Linguistic Choices in Gaming

“Lol, what a scrub, get rekt noob.”

Spend an hour or two in any competitive multiplayer game, and you’re bound to hear one if not all of these words and phrases. As the internet has developed into the behemoth it is today, strange words and metaphors have arisen in the gaming community.

Where do these words come from, and why were these words chosen over others? While some of these terms rose to dominance out of plain chance, many share common traits that enable us to speculate on linguistic trends in gaming communities.

What is the single trait that most terms share? Metaphor. The most basic terminology relating to the game itself uses metaphor to remain as intuitive as possible so that new players can absorb this information quickly. Not everything is a metaphor, of course. Some words come from previous games, some are references to other notable events, but every word that catches on has a reason behind its popularity.

A community comprised of millions will generate inside jokes and make references at a high frequency, but few of these references will persist to the same extent as they would in, for example, a clique of less than a dozen people. In other words, stop trying to make “fetch” happen, Gretchen. Your cousin’s weird nickname for Mario or Sonic isn’t going to catch on beyond his immediate community. Unless it’s hilarious, at which point it becomes a meme. Damn memes, always ruining my linguistic theorycrafting.

Anyway, let’s take a look at some examples. Consider the following three terms: “kiting,” “nerf,” and “group”. “Kiting” refers to the act of moving away from an enemy while simultaneously attacking them as they give chase. Metaphorically, the player who “kites” another is effectively dragging along their opponent as if that player were a kite in real life. A player unfamiliar with the term “kite” may apply the logic of a real kite to understand the concept in the game itself.

Likewise, terms may resemble a combination between an inside joke and an intuitive real-world reference. The word “nerf” refers to when a usable item, character, or other tool made available to players is weakened by the game’s developers. It’s a reference and a metaphor to the popular kids’ toys “Nerf guns,” which are harmless foam dart guns. So, a nerfed weapon in a game is considered weak like a Nerf gun. Akin to an inside joke, it references a specific toy popular among kids growing up in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, which is suitable for the millennial generation – today’s largest gaming demographic.

While metaphors and pop culture references dominate the list, words related to similar real-world actions have also found their way into the competitive gaming dictionary. Terms such as “group” and “group up” reflect the similarities between real military speech and gameplay strategy. “Group,” when used in most competitive multiplayer games, functions as a verb indicating that players should gather together to improve their fighting capabilities and achieve a numeric advantage over their opponents. “Group” or “group up” and its variants act much like the phrase, “form up,” which is used in military speech and has an identical meaning. The use of a verb followed by “up,” reflects this similarity and demonstrates the influence of military strategy in similarly strategic, combative games.

If you’re still not convinced that metaphors matter, check out the list below. This is the essential vocabulary that one would need to memorize in order to understand most gaming discussions. Small differences may be found in other English speaking regions, but I suspect many of these terms are used worldwide. 

Boosted – Describes a phenomenon in ranked competitive gaming in which an unskilled player can be carried higher than they belong on the ranked matchmaking system by repeatedly playing with a more skilled teammate. Often used as an insult.

Boss – A non-player character that is significantly stronger than most other enemies in the game. These characters must often be defeated with the help of multiple players. The term comes from the Japanese appropriation of the English word. In Japan, a “boss” refers primarily to a criminal mafia boss rather than simply the leader of a company or organization. Because most games feature a hierarchy of enemies with a main villain leading them, the term has stuck for Western society as well, in part due to the prevalence and popularity of Japanese games as a whole.

Buff – A temporary effect that enhances a player’s statistical effectiveness. It may also refer to a change made by game developers that strengthens a character’s

Burst – A combination of powerful abilities used in a short period of time.

Carry – When a player performs at such a high level that they more or less single-handedly bring their team to victory.

Cheese – Refers to any “cheesy” tactic that allows players to win by a manner unforeseen by the developers. It is most often exploitative of some design flaw, yet it is also straightforward to execute.

Cooldown (cd) – A refractory period during which a player may not use the same ability again.

Class – Refers to character archetypes. For example, a “support” class is used to assist teammates, whereas a “tank” class is designed to withstand enemy attacks.

Crowd control (cc) – Abilities that enable a player to have some semblance of control over their opponents. Common examples include roots (abilities that snare enemies in place), stuns (abilities that prevent opponents from doing anything at all for a short period of time) silences (abilities that prevent opponents from using their abilities) and more.

Debuff – A temporary effect that reduces a player’s statistical effectiveness.

Disruptor – A player designated with distracting and disrupting enemies. This player will usually do so by harassing or locking down opponents.

Dive – To charge forward aggressively into a group of enemy players with the intention of killing their less durable members.

eSports – The phenomenon in which video games are played professionally like spectator sports.

Farming – To earn resources and become stronger by accomplishing routine, monotonous tasks.

Feed – In some competitive multiplayer games, players earn rewards and become stronger by killing their opponents. If a player on one team dies, they are “feeding” the opponent a kill, thereby making that opponent stronger and harder to overcome in future conflicts.

Gank – Killing an opponent using a significant advantage (usually two or more players ganging up on one). Literally, it is the abbreviation of “gang kill.” Depending on the game, it can either be frowned upon or seen as a respectable/necessary tactic. In LoL, it is seen as a common and necessary tactic but it is nonetheless antagonizing to the victim.

GG – Acronym for “good game.” It is commonly said at the end of a match to indicate sportsmanship. Sometimes, “gg wp” is said instead, and “wp” stands for “well played.”

Gosu – The Korean word for “highly skilled person.” Due to the large Korean presence in esports and the continued dominance of Korean teams above all other nations and regions in international competition across multiple different games, the Korean word for “skilled person” has spread internationally and is used to complement another player’s performance.

Griefing – When one player intentionally irritates another.

Grind – To repeatedly accomplish a monotonous task for the sake of character/player improvement. Literally, it is “putting your nose to the grindstone.”

Group Up – Used as a verb, it is similar to the military term “form up.” When said in a team game, this is a call to gather close together for the sake of more effective fighting capabilities.

Inting – When a player “feeds” (see description of “feed” above) on purpose. Short for “intentionally feeding”.

Instalock – To immediately select a particular character as soon as the character select screen becomes available.

Kiting – To move away from an enemy while simultaneously attacking them as they give chase. It resembles using a kite in real life.

Main – Refers to a player’s preferred character. A player can only have one main at a time. May also be used as a verb.

Nerf – When a usable item, character, or other tool made available to players is weakened by the game’s developers. It’s a metaphor to the kids’ toys “Nerf guns” which are weak foam dart guns. Thus, a nerfed weapon in a game is considered weak like a Nerf gun.

Noob – A new player who is not yet very skilled. When used as an insult, it means “a bad player.”

Patch – When the game’s developers change certain aspects of the game after it has already been released.

Peeling – When a stronger player defends a weaker teammate from an assailant. This will allow time for the weaker player to begin kiting.

Smurfing – Playing with players far below one’s skill level. Players who do this are known as “smurfs” and often curbstomp opponents. The term is a reference to a highly skilled Warcraft II player from the 1990s who nicknamed himself “Papasmurf” and entered low-level games to dominate opponents. Depending on who you ask, it may be looked down upon.

Tank – A highly durable player character. This type of character is often designed to withstand incoming attacks from enemies so that weaker members of the player’s team don’t have to.

Theorycrafting – Speculating and theorizing about how to most efficiently achieve desired results. Synonymous with “min-maxing”.  

Toxicity – Negative communications and/or actions between players. Players who yell or insult their teammates are said to be toxic.

Troll – A person who intentionally antagonizes, pranks, or otherwise irritates others in order to get under their skin. Trolls are common on the internet in general, but in LoL they are a serious hindrance and will likely cause defeat for their team.

Ragequit – To abandon a game out of anger or frustration.

Zoning – Keeping enemy players away by any means.


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