Books, culture, fishing, and other games

October 08, 2003

The Lexicography of Gaming

The guys over at Terra Nova have started a list of terms, a sort of Dictionary of/for Gamers.

Sticking to my resolution, I am posting this here, rather than there as a comment. They also reference an article by Greg Costikyan in one of the comments that is worth reading.

As an English MA type, I am both fascinated and infuriated by the contortions through which English is run by subcultures. It used to be more the latter, but I am pounding into my psyche the reality that English is a language full of life. Living things change constantly, or they die. We may not like all the changes, but they are. Rather than fight them, I have resolved to enjoy them as buds of fresh life on old, gnarly branches.

The subculture(s) of gaming has been steadily evolving its own entensions and additions to English. Since most communication in gaming is done by typing, and gamers are more interested in playing the game than in language, abbreviations and acronyms rule. If something can be abbreviated unambiguously, it will be. Sometimes it will be even when it is ambiguous, and context quickly evolves to distinguish multiple usages of the same terse "word." (I can't think of an example at the moment, but I have run into this myself, so sooner or later some will occur to me.)

Some of this may be game specific. That is, a game may use a word or phrase unique to its vworld, which is used often enough that it's immediately abbreviated. This abbreviation may conflict with standard gamerspeak, causing confusion and the creation of tacit usage rules such that the two conflicting abbreviates are distinguishable. What is amazing to me is how fast this evolution takes place. It's also interesting that it's geographically dispersed where online gaming is concerned, since the players who all virtually meet are in fact scattered all over the globe. This results in the new "words" and usages seeping out into the general language simultaneously from many different geographic seed locations.In the future I suspect the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and other dictionaries that track the origins of words will be pointing to online communities as the seedbeds as opposed to any geographic locale in the real world.

Dan Hunter started the list with a couple of my favorites. I'll quote him:

"twink" (v/n) the action of a higher-level player helping a lower level player rather than the lower level player doing everything themselves. Usually means providing higher-level assets (swords, rares, etc) than the lower level character could obtain themselves. Often used where a single person has multiple avatars at different levels, and has the higher level avatar provide the asset to his/her lower level avatar. Source: Koster, LegendMUD, UrbanDictionary. (Not to be confused with "twink" in non-gaming, sexual contexts)

"nerf" (v, trans) the action of developers reducing the strength of an in-game asset where the asset is too powerful and unbalances other parts of the game. Arose when swords in UO were rebalanced and the characters felt they were hitting each other with nerf swords. Source: Koster, LegendMUD, UrbanDictionary.

I can't argue with either definition. I suspect the first derives from the sexual context. A "twinked" character is unformed as would be a young, adolescent male (in the sexual usage, it refers to a young homosexual male). It may have stemmed from the common gamer slur of calling those they look down on "gay." I resisted this term at first, but it's now so taken over my own vocabulary that I can't recall the earlier term we used (there was one!) I first came across this in EverQuest, I think, but it might have been Ultima Online earlier.

"Nerf" derives from the popular office (and home) toys made from the soft foam material. Often bats and other weaponlike devices are made from the material, which effectively downgrades what was a weapon to a harmless toy. It's thus a hyperbolic term. Almost always when it's used it implies something went from being useful to useless. In reality, that is rarely the case. To add to Dan's definition, this is also a noun. A change to a game to make something lucrative or profitable no longer so is "a nerf." So it applies not only to assets, as he describes, but also to situations. Removing the profit from a much exploited "FedEx" run would be called a nerf.

Let's see if I can add any. Some of these are unique (so far, to my knowledge) to games, others are not but see slight twists on more common usage.

"FexEx" (v, n) A transaction in which a player buys or obtains an object in one place and delivers it to another rapidly for a profit. Often refers to those where especially high profit in game currency results ("FedEx 'sploit").
Derives from "Federal Express," the company that built itself on fast (next day), reliable delivery. It will be interesting to see if this ever becomes a trade mark issue as was the case with Xerox and others. I don't recall where I first saw this one.

warp(ed) (v, n) Short for "time warp." When lag causes an avatar or npc to get out of synch on the client from the server's positioning, it often instantly readjusts the position at the client resulting in a teleport to a new location. Sometimes also called a "port," most reserve "port" term for a player-initiated act to teleports a character from one spot to another in game. I believe I first met this term in EverQuest. (this is also less commonly called "skipping")

grind (v) The act of doing an action repeatedly and as quickly as possible for rapid experience gain. Usage varies slightly from game to game. It especially applies to crafting, but is also used as a synonum for "exp" hunting. Grind has replaced an earlier term (which now escapes me). I first met this one in Star Wars Galaxies.

exp (v) Short for "experience," it supplements the earlier use as a noun that signifies the measure of the progress of a character in numerical form. It is now also a verb meaning "to play specifically to gain experience" (as opposed to socialize, loot, etc.) Similar to grind, but implies more fun, usually. A common usage would be "I'm out exping on tin-can-of-death-juniors." I don't recall how long ago this one appeared.

CTD(ed) (v, n, adj) "Crash to desktop" Game client software crashed returning player to OS desktop. Often used to explain unexpected disappearances of a character/player from the game world, or "AFK" type status. This is a techie usage also, not unique to gaming, but used a lot for its terseness.

LD(ed) (n, v, adj) "Link Dead" Refers to loss of connection between the client and the game server. This often results from internet connectivity problems, but might also indicate the player manually disconnected somehow (perhaps intentionally). A character might be LD, meaning persistant in the vworld, or the character might vanish instantly. Both would still be said to be LD, though the former is more common. Common in Star War Galaxies where characters actually persist after disconnecting for some time with an "LD" flag over their heads, but it predates this game.

rollback (n, v) Refers to restoring, or to the restoral of, a game server to a prior state ("snapshot"), negating all actions taken since the point of the snapshot to which it was restored. Generally happens after catastrophic server failures or player exploits of a serious game-imbalancing nature. This term goes back some time, and also derives from a techie term (rollback the database, etc.)

time warp (n, v) (1) See warp above.(2) see rollback above.

AFK (adj, v intrans) "Away From Keyboard" (1) The act of leaving the keyboard while an avatar or character remains present in a vworld. "I am going to afk, brb." (2) The brainless state of a character when the player is not present to direct it. "He's afk" can refer to the player or the character (or both). In many games an "afk" flag will appear after a certain inactivity delay, or can be manually placed by the player. This leads to an afk character.
This probably derives from chat rooms as much as games. It's been around as long as there have been virtual communities.

AFK macro(ing) (v) As above, except the player is at work or asleep, and the character is mindlessly grinding for experience. "I am going to afk macro all day while I am at work." This is generally frowned on by the community at large. Some games expressly forbid it, others do not. It dates far back in online gaming history.

PvE (adj, v) "Player versus Environment" The act of "hunting" non-player characters or "mobs" as opposed to other player characters (PvP). (contrary to Greg's assertion, this IS abbreviated) The usage of the abbreviation I first saw in EverQuest, and I believe that was when I first saw the phrase also (not sure though, may have stumbled over the phrase in criticism/reviews of games first).

carebear (n, adj) A derrogatory term launched by PvPers against nonPvPers who are typically trying to curb the former's freedom to attack any player's character at will. This is commonly used to refer to nonPvP, "carebear servers." I think this one dates back to early Ultima Online.

ninja loot (v) To loot someone from else's kills in a fashion that isn't obvious as a means of loot stealing. "Careful, JackBQuick is ninja looting!" Since typically only the character, or group, who makes a kill (measured by last blow or most damage, depending on the game) can loot that kill, this often refers to someone inside a group who is looting outside the agreed upon practice.

KS(er) (v, n) "Kill Steal" To jump into someone else's PvE fight, especially with the aim of stealing their experience and loot. Some games award experience proportionately which makes this more of a maneuver to loot steal. In others, which do not, it's a way to "exp" fast by gaining a share of the experience from a kill one would not normally have a chance of achieving. KSers and KSing are/is frowned upon by most communities.

Posted by dan at October 8, 2003 01:46 PM