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For total smacktards, a guide to computer gamespeak

You log onto Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, looking to burn off the day's tensions by refighting a few small-unit skirmishes from World War II. But it's no fun when the n00bs and griefers are out in force.

Half the guys on your fireteam are llamas, total smacktards who couldn't hit the side of a barn with a BFG, much less a standard assault rifle. And the other half committed so many TKs they might as well have been fighting on the other side.

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All in all, a lousy night's computer gaming. You'd have been better off working on some new hobby - such as drawing up a lexicon of computer gaming language. Think of it as a favor to first-time gamers struck suddenly clueless when they log onto an Internet server or pick up one of the digital gaming titles crowding the magazine racks. They come for a bit of mindless fun and instead find themselves being schooled in a bizarre new language.

Like every other human endeavor, electronic gaming has evolved its own specialized lexicon, an ear-catching blend of computer geekspeak and schoolyard banter. Most people pick it up as they go along. That's easier than posting naive questions on Internet gaming bulletin boards and getting only insults and mockery in reply.

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Fortunately, a few kindly souls have planted some verbal signposts for the rest of us, basic guides to the jargon of gaming. New Yorker Greg Costikyan assembled one of the best such guides last yearand published it in Verbatim, a scholarly journal about language. Costikyan also posted it to his personal Web site, at www.costik.com/gamespek.html.

Though schooled as a geologist, Costikyan's a lifelong game buff who got his start designing old-fashioned pen-and-paper strategy games as a teenager. Today, he's working on digital games for use with cellphones. But he remains an avid online player; his favorite is a little-known title called Rubies of Eventide.

Meanwhile, Costikyan developed a fascination for the jargon of the games. "It's an interesting intersection of a highly technical discipline with pop culture," he says.

Some gamer-speak comes directly from "leet," a quirky form of symbol-slinging made popular by adolescent computer buffs. Actually, it's spelled "l33t" with the number 3 standing in for the letter E. In the same way, first-time computer hackers, or neophyte gamers, are classed as n00bs.

But plenty of other player jargon grows directly out of the games themselves. Gib, for instance, refers to the act of blasting an enemy into bloody chunks resembling chicken giblets. There's not much gibbing in a sword-and-sorcery game like Diablo II, but plenty of it in a first-person shooter like Quake.

Shooters also gave rise to the idea of a supergun that can blow away the toughest opponent with a single mighty blast. Gamers call these weapons BFGs, and even a n00b can guess what the letters stand for. TK stands for "team-killer," an idiot who's supposed to be fighting on your side but who accidentally, or purposely, keeps killing you instead. TKs are not at all popular in games like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, where you're depending on your buddies to win the battle.

Accidental TKs are the result of mere incompetence. The guilty party is a llama - a variant of the familiar adolescent insult "lamer." But a deliberate TK is the act of a griefer - a jerk who logs onto a game just to make life more difficult for the other players. Odd as it seems, the online gaming world produces a depressingly large assortment of them.

Another game jargon collector, Ian Harac of San Francisco, is an avid fan of the online role-playing adventure game Everquest. Harac says the game has given rise to a number of terms not often encountered. There's "buffing," for instance - the act of enhancing some particular skill your game character will need in order to complete some challenging quest.

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You'd never need a dictionary to guess the meaning of some terms. A smacktard, for instance, is a lousy gamer whose actions constantly undermine the success of his team. This one's become popular with players of war games such as Wolfenstein and Battlefield: 1942.

There are plenty more of these snarky terms in the gamers' lexicon, and plenty more yet to be coined, as digital gaming tightens its hold on our collective consciousness. Indeed, Costikyan predicts that "games will be the predominant art form of the 21st century just as films were the predominant art form of the 20th century."

In that case, the language of games may soon trickle into our daily lives. That's just as well. After all, we all know our share of smacktards.


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