Do the terms n00b, boosting, beat ‘em up, or ragequit mean anything to you? How about sidequest, speedrun, or trickshot? If the answer is yes, then there’s a good chance you’re either an expert scrabble word finder or one of the ever-growing numbers of global gamers - a once marginalized group that has become the new norm. The gaming industry has frankly seen an insane amount of growth over the past fifteen years, 67% of Americans, that’s around 211 million people, are now gaming on at least one device according to the Entertainment Software Association.
To help put this in perspective, when Rockstar Games released their highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V back in September 2013, it was the biggest launch day ever for any piece of entertainment. No movie, record, or anything in between had managed $800 million in worldwide sales in its first 24 hours. A highly violent video game following a group of lowlifes had become an unstoppable juggernaut. Not bad for a series that had repeatedly caused moral panic all over the western world. Last year alone, the video games market generated $137 billion, with mobile gaming happily overtaking revenue made by PC and console gaming. That's a roughly $100 billion increase from twenty years prior. There is no doubt about it, video games with their many worlds, wonders, and indeed words have become part of everyday life. The question is, how did we get here?
It was the early 50s that brought us NIMROD, the first real computer game and system. Despite resembling a blinking, gray refrigerator, it was a draw at the 1951 Festival of Britain and gave the public a taste of what was to come. The release of 'Spacewar!' in the early 60s saw another big jump, the first game playable on multiple stations, while the 'Brown Box' prototype a few years later pioneered the home console format with two controls and a multigame program system. Still, such early creations were firmly a niche object. For something to build a community and language, it needs to be accessible.
While the groundwork of the future internet was being laid, a little company named Atari appeared, and soon game development truly hit its stride. With 1972's Pong, the world was greeted with the first commercially successful video game, helping establish the industry and the first home console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Be it at your friend’s house or the arcades that had begun sprouting up in every town, the anticipation for a new game release grew and grew.
While the developers busied themselves with inventing genres like the platformer and shooter, companies such as Xerox helped develop one of the first local area networks (LAN). Before long, joysticks were added to the appropriate controls, cartridges were made for consoles, and the original gaming magazines were published. Due to the additional choice in gaming options, devotees were formed, and thus communities. The video game fanatic was born.
January 1, 1983, saw the internet brought to life alongside the first wave of personal computers, Bill Gates' Donkey software allowing budding developers to learn BASIC code. It was a slow start, but it didn't take long for fans to find one another. With the arrival of IP Multicast, online gaming was ready, but it took the world at large a while to figure out how to implement it successfully. While Sega and Nintendo duked it out for home console dominance, gamers made their own fun with LAN Parties.
Utilizing a local area network, friends and strangers alike would lug their now retro gear into a room or rented space, plug in, and get stuck into some collective fun. Thanks to classics such as 'Pathways into Darkness' and 'Doom' (both released 1993) first-person shooters (FPS) and online gaming as we know it took shape. The network effect, though now the latest buzzwords in startups, flourished like never before.
Deathmatches, free-for-alls, patches, and XP, became common jargon for those who'd caught the gaming bug. Even in the more simplistic realm of SNES and Sega Genesis, the average owner would know the importance of graphical capabilities or the difference between a fighting game and a flight simulator. By the mid-nineties, the first pay-to-play internet services were launched, and behemoths of the MMORPG genre like Warcraft were released. Sega, Nintendo, and Atari all try to push online gaming forward but find net speeds and pricing challenging to work with. It is the PC gamer who keeps pushing the boundaries, further building the concept of social gaming.
As the games grew more complex, the language did too, imagination now the only barrier between a developer and a boundary-pushing release. A rhythm-based game with a rapping dog? No problem. How about a sci-fi platformer where the protagonist must save his friends from the biggest meat processing factory in the universe? An award-winning classic. Annoying NPCs (AI-controlled characters), floaty controls, and unbeatable final bosses plagued - and sometimes delighted - fans globally.
With the start of the 21st century home consoles finally caught up with PCs ability to connect users. With the arrival of the 'Halo' series and Xbox Live, online gaming quickly became adopted by even the most fairweather gamer. With the first two games shifting nearly 15 million units, it was not long before Playstation and Nintendo doubled their efforts to option games that would suit their own digital delivery services. Now young and old would scream for a ‘res’ (resurrection) when cut down in the heat of battle. Serious time would be spent thinking of your epic - or hilarious - IGN (in-game name). Dreaded trolls would be let loose all over the internet realm, leaving a wake of annoyance or full-blown hatred in their wake.
In double-time, language was repurposed or reformed to create an everyday slang that grows today. The lingo of computing such as spammer, glitching, and bots sat alongside everyday colloquialisms like aggro or downtime - all now dictionary entries. Even bowser, traditionally a generic name for a tanker of various liquids, is now better known as the name of Mario's arch-nemesis from the hit Nintendo franchise.
The past decade has seen an immense shift to mobile gaming as well as multiplayer-focused console and net releases. Connectivity is the name of the game, online free-for-all ‘Fortnite’ making $2.4 billion in digital revenue in 2018 alone and live streaming platform Twitch boasting 5 million daily viewers. The once isolated world of gaming has not just become part of everyday life for many, its evolved into a passion that people feel the need to share.
Looking back, this is hardly surprising; it's been in the very DNA of video gaming from day one. From the laboratories to the arcades to the first LAN parties, gaming with all its mixed-up worlds and words has always wanted to connect and challenge people. If the past three decades has shown us anything, the future should be something to behold.
Ever since Pong came bouncing into arcades in 1972, video games have spent the past half-century changing pop culture and the world around us. Once a niche hobby and quick fix with friends, gaming has evolved to be the dominant entertainment force of the past few decades, outperforming both film and music industries in revenue and adaptability.
Gamification - the use of gaming principles and rules in non-game contexts - has leaked into our use of social media, our store cards, and even some job CVs! Think of the fun way brands try and reward your loyalty, or the amount of feedback you're eager to receive for your latest post. Nowadays, smartphones not only act as our cameras, address books, diary, and more, but for the majority of us, our main gaming platform too.
We've become generational button-bashers, and nowhere is that better seen than in the way that gaming has created its own language, forging new words and adapting others for wild new uses. The advent of multiplayer gaming online brought an explosion of new terms as the video game world became more connected and ever more advanced. The speed in which terms like frag, sidescroller, and teamspeak have appeared, it's been impossible for dictionaries to keep up.
No worries though, we've collected 17 gaming terms that not only show the culture's continued influence but come with the Oxford Dictionary seal of approval...
About the Author
Sam Walker-Smart is a British culture journalist currently based in Barcelona. His work has appeared in CLASH, The Huffington Post, Vinyl Me Please, Barcelona Metropolitan, Little White Lies, and many other outlets. He enjoys weird folklore, sad songs, and good beer.