Ravanel (LOTRO) is trying to figure out what Y-u'no (SWTOR) means with "carbonite" and "credits"
In Geek anthropology: geek language, Pepi Valderrama of DePepi: Geek Anthropology investigates how we use specialized language (think of memes and inside jokes) to communicate with fellow geeks. At the end of her post, she asks: "What words do you use with your geek friends that non-geeks wouldn't understand?" Well, I know quite a few! I thought, and this article with examples from MMO gamer culture was born.
In her article, Pepi introduces us to the anthropological term code-switching: "changing vocabulary, grammar and symbols from one fandom to another". I'm often not even aware of what codes I'm using, because it comes to me so naturally. This becomes clear when using geek language in the vicinity of non-geeks.
Code-switching between geek and non-geek languages
A recent example. My friend and I are at a party. We haven't seen each other for a while and are catching up. We share many hobbies, one of which is playing Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. It is not unusual for us to code-switch in the middle of a sentence. So a conversation that goes as follows is quite common:
"How was your weekend?""Yeah, good. I did a mushroom excursion. Didn't see that many interesting species, but the heather club fungus was a score."Our friends that are listening in are keeping up; they're all nature nerds, although some of them are more familiar with the sub field of fungi than others."Oh yeah, and I finally managed to beat the last encounter of chapter 6! It was really hard, but in the end I insta force lifted one add and killed the other asap, so it wouldn't one-shot my companion."This is where my friends zone out. They know she is talking about gaming, but they can't translate what they hear to something meaningful: they don't understand the code.
Interesting to note is that my friends don't appreciate us talking about online games, I imagine because they feel excluded. Because we have nice friends they don't tell us to shut up, but you can tell from their body language. (The yawns are kind of a giveaway.) So I try to not talk about our online adventures (that are as real to us as anything we do together) in front of our friends.
The Spirit (BDO) has no clue what Ravanel (SWTOR) is talking about
Speech communitiesWe learn from Pepi that "geeks tend to communicate using different vocabulary and symbols depending on the fandom they belong into. Said in other words, depending on the speech community they tend to use certain ways of speaking and certain symbols."
The previous example with my yawning friends can also be used to illustrate something else, namely that there are sub groups within geek speech communities. Let's look at the 'MMO sentence' again:
Oh yeah, and I finally managed to beat the last encounter of chapter 6! It was really hard, but in the end I insta force lifted one add and killed the other asap, so it wouldn't one-shot my companion.Words marked with blue are recognized by all members of MMO culture: they represent mechanics or systems that are commonly used in all massive multiplayer online games.
beating an encounter = defeat a boss fightadd = an opponent that appears in combination with a stronger opponent, e.g. a bossasap = "as soon as possible", often used in association with a target needing prioritizingone-shot = depleting the health bar of a target with one single blow
Words marked with red are recognized by players of the MMO Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR), the online game that my friend was talking about. MMO players can make an educated guess about what is talked about, but these words have an extra layer of meaning to SWTOR players.
chapter 6 = a SWTOR player will assume this is the chapter from the latest released expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne (spoiler alert!), which ends with a fight with emperor Arcann and his knights.
insta force lifted = SWTOR players familiar with the sage class know force lift is an ability that lifts an enemy target in the air, rendering them harmless for a duration of 60 seconds. A utility can be used to make this ability activate instantly.
companion = non player characters that can be summoned to talk to, fight for you or be sent out to crafting missions. You can have one companion with you at a time.
Ravereth (GW2) doesn't understand that Fingolwë (LOTRO) is talking about a boss fight
While I'm talking about the speech community of MMO players and a sub speech community within that of SWTOR players, words are not necessarily strictly confined to those communities. For instance, SWTOR is a game by the company Bioware. Almost all Bioware games have companions, so a gamer that isn't familiar with SWTOR, but has played other Bioware games, will still have a gist of what "companion" means.
Another, more complex example is "asap": this abbreviation comes from the world outside of gaming. Noteworthy is that it - as anything typed in chat - is usually written in-game without capitals rather than the official capitalized spelling. Edit: I picked this word up in the Lord of the Rings Online raiding scene, where it was regularly used in typed instructions regarding group tactics. LOTRO has relatively many British players due to its Middle-earth setting, which probably explains why it turned up in this speech community specifically o(bservant readers have pointed out that it is in general use in British business contexts). In this instance, gamers took a word from a non-gaming speech community and applied it in a gaming speech community, introducing it to a new, international audience.
EpilogueThe world of geek language in online games is huge. Even within SWTOR there are different speech communities of which the members will not understand each other completely, even though everybody is playing the same game! I will explore this in my next article (part 2).
For now: do your friends hate it as well when you talk about MMOs? When do you find yourself code-switching between geek languages?