A Quick Time Event is typically a form of interactive cut-scene, where main control of the on-screen action is replaced by a lengthy animation with limited user interaction. Most games that feature QTEs flash an on-screen icon to tell players which button or direction to press to successfully continue the animation. Failing to press the proper buttons in a timely fashion usually results in some form of penalty, such as failing to execute the attempted move, getting hit by incoming objects, and so on.
Although the intention is to make cut-scenes more interactive, this form of gameplay has been criticized in modern video games for replacing action, rather than complementing it.
A more recent variation of the QTE is the timed decisions mechanic, which adds an element of moral decisions to the concept.
The term QTE originated in Shenmue, but examples of similar sequences go all the way back to the cinematic laser disc games of the early-mid '80s. While QTE-like sequences could be found in even earlier elecro-mechanical arcade games such as Wild Gunman and The Driver, QTE's rose to popularity with laserdisc arcade games in 1983, with Dragon's Lair, followed by Cliff Hanger and Space Ace. In 1984, Ninja Hayate added on-screen button flashes to the formula, setting the template for how QTE's are presented; this style of QTE was subsequently used in Road Blaster and Time Gal. The athletic sports game Track & Field also had a form of QTE.
QTE's were later revived by Sega, with Die Hard Arcade in 1996 and particularly the Shenmue series from 1999. These games modernized the QTE mechanic, using them as cutscene interludes in an otherwise more interactive game, to make cutscenes more interactive and to add unexpected surprises during the action.
In 2001, Shenmue II introduced a variation of the QTE called the Command Quick Time Event (CQTE), which instead of inputting commands in real time, freezes the scene and gives you a limited time to enter a longer string of buttons.
The QTE mechanic rose to mainstream popularity in 2005, with its use in Resident Evil 4, followed by God of War. While QTE's had previously been associated with Shenmue, a slower-paced adventure game, the use of QTE's in faster-paced action games such as Resident Evil and God of War led to the wide adoption of QTE's in many subsequent mainstream video games.