Castleroid) is a genre of game that combines a 2D side-scrolling world with the nonlinear characteristics of sandbox and role-playing games. This style of gaming was made popular by the immensely successful Nintendo series “Metroid,” a name that is a portmanteau of metro (mass transit systems) and android (a robot designed to look and behave like a human). The terms Metroidvania and Castleroid are themselves portmanteaus of the games Metroid and Castlevania, another game that had significant impact of this type of game play. Both of these games require the player to explore each level in a nonlinear fashion in order to determine the key to moving forward in the game.

Share your favorite gaming term and its definition with us in the comments!

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