Category Archives: Glossary

In order to discuss a topic, terminology must be codified. Our “Glossary” posts seek to avoid ambiguity and garner shared understanding. Entries will be updated as needed.

RNG (Random Number Generator)

RNG stands for “Random Number Generator” or “Random Number Generation” (depending on whether it’s used as a noun or a verb). This refers to the method in which a video game creates “random” elements.

All programs, at their core, are created with ones (1s) and zeroes (0s). Because of this, a computer can’t create anything randomly. Instead, it must use the resources it has to create a random “seed” that goes into a complicated algorithm and creates something that, to a human being, might as well be random. Usually this is a computer’s clock, but it can use anything else that changes frequently.

In the following video, a member of TASBot demonstrated at the 2015 Summer Games Done Quick how to manipulate the RNG of the Japanese version of Mega Man (NES 1987, Akira Kitamura), which was originally called Rockman.

Because people attending Summer Games Done Quick are interested in completing games in as little time as possible, understanding how the game treats random elements is very important. As you can see in the video, Mega Man decides what score to give the player for completing the stage based on which frame the player presses the Start button.

featured image “Random Numbers” by David licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic


Dictionary Definitions

game / gejm / n.

  1. Merriam-Webster
    • activity engaged in for diversion or amusement
    • an amusement or pastime
    • a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.
    • A playful activity that may be unstructured; an amusement or pastime.
    • from Proto-Germanic *gamaną”, literally: “participation, communion, people together”
  4. The Oxford English Dictionary Online
    • An activity which provides amusement or fun; an amusement, a diversion, a pastime.

These dictionary definitions don’t accurately describe “video games”. The ideas of “diversion” and “amusement” could be expanded to refer to all art. And the idea that a “game” must be “playful” or “fun” runs counter to horror games such as the Amnesia series or “empathy games” such as Papers, Please; these games are trying to evoke fear or discomfort, not necessarily “fun”.

Academic Definitions

Wikipedia‘s editors have compiled a litany of definitions from academia. You may click this link to view them. They tend to broaden the definition to exclude other activities (such as drama or music) as well as include other emotional responses. Below is my favorite:

  1. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman
    • “A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” (pg. 11)

This definition limits a “game” in these ways:

  • It is systematic.
  • Players must engage with an “artificial conflict”.
  • The results of a player’s interaction must be quantifiable.

This cures the above problems of defining a required emotional response as well as narrowing down the medium into something interactive and rule-driven.

This definition from Salen and Zimmerman concludes that more activities can be games than just board and video games. This would include:

  • Audience participation at a live event, such as a magic show.
  • Training exercises, such as practicing payments as a cashier.
  • Psychological experiments.

Should those activities be excluded? Also, what role does narrative play into this definition? Should the definition be narrowed down in order to exclude activities that aren’t intentionally designed to be “played”, or should we take a harder look at activities that don’t appear “game-like” in nature to see what they can reveal about the human experience?

featured image “NY stock exchange traders floor LC-U9-10548-6.jpg” by a staff photographer for U.S. News & World Report is in the public domain