The quicktime event, commonly just called a "QTE", is a long-derided trend in video games where players are forced to quickly match button presses to on-screen cues, usually during otherwise non-interactive cutscenes. QTEs are sort of a shortcut to shoehorn crappy interaction into cutscenes, and they rarely feel very substantive or enjoyable.
Little did I know that the phrase "quicktime event" has a more complicated backstory than I thought. Kotaku reader Kevin B. wrote in to point out:
For some reason, there's a common misconception that QTE stands for "Quick Time Event" or "Quicktime Event" when - in reality - it stands for "Quick Timer Event" (as is stated in the manual for Shenmue, the game for which the term was coined, I believe). Could you please correct this in your article? I realise that the vast majority of people use the incorrect term, but it'd be nice if you could at least point out the error in order to make people realise it.
We went back to this Gamestop review of Shenmue from the year 2000, and lo and behold, there it is:
As you gather clues to Lan Di's whereabouts, random interruptions in gameplay called Quick Timer Events will erupt from time to time. These QTEs, which are similar to the quick-response games found in Beatmania and Dragon's Lair, require split-second controller responses to hazardous stimuli. If an opponent attacks from the left, you'll be tapping right, but if you need to punch, you'll be hitting A, and so on. These random interruptions are neat, but they're far too underutilized to reach their full potential. As such, they're more of an aggravation than anything else, especially since they tend to lead into long FMV sequences. The first disc is thankfully light on QTEs, but you'd better get used to them - by disc three you'll be experiencing at least one per Shenmue day.
So, there you have it — the common phrase "Quicktime Event" is an unnatural mutation, and the original term was all about fast-moving timers. I'm not sure if we'll start using the original term (or go back and correct the countless times we've used the colloquial term here at Kotaku), but it's good to know where these things come from.
Actually, here's a thought: Maybe developers can just stop using QTEs entirely, and the whole question will be moot!
OK, OK, here's that Spider-Man video one more time because it is too amazing not to post again.