Popular Gaming Terms Now in the Dictionary

gamer with headset playing video game on computer

Adapted from Getty Images

Get the latest DLC! It’ll buff the tank in this roguelike Metroidvania game. Did that all sound like Greek to you? You’re not alone. As video games continue to be a big part of mainstream society and pop culture, it’ll pay to brush up on popular gaming terms you may find in news articles or hear in casual conversation. In fact, a lot of gamer slang has now even been added to the dictionary! Time to level up.

What Are Some Gaming Terms You Need to Know?

Let’s start with some of the basics. Before you can dive into the specifics of any one video game, you’ll need to first understand some popular video game genres. Do you know about RTS games like StarCraft II and Age of Empires IV? What does it mean if a game is freemium or if it has DLC? Find words related to game genres and technology below.

video game genres and technology infographicvideo game genres and technology infographic

Big Money in Gaming

How big is the gaming industry today? Forget about the stereotypes of children and young boys huddled around a small TV in their parents’ basement. Almost everyone is playing games these days, across all genders and age groups. According to data gathered by Statista, consumer spending on gaming in the United States alone hit $43.4 billion in 2018. Globally, that number topped $101 billion in 2016.

While console and PC games are what typically come to mind, mobile gaming is a trend that continues to grow at an exponential rate. Consumers spent approximately $10 billion on mobile games in North America in 2019. By comparison, box office revenue in the United States the same year was about $10.9 billion. This means Americans spend approximately four times as much money on gaming as they do on watching movies at the theater. 

Rated E for Everyone

It’s not just a select few who are spending all that money either. Gaming is very much mainstream. In fact, according to a 2018 study by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR), about two-thirds of Americans play games on at least one device. And more than half of those gamers play on multiple platforms. About 90 percent of gamers play on their smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices.

Part of this has to do with convenience and accessibility. Just about everyone has a smartphone, but not everyone wants to invest in a dedicated gaming console. Free-to-play and freemium titles, particularly casual puzzle games like Candy Crush Saga and Wordscapes, substantially lower the barriers to entry. If it costs you nothing to start playing, why wouldn’t you? 

Then, it doesn’t take long before casual puzzle games lead to more complex MMORPGs, fun-filled platformers, and so much more.

Gaming Terms for Players and Characters 

Now that you’re more familiar with the types of games and have some sense of the gaming industry, what are some gaming terms for specific types of players and characters? Every genre of game has its own set of gamer slang. Unless you’re well into the world of Scrabble, you probably don’t know about the Elo rating system. That’s how Scrabble players systematically rank their relative skill.

You don’t need to be a cybernaut to learn all about these types of game characters and the players who control them. If you don’t want to be a total noob about it, read up on these gaming terms before you ragequit over your confusion. 

types of gamers and characters infographictypes of gamers and characters infographic

Fighting Game Character Archetypes

Character types depend heavily on the type of game you’re playing. You may be more familiar with tanks, rangers and healers for games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends where you’re more likely to work as a team. When you’re working together with other players, it doesn’t make sense if you’re all the same character type. By balancing the different classes of characters, you capitalize on your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. 

As you dive into different genres, you’ll find that each genre and even each individual game will have its own set of terminology.  Take fighting games like Street Fighter as a prime example. A powerful, slow, high health character you may call a “tank” in other genres is probably going to be called a “grappler” in a game like Street Fighter. That’s because their moveset likely involves more grappling moves, like throws and grabs. Zangief is one such character. He excels in close combat for big damage.

By contrast, you’ve got “keep away” or zoning characters, like Guile, who are all about space control. They’re more like rangers. These types of characters do best when they’re able to keep at a distance from their opponents.

Different character archetypes also suit different play styles. It’s easy to see how a fighting game character who specializes in space control with projectiles might appeal to a spammer. It’s also easy to see why someone might ragequit if their opponent keeps spamming fireballs or sonic booms at them. Are you more of a button masher, jumping in headfirst with everything you’ve got? Or do you carefully calculate each move like a chess match? 

Evolution of Gaming Language

Gaming words like these illustrate how language can come full circle. The words “rage” and “quit” certainly aren’t unique to the world of video games, but it took the unique environment of online gaming in particular to combine them into a single term and make words like ragequit

In much the same way, the gaming community organically combined “speed” and “run” into the compound term speedrun to describe trying to finish a game as quickly as possible. You may have watched some Super Mario Bros. speedruns on YouTube. Can you believe that someone finished the game in under five minutes? “Darbian” set the record in 2015 at four minutes and 57 seconds. He has since improved on that time by a few milliseconds.

The terms started outside of gaming, were adapted to the gaming world, and then were applied outside of gaming to broader contexts. Have you ever had someone angrily leave a conversation in a huff? Or throw up their arms in frustration over a difficult homework assignment? Those sure sound like examples of ragequitting, don’t you think? 

More Gamer Slang and Jargon

Getting a handle on gaming terms and gamer slang isn’t just good for understanding online conversations about your favorite titles. You can even play some of these slang words in Words With Friends for big points. Boost your XP and buff your word game prowess. Treat all this gaming jargon like power-ups to help you win!

in-game terminology infographicin-game terminology infographic

The origin stories behind popular terms in gaming are as varied as the terms themselves. For example, a character that has been improved or made more powerful by developers is said to have been buffed. This relates to the act of “buffing” a material to make it shinier, as you would when you polish a metal surface. 

Games like the original Everquest used the term “buff” to describe temporary improvement spells. A character could cast a spell to enhance another character, giving them temporary improvements in speed or strength. The term “buff” then expanded to include all sorts of improvements, including when characters are adjusted in software updates.

The opposite of buff is nerf. That’s when a character (or item) is made less powerful in some way. Developers sometimes do this with software updates to achieve better character balance. You don’t want one character to be vastly superior to another. 

The term “nerf” comes from the popular line of Nerf toys. The toy guns use foam darts and bullets, which are obviously far less damaging than their authentic counterparts. If your character has been nerfed, they’ve been rendered less effective. It’s like showing up to battle with a Nerf gun.

A Winner Is You

If you don’t know your rom-coms from your historical dramas, you’ll probably have a hard time discussing your favorite movies. The world of video games is much the same way. Whether you’re playing the games yourself or you want to understand what your teenagers are talking about, getting to know a range of gaming terms will bring you up to speed. 

Modern slang is one thing. As a possible sidequest, though, perhaps you should consider expanding your vocabulary with some old-timey insults too. You don’t want to look like a total dunderhead, do you?

Michael Kwan is a professional writer and editor with over 14 years of experience. Fueled by caffeine and WiFi, he's no stranger to word games and dad jokes.


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