Category: Glossary

Definition: NPC

NPC in the gaming world stands for Non-Playing Character.
In most games, even MMOGs, most of the characters you see on the screen are not being manipulated by other human beings. Rather, they are carefully crafted segments of computer code that provide ambiance in the game environment, interact with a player’s avatar, contribute to the narrative of the story, or even assist the player in various parts of the game. In multi-player games, they are usually distinguished from other players in some way, although that distinction may not be obvious to new players at first.
Hostile NPCs are often called “monsters” or “mobs”.
Developing sophisticated NPCs is one of the top challenges in game development. NPCs can often have complicated movement patterns and must be designed to interact with a rich game environment as well as – potentially – multiple players. As such, this is an interesting field for artificial intelligence theorists and programmers. But even people lacking in technical computing backgrounds can benefit from studying how NPCs act in order to become better players as well as understand the limits of what computers can do, for now.


Definition: MMORPG

MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Wikipedia has an exceptionally well-developed article on the background of MMORPGs, so I’ll refrain from trying to duplicate it.
MMORPGs (aka MMOGs or MMOs), are generally social spaces in which a player can interact with other players from around the world. Depending upon the game, this interaction may be more or less necessary to playing.
Some games (like Guild Wars and even Lineage in later stages) are virtually impossible to play alone, requiring coordination with other players (in groups called guilds or pledges) over long periods of time – often months or even years. This sort of long-term coordination takes advantage of solid team development and management and may even help players practice or develop team-based social skills. Some wags have called games like World of Warcraft the new geek-golf – an essential part of social networking in the information age.
Interestingly, World of Warcraft, although often cited as a social game, is one in which a player can advance with little actual interaction with other players. As a casual game, players can solo quests up to the current maximum level (70 as of this writing), only interacting with other players as much as the average shopper interacts with others at the supermarket. While it allows and even structures complex interactive social play, it does not require it.
Some theorists (such as Constance Steinkuehler) are looking at MMOGs as third spaces (see Oldenburg’s research), which function as neutral gathering points for networking and informal socializing between acquaintances. Like an old-fashioned pub, these places allow the development of loose ties among people of diverse groups, potentially extending players out of their usual comfort zones and into contact with members of different social groups, holding different political and social views.
For the educator, this provides an opportunity for students to expand their horizons and practice a number of team-building and strategy skills. Text-based chat also has been seen to encourage some students to develop greater proficiency with typing and even language arts skills.
Whether these potentials actually come to fruition depends upon the situation, the teacher, and the student.

Definition: Avatar

Originally, the word “avatar” referred to the physical incarnation of a god.
In the game world, the word is used in a nearly opposite sense, indicating the digital representation in a virtual world or game of a physical person. In both uses, an avatar is the manifestation in one world of a being that exists also in another world – and often in different forms – spiritual, digital, or physical – depending upon the capacity of the world to hold such a being.
The term is most often used in reference to a representation of a player in a virtual world or an online, multi-player game (an MMORPG, MMOG, or MMO). These avatars are often customizable (to minor or great degree), and the player usually must provide a name for the avatar upon creation, causing some investment of the player into the characteristics and fate of their avatar.
This investment of a player into his or her avatar’s characteristics is seen by some theorists to be greater than what players invest in generic characters, usually found in single player games and has sparked a number of research studies into online identity. See, for instance, the third chapter of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, in which Gee describes the three identities involved in online gaming and their positive ramifications for educational practice.
Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Emoticon: A symbol used in text-based online communication to indicate the mood of the author or the intended tone of the communication. They are composed of symbols from the standard English keyboard, often depicting a human face, turned on its side, exhibiting facial cues about mood.
Also known as a smiley.
Emoticons date back to the early 1980’s, before graphical browsers became available, and are still used to contextualize informal written information in email, via the web, and in telephone based text-messaging (SMS).
A brief history of smileys is offered here:
A partial list of commonly used emoticons is also available at that same site ( – a larger dictionary is also available there for those who really need to express themselves.
Emoticons are useful in any informal, text-based communication. The emotional bandwidth, so to speak, of such media is very narrow. Without such emotional context clues, written messages can easily be misinterpreted.

Definition: Bot

The word is short for “robot”, which hints at its use as an errand runner or assistant for a human being.
Also called spiders and crawlers, especially as relates to bots that work on the internet.
A bot is a computer program that generally emulates a human being performing some routine function with data, such as sorting information, collecting information for shopping, forwarding email, copying data from one computer to another, etc.
Bots usually run nearly constantly, performing their functions automatically, with little oversight by a human being. They also function behind the scenes, invisible to most average users. This combination of boundless and invisible automated activity is what concerns their critics. Little is often known about what a company’s bots actually do in aggregating or transferring data – even to IT staff within that company.
On the other hand, bots make handling the vast onslaught of routine information feasible, keeping down costs in many industries and allowing the tailoring or categorization of information on many web sites.