by Daniel Bullard-Bates
Gamers, like kids and drunks, say the darndest things. Just last night I sat down to play Mario Kart Wii with a few friends. This was only the second time any of us had ever played this incarnation of the game, but we were having a blast just learning the courses and the new power-ups. As we chatted about the mechanics of the game and shouted obscenities at one another, I took note of some of the stranger sentences that sprung unbidden from our mouths:
“I think that if you’re in the air when you get POW’d, you don’t spin out.”
“The lightning storm works like a hot potato! Ram somebody!”
An outsider would surely think us mad, but such is the nature of video games and their effect on language. One of the great beauties of language is its adaptability. Lacking the needed terms to describe a given situation causes players to create their own. When Shakespeare didn’t have a word that worked for one of his plays, he invented one. I’m not saying that words like “POW’d” have quite the same puissance as Shakespeare’s invented words, but they still serve a linguistic purpose. I know that when I played Neverwinter Nights online, terms like PhK and FoD were bandied about, and no one looked askance. We all spoke the same language; our communal terms helped to define us as a community.
(They’re spells, for the curious. Phantasmal Killer and Finger of Death. Both bad news.)
I’ve never played World of Warcraft, and when two of my in-recovery friends speak of their halcyon days in Azeroth they are completely incomprehensible to me. (Chris grows more understandable with each passing day.) I’ve picked up a few words here and there, maybe enough to get around, find a bathroom and even a bite to eat. From the Penny Arcade comic below, for example, I’m pretty sure aggro is aggression and DoT is damage over time. Many gamers use terms like nub, newb or noob to mean someone who is either new to a game or acting like they are. But Omen? Raidwipe? L2P? MT? I need a translator, someone who has walked these lands before.
Whether it’s yelling at a friend to use their star power or complaining about shotty spam, video games do more than take us to new locations. They teach us new, bizarre languages and rule sets that only make sense in the context of the game. We talk about the gaming community as a whole, and the communities that arise around specific genres and games, and nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in these communal languages. It’s a testament to the power of video games that this never strikes us as odd: just like our own native languages seem like the norm to us, the languages of the games we play become perfectly natural over time. It’s only when we walk into a room of people playing a strange game that we realize just how bizarre this phenomenon can be.
So what’s the strangest thing a game has ever driven you to say? Have you ever paused to wonder just how such a sentence left your lips? I know I have.
Monday, November 16, 2009
by Daniel Bullard-Bates