Online gaming is quickly becoming a mainstream, widely-enjoyed pastime. It's interactive, it allows people to connect with other players, and there's a lot of teamwork to be had rather than simple one-on-one competition. If internet problems are slowing down your gameplay--or if you don't know what's affecting your gameplay at all--here are a few details to help you figure out the problem.
Lag, The Online Gaming Nemesis
The term lag is used for two very different situations, but they have the same result: slow, interrupted gameplay.
The official definition of lag for online gaming is the same definition as lag in the computer networking world. It's a delay in action, which is caused by network issues. These issues could be anything from not having a fast enough internet connection to dealing with corrupted data or an overburdened connection.
Not having a fast enough internet connection is not a widespread problem in the United States, but it still happens in rural areas or congested parts of big cities. Either you simply don't have an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the area, or there are too many customers on a major metropolitan internet circuit--an oversold or overbooked internet service, essentially.
Corrupted data can happen if something damages the data on its way to or from your computer and the game server. This could happen as the data is converted from something your computer can read to something that the internet can transport quickly, or if certain parts of your information transfer is lost. For the smallest data packets found in online gaming, your bigger issue is not getting the data at all rather than dealing with corrupted data.
Finally, not having enough internet speed for your entire household is an issue. It's somewhat like having overbooked internet service but located inside your home. This means that while you're trying to play the game, you or someone else on the network is also downloading big files or streaming a lot of videos. Streaming isn't usually an issue if you have near the average internet speed in the United States, but big downloads of tens or hundreds of gigabytes on an hourly basis can get in the way of your internet usage.
Computer Hardware Lag
The other definition of lag involves the computer itself slowing down the gameplay. This usually manifests itself as "choppy" graphics, periodic locking up or freezing, or long loading screens when nothing else on the internet seems to be slow.
Choppy graphics is one of the major deciding factors between troubleshooting network lag versus hardware resource lag. With network lag, a computer with otherwise highly capable parts will still run smoothly; your character will stand in place or go through motions fluidly and the background will move smoothly, but none of your abilities or commands will affect the game world on time.
If your game looks like a slideshow or flip book, it's because you don't have enough resources to spare. This may be caused by a computer being below the game's recommended specifications--minimum isn't enough to have decent gameplay, just passable access--or if you have too many programs running. A virus could also be the issue, which would be too many malicious programs taking up resources.
Contact an Internet provider to discuss plans that can match your online gaming needs, as well as referrals to technical support services for your computer.