Saturday, January 9, 2010

Terminology Pedantry: “Stat” or “Attribute”?

I have a bone to pick with the word “stat” as used by game systems to describe the properties of game entities.

A "stat" is an observation codified into mathematical symbols about a thing or event that (it stands to reason) exists independently of the stat. If I roll a six-sided die, there are six possible outcomes. I roll the die a thousand times and make the observation that each outcome occurred a roughly equal number of times. I can say that I rolled “1” 180 times—this is a statistic.

Statistics don't determine what side of a coin comes up when you flip it. The attributes of the coin and the forces applied to it determine how it lands.

The word “stat” came into common use in this role because those numbers that describe (not determine!)the capacities of a person or thing in real life are called “stats”. The properties game designers ascribe to characters in a game would seem to be such measurements—but they are not. What we call “stats” in game systems are the actual factors that go into determining the results of actions; they aren’t measurements or observations and therefore aren’t suitably named.

An "attribute" or "property" is an actual child-fact itself. The attributes of a thing determine how it behaves. It doesn’t matter how you observe the behavior (on the scale of human beings), the causes and effects will remain consistent.

In a game system, game designers decide what properties different entities have. These properties, when we put numbers to them (like a “strength” score), are not statistics—they are the attributes of the game entity. A statistic would be like “your character succeeded in breaking this door after 3 kicks.” The attributes of the character and the door—what are usually called “stats”—are what actually determine if the door opens due to the blow.

“Attribute” is clearly a better word for the inherent properties of game entities. I tend to use this word to describe such properties when I talk about games, but no one seems to pick up on the distinction. It’s not really important, though, because people usually understand, in general gamer use, the word “stat”’s intended meaning. In the interest of clarity, I’ve made this post about the term. At least we can use the most clear words in our discussion here, so if we start talking about statistics and character attributes at once there won’t be meaning-confusion.


Anonymous said...

I think the use of "stat" has nothing to do with the word "statistic".

I wonder if it simply has to do with something stated, like the word "statute". Something given, raised, elevated, set up.

Anonymous said...

An even better word would perhaps be "stature". Something "esteemed".

Anonymous said...

Ops, I can't edit my comments. Please forget I wrote "esteemed".

motstandet said...


scrusi said...

From a technical point of view you are surely right (assuming "stat" does come from "statistic") as the attributes directly cause effects (instead of describing them.)

However, character attributes in games are abstractions of more complex "real" attributes. Agility for example can be a description of the amount of critical strikes a character deals on average.

Or from another point of view: The batting average of a baseball player is a statistic. Take the same baseball player in a game and the batting average figure will be used to determine the results - by your definition no longer a statistic. I think both are the same, only that the game uses the statistics it knows about the baseball player to determine game results.

I don't see a difference between the in-game baseball player and, say, a character in an RPG. (Oh and I am European and have absolutely no idea how baseball actually works. So please excuse me if my analogy wasn't accurate. ;))

xenovore said...

I too prefer "attribute". I've found the word to be far more descriptive than "stat".

For example, if I'm talking about RPGs to someone who has never played a RPG, they will readily grasp the meaning of "attribute", but have no idea what "stat" is supposed to mean.