Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Suppose you have a game with following modes:

  • a human player with no opponents
  • a human player with a computer/AI opponent
  • multiple human players

The third mode is referred to as multiplayer. The term single-player could apply to both first and second one. How one usually differentiate between the two? If there is no established practice, what terms would at least stronly suggest this difference?

The Wikipedia has an article on "single-player" games. Google search yields mostly "single player" results. Are both correct and is "singleplayer" acceptable (similarly to "multiplayer")?


The best I could come up with was "solo" or "solitary mode" for the first option (only because it brings to mind "solitaire" or "peg solitaire" games which are just that: games without opponent). "Puzzle mode" (as suggested in comments) in the case of logic-strategic game sounds OK, because you usually don't solve puzzles against someone. Most of the other suggestions would be acceptable only if paired with the term for single-player mode against computer, which is most problematic here for me.

I'm beginning to think that there are no appropriate terms for that. Perhaps it's because there aren't that there aren't that many games with no-opponents options. The only ones that come to mind are simulations or economic games with a never-ending or long running "free-play" modes.

share|improve this question
Is Cooperative play ever an option? –  d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 9:06
What type of game is it... there are different conventions for different types. –  d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 9:06
Not in this particular case. It would be useful to know the terms for various multiplayer modes, but I suspect there is no common terminology. So I would be ok with using longer, desciptive phrases for multiplayer modes, but I would like something simple and short for single-player modes. –  lisp Feb 14 '14 at 9:13
So, what type of game is it? –  d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 9:15
Also, how do they play alone against no AI? –  d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 9:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 0 down vote accepted

The distinction you are making is not inherently necessary. It depends on the game in question. Here are some basic terms and how they would apply:

solitaire — any of various card games that can be played by one person

"Solitaire" has been adapted for usage in board games that allow one player to play on their own but is still technically considered exclusive to card games. It is really only used for "puzzle" or "challenge" style games where you are trying to accomplish a particular goal based on a set of rules (i.e., the game). It would not be remotely appropriate for running through an FPS on your own just to learn the details of the map.

single-player — A single-player video game is a video game where input from only one player is expected throughout the course of the gaming session. "Single-player game" usually refers to a game that can only be played by one person, while "single-player mode" usually refers to a particular game mode that is designed to be played by a single player, though the game also contains modes that can be played by several players simultaneously.

There is no suitable distinction between a single-player game that refers to competing against AI versus a single-player game similar to solitaire. Multiplayer is merely the opposite of single-player:

multiplayer — A multiplayer game is a game which is played by several players.

Which brings us to the definitions of various players:

player — A player of a game is a participant therein. The term 'player' is used with this same meaning both in game theory and in ordinary recreational games. Normally, there are at least two players in a game, but one-player games exist and are collectively known as solitary games (such as the Solitaire card game and many video games).

Most players are human players but it is technically correct to refer to any active, independent competitor as an "AI" or "computer" player. The key distinction between an AI "player" and just some "AI" built into the game for the purposes of challenge is whether the participant fulfills the same role as a human player would.

What this means for the terms of single-player and multiplayer is that the game can be designed to support built single-player and multiplayer modes (see above) and those player seats can be filled by human or computer players.

Typically, however, the menu options in games need to distinguish between a game full of human opponents and a game against AI opponents. This terminology is very game specific and although the industry has some conventions there is no technically correct way to label things. The conventions I see most often:

  • A computer player added to a game with multiple human players is refered to as an "AI" or a "computer player" (amongst other terms; e.g. "bot"); the mode is still called multiplayer.
  • A single human playing against computer players is typically referred to as a single-player mode or practice mode unless that player simply chose to fill up all of the multiplayer seats with computers. Then they are still playing in multiplayer mode. but this is sometimes referred to as a single-player game.
  • A single player playing against a set challenge is now commonly referred to as single-player mode or "campaign mode" (amongst other terms; e.g. "story mode").

To directly answer your question:

a human player with no opponents

This is referred to as single-player or solitaire, depending on the content of the game.

a human player with a computer/AI opponent

This is referred to as single-player or practice or multiplayer depending on how the game was started. If it is a unique game mode that is completely seperate from the normal multiplayer mode and you have a standard singleplayer mode then you will need a term similar to "practice mode".

If "practice" is unsuitable you could use any of the following:

  • AI mode
  • Bot mode
  • Vs Computer (and rename multiplayer to Vs Players, Vs Humans, etc.)

multiple human players

The best term for this is multiplayer. Other terms for it exist but are only really used when more than one multiplayer mode needs to be distinguished.

share|improve this answer

I don't agree the second case should be called Single Player. IMO Multiplayer can be considered to be human against AI and/or other humans. In the past it was understood that multiplayer could include automated opponents ('bots') as an option. In some games, when choosing opponents, you would choose Human and/or AI. In my memory it didn't have a special name; it came under the banner 'Multiplayer'. These days there is not as much AI in multiplayer games but I think it should still be called Multiplayer.

Having said that, one term I have seen which might fit is 'Offline Multiplayer'.

share|improve this answer
Please see my comment at OP. –  Kris Feb 14 '14 at 11:05
@Kris Your comment in the OP goes against my first hand experience. However I agree that of late, multiplayer has become synonymous with human-human gameplay. Edit: I had the wrong link in my answer, have now changed it. –  codah Feb 14 '14 at 11:09
Yes, it is, now. I'm not sure about the past. :) –  Kris Feb 14 '14 at 11:11
Black Ops 2 is not old. It has bots. You have to go to the Multiplayer menu to set them up. –  codah Feb 14 '14 at 11:15

How about using:

  • "Play Alone"
  • "Play against AI"
  • "Multiplayer"
share|improve this answer
'Play Alone' is 'single-player'. –  Kris Feb 14 '14 at 10:57
@Kris The problem was that "single-player" is ambiguous - it's not clear if that necessarily means AI or No AI or what... as I understood it, that was the central issue. –  d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 11:00
How does multiplayer resolve that issue then? –  Kris Feb 14 '14 at 11:04
@Kris If you are referring to all the permutations of humans and AI players possible... then I took that the rules of the game are known to be "human multiplayer only" - thus no disambiguation or distinction was considered necessary. –  d'alar'cop Feb 14 '14 at 11:07


Okay, I just read further down in the comments of the OP, so now I have a better understanding of the context: from what it sounds like, the game mode is almost the same in all cases, it's mainly a question of the number and type of opponents that you are facing (0-to-# and computer vs. human).

Given that, it would probably make more sense to focus on that aspect of the game . . . maybe:

  1. Solo
  2. Player vs. Computer or Player vs. AI
  3. Player vs. Player

I would avoid going the single-player vs. multi-player route, just because, there is often an implied difference in how the game is played, when using those two titles.

Original Answer

Here is how I find it is being split up these days (for the most part):

  1. Campaign or Story mode
  2. Multi-player mode
  3. Multi-player mode

The thing about the "bots vs. AI" discussion is that, for the most part, they are both the "multi-player" experience . . . the game mode focuses around multiple players playing against each other, either in teams or individually. Whether or not those "players" are controlled by humans or the computer is simply a separate detail of the experience.

Of course, there are games that have broken this dynamic . . . Brink, for example, was a single [primarily multi-player] experience, that used a mix of human players and bots (based on player availability), and also followed a campaign story, as each round completed, but I wouldn't use those exceptions as guidance, unless they apply. :)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.