18 March 2015
Please Stop Feeding:
Folklore and Language Used in League of Legends and Other Online Games
League of Legends is one of many online games that have become massively popular in the last few years. Naturally, with the exponential growth of online games and players, a culture has developed around many of these games, most notably the language and commonly seen terms used in the communication between players. The fascinating nature of these terms comes from the fact that they are not terms that came from the game, but were terms created by the players themselves for various purposes and spread to all other players by mere online chat. One gamer makes up a term for something and types it so that other players around him or her can see it. Other gamers pick up the use of this term and soon it becomes a standard part of the online game to use the term, though nowhere in the game is this term listed or verified. This is seen with many terms in the game League of Legends, and in many other MMOs as well. The similarities in language and the way in which it warps and changes as it is passed on is what makes this online language an interesting form of folklore.
When considering MMO’s, or Massively Multiplayer Online games, it is important to first mention the game Warcraft. Warcraft is often credited as the mother of all modern day MMOs, the game that inspired most if not all modern online games and turned many early gamers onto online gaming, especially once the game World of Warcraft was released in late 2004. Robinson Mills, who started his gaming journey with WoW before moving onto other MMOs, says that “a lot of terms on League of Legends originally came from Warcraft games.” He says that terms like “Smurf” and “OP,” terms to be discussed later in the paper, originated in the Warcraft games and have spread to attach themselves to other online games, likely transferred as players moved on from Warcraft to other games while taking their new terminology with them.
League of Legends is not as old as Warcraft, or even as old as World of Warcraft. LoL was released in 2009 and is actually classified as a MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) rather than an MMORPG, which is the full classification of World of Warcraft. While WoW is a multiplayer game, it is largely focused on the individual and the individual’s progress. There are numerous bosses and events that cannot be defeated alone and require groups, but with an RPG (role playing game) like WoW, if a person is determined enough, they can get very far alone. Performance is largely based on personal skill rather than the skill of others around them. League of Legends, as a MOBA, is very different. While an RPG is more about the individual’s skill, MOBA’s are highly competitive team-focused games that depend on the skill of every member of the team. If even one person in a MOBA is unskilled, he or she can keep their whole team from success. This is important to note because it changes the way that the invented terminology is used. When the nature of the game becomes different, the language and the meaning of the language for the game changes, though the way it is transmitted remains the same. All transmission is player to player. In this way, we can see conservation and variation of the language used throughout different online games.
Before discussing some of the terms, it is important to note that this topic relies very heavily on my own personal fieldwork. I have been playing League of Legends for almost two years and have been immersed in its language and culture. Though I also cite many online forums that list terms and their meanings, language changes meaning so rapidly in the online gaming world that these forums can quickly become outdated. I have interviewed many people who currently play online games and have also compared their language experiences with mine.
One of the terms that became popular in Warcraft and later spread to other games is the word “noob.” With many variations, such as newbie, newb, n00b, noobie, nub, and neeb, this term probably originated with the form “newbie,” which was thought to be used by some US troops in the Vietnam War as a slang term for a new man in a unit (Elting 209). It is unknown exactly when this word was picked up by the internet, though in the early 1990’s it was known to be widely used by computer programmers “with the emergence of l337speak…which led to the birth of its variant “n00b,” spelled with two zeros instead of O’s” (Know Your Meme). The word seems to have been popularized in the gaming community by early MMOs like Warcraft II, and has since spread to other games from there. What is really interesting about the term is that in many games, including League of Legends, it has evolved so that the spelling of the word will change its meaning. In League of Legends, when a person uses the term “newb” or “newbie,” it is generally known to refer to a player who is new and/or inexperienced at the game. It is not a mean or a derogatory term, rather, a factual or even a fond one. The word “noob” used to mean the same thing, however, now when the spelling changes so that the word looks like “noob,” “n00b,” or “nub,” the meaning changes to one much more derogatory to the player. While “newb” still refers to an inexperienced player, “noob” has come to mean someone who is experienced at the game but is terrible or extremely unskilled. Though both spellings used to hold the same meaning, time has changed one to become more derogatory, though it can be used in both a playful and a hurtful manner.
It is then important to note how the word “lol” can completely defuse or change the meaning when applied to a derogatory term like “noob”. Calling someone a “noob” directly would be an insult, while saying, “Lol noob” could suddenly be considered playful. This difference is crucial in a game like League of Legends where players are extremely dependent on mutual cooperation with each other. A man calling other players on his team “noobs” could potentially cause them to turn on him, thus losing the game for their whole team. The word “lol” can make a phrase or an outburst less harsh while still allowing frustration to be vented at an unskilled teammate or teammates. This is where the interesting difference between the two main types of MMOs comes into play. In an RPG like WoW, the word “noob” is generally a neutral term. This is because the skill levels of those around them do no matter in an RPG, whereas in a MOBA like League of Legends, if a teammate fails it can mean that everyone fails, and the language changes to become harsher and more degrading. Robinson Mills said that the only time he encountered the word “noob” in World of Warcraft was when he and his friends were teasing each other. I have seen the word used multiple times in League of Legends, both to demean other players and as a playful joke. Context and the word “lol” can change everything about this word’s meaning, and all of this is heavily imbedded and understood in gaming culture.
The Korean gamers actually have a phenomenon similar to that of the American one, though without using a spelling change to differentiate between meanings. Instead, they have two separate words, “hasu”, or literally “low hand”, and “chobo”, which means “beginner”. Though neither of these words actually seems derogatory when analyzed literally, in the Korean gaming world, “chobo” has come to be the way to insult someone, in the exact same way that the word “noob” is used in English. “Hasu” would then be the polite way to call oneself a “newbie” (Ask a Korean!). Though the English and Korean languages are nothing alike, human nature in relation to competitive video gaming remains the same. People will insult each other’s gaming skills by implying that they are like “newbie” players, but without actually insulting true new players.
The Japanese MOBA servers also have a word similar to the English “noob” called “chu”. Chu comes from the Japanese word Chugakusei, which means “junior high kid” (Vocaforum). In their MOBAs, this word is used in the same way “noob” is used in League of Legends, to degrade unskilled players. It is interesting that Americans insult other players by mutilating the word for a newbie, while Japanese gamers insult other players by changing the word for a middle school kid. In both cases, the word used to put down others comes from someone seen as either inexperienced or immature.
Another term that changed meaning when it moved from the more individual based RPGs to competitive team-based MOBAs is the word “smurf”. This is where some very interesting meta-folklore begins to circulate. While many sources seem to agree that this term originated with one of the old Warcraft games, some fascinating stories arise about just how this term came to be. The definition of the term “smurf”, also called “smurfing”, is generally when an experienced player makes a new account and poses as a newbie player. The experienced player likely has far more skill than new players and can easily destroy them. One of the stories that people tell is that “this definition of smurfing comes from 1996 and the game Warcraft II when certain well-known players made up new names, pretend[ed] to play badly, then beat the other players. They picked the names PapaSmurf and Smurfette” (English Language and Uses). Another person seemed to agree with this person, stating
“that this kind of thing was started in Warcraft II days by Shlonglor and his buddies, who seem to be demi-gods for some people. They called it smurfing and Shlonglor's stated reason for it was because they couldn't find anyone who wanted to play them. So they started picking on newbies and having great fun 'smurfing' them, that's the name they gave it” (English Language and Uses).
Allegedly, a group of well-known expert players were having trouble because no one wanted to play with them anymore; too many people knew that they were the best at the game. They then created new accounts, and labeled their actions as “Smurfing”, a term, regardless of whether this is true or not, that now exists almost twenty years later in almost every type of MMO game.
The way this term changes as it spreads is very interesting. Warcraft II, if that is indeed the game it originated in, is an RTS game (real-time strategy) that is like a MOBA in the fact that anyone can sit down, at level one, and instantly be the best player in the world. It is nearly entirely skill based, rather than level and skill based like RPGs, which require time and effort to become strong. A “smurf” account in an RTS like Warcraft II would have then been devastating for the new players just beginning the game and being continuously crushed by experts. However, when this term spread to RPGs like World of Warcraft (not to be confused with its older cousin Warcraft), the negative connotation behind the term disappears entirely. Robinson Mills first encountered the term “smurf” while playing World of Warcraft and said that “it wasn’t like a bad thing. People made smurfs to play with their low-level friends.” Smurfing in an RPG was seen as a neutral thing to do. Expert level players could make new accounts at any time yet would have to start at level 1 like everyone else. Smurf again became a negative term when it appeared in MOBAs like League of Legends, which, like Warcraft, are skill-based games that would make new players suffer if they had to play against an expert player posing as one of them. The word “smurf” has gone through the whole spectrum of negative to positive and back to negative again, and there is no doubt that video game culture has taken a powerful ownership of this interesting word.
Unfortunately, like with the word “noob”, there also seems to be a trend across languages when it comes to harsh and unsportsmanlike players declaring a victory. This is seen a lot in MOBAs like League of Legends. When a very powerful and easy victory of some sort is achieved, one player might type to the enemy team the word “pwned” or “pwnage.” “Pwned” seems to come from a distorted form of “owned”, perhaps even “perfect ownage” or “perfectly owned” (InternetSlang). It is used most often when a player perceives a “perfect” victory over an opponent. It is a way of saying they dominated and destroyed the other player. It can come of no surprise then that, though rarer nowadays through the attempts of the game banning system and more conscientious minded players, the even more demeaning word of “raped” will be substituted in for “pwned.”
This is no different in Korea. The most similar word in the Korean language to the English “pwned” is “gang-gandanghada.” This is a corruption of the word “gang-gan gotong” which means literally “rape suffer” (Ask a Korean!). This is an awful word to say to somebody, especially to a stranger over the internet. However, zealous players in both languages will overstep normal verbal boundaries that would prevent them from saying anything like this to a person’s face in the world of online text. Something as simple as an online battle arena can cause people to insult both other players on their team and members of the enemy team in order to feel emotionally validated.
This universally aggressive use of the language can create some misconceptions about the gamer folk group. Nathan Schellenburg, Krishna Ganim, Robinson Mills, and Grant Simon, are all Truman Students who are players of League of Legends and other video games. They are, in my opinion, nice and ordinary people. However, all of them at some point have used semi-aggressive language on the chat box in League of Legends. The effects that playing a game involving unknown teammates has on people, even ordinary people, can change the way that they interact with others in a way they would not face-to-face. This is hard to spot in RPGs but negatively affects everyone in MOBAs, because MOBAs actively require the player to communicate with others. It also explains why a lot of the language can seem unreasonably aggressive. One can be more aggressive to a stranger over online text than one could over a face-to-face interaction. The language spreads the way it does because of the anonymous factor.
On the brighter side, I have played League of Legends for two years, and while I have personally seen “pwned” and “rekt” (wrecked) used, the community does seem to be more politically correct, in that I have never once seen someone claimed that they “raped” the other team. Matt Barth, who has been playing League of Legends for about a year, has also never encountered the word “raped” in his experience with the game. “There’s more substitutes for that word,” he says, “gaming has evolved past that [word].” We both believe that as banning and honoring systems have been introduced into the game, the community as a whole has gotten more politically correct. However, the highly-competitive nature of the game and the need to rely on others to win has still lead to some emotional and aggressive language when communicating with teammates.
This leads into the League of Legends’s (and many other MOBAs’) term, “feeding.” The term “feeding” seems exclusive to MOBAs, leaving World of Warcraft and other RPGs safe from such words. The term is clearly defined to be used in a competitive team-based game. To “feed”, in the most basic sense, is to die repeatedly to the enemy team. This places the team with the “feeding” player at a disadvantage, because the more kills the enemy team gets, the stronger they become. In fact, when a player gets a lot of kills, they are considered “fed”. To die is to feed, to kill is to become fed. Nowhere is this stated in the game’s rules, this is something that players have made up and spread through communication to other players. One of the most common phrases said to a repeatedly dying player is “please stop feeding.” The funny aspect of that statement is that though it may sound at least a little bit polite, it is one of the cruelest insults in the game. To say that a player is “feeding” is inherently implying that they are so incompetent it is like they are dying on purpose. The verb “feed” itself is an action verb; it is a word that one must “do”. When a person is said to “feed” or is “feeding” another player, this makes it sound not like an accident, but like it was their intent to sabotage the game by purposely dying to the enemy team.
The word “fed” also works in an interesting way. This is because, in almost all cases witnessed by myself and my interviewees, a player on the enemy team is very rarely complimented. They are never simply a good player. They won because they got “fed”. By saying “the enemy champion *name* is fed,” a player is implying two things. Firstly, that his (the player’s) team or someone on his team is incompetent and losing the game. Someone on his team had to “feed” in order for the enemy to become “fed”. The second implication of this statement is that the enemy is as worthless as the players on his team. They are not good. They did not earn their kills. They were passively “fed” by the people on his team. They are only winning and doing well because people on his team are screwing up, and not because they are more skilled. No one wants to admit that the enemy team is better, so they blame their own teammates. This shows an interesting psychological dynamic of many people who play MOBAs like League of Legends. It demonstrates the human’s unwillingness to admit personal fault and the need to pass blame onto others, be it their own team or the opposing team.
The term “OP” is another “blame” word like feeding and fed, though it has existed long before MOBAs, likely since the dawn of online gaming itself. It is important to talk about this term because it is extremely well known and widely used in nearly every MMO where it is possible to use such a term, and everyone has learned it, like the term “feeding” from each other. “OP” stands for “Over-Powered” and has always been used to refer to a monster, a boss, an ability, or a player, as being designed by the game to be more powerful than everyone else even though the game is supposed to be balanced. In League of Legends, this term is thrown around more than frequently. In League of Legends, this term often describes different “champions” that players choose to play, usually champions that are difficult to play and are hard to play against. For example, in League, there is a champion that a player can choose to play called “Master Yi”. There are over 100 champions to choose from in LoL when playing the game, and anyone can choose to play Master Yi, like any of the champions. LoL is constantly being reworked to make sure that all of the champions are balanced with one another, and for the most part, they are. With the right skill, any champion can be played very well. However, in the case of Master Yi and others like him, when he is played against players of lower skill he is very hard to defeat, especially if he is played well. That is when the frustrated players will cry out into the chat box, “Master Yi OP!” This is very common when being defeated by a known “hard to play, harder to play against” champion. It is used like the words “feeding” and “fed” to pass along blame, to absolve the self from responsibility for poor game performance. Everyone knows that they could have chosen Master Yi, or any other so-called “OP” character, but rather than admitting fault in themselves, they blame the foundations of the game, the inherit flaws in the game’s balancing system, and even the opposing player for choosing an “easy-win” champion.
To avoid pointing too many fingers at the toxic behaviors that persist in MOBAs, it is important to remember that the term OP is in nearly every online game that there is. Just asking around the building I live in, people have heard this term used in World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo III, Call of Duty, and even in Smash Bros. Since the beginning of video gaming it seems, whether playing with friends or with strangers, no one wants to appear unskilled. They blame the game instead, and crying, “OP!” is the quickest way to say, “I lost, but it wasn’t really my fault.”
The language passed down from game to game can be aggressive, rude, demeaning, and blame-giving. It can also be beautiful and fun. The marvelously part of online gaming is that it is easy to play with friends, and groups of friends create their own culture when they get together. Though gamers are always part of the large community of the game they are playing, they also can become part of a smaller community; the community that is friendship! It may sound a bit cheesy, but what happens with the language that develops between friends is every bit as fascinating as what happens with language in large groups. For example, Krishna Ganim, Truman State University student and avid player of League of Legends, came up with the term “Jeff”. In LoL, there are creatures called “minions” that one can kill for experience and money. They also have the unfortunate habit of getting in the way, and can block a person’s “skill shot” (ability that requires aiming and skill, like shooting a gun or an arrow). Many who play League have experienced aiming their weapon at the enemy team only to have their well-timed shot unintentionally blocked by a minion. Krishna affectionately calls all minions who block skill shots “Jeff”. This was picked up by the group of people playing with Krishna, and the word Jeff has actually evolved. One can say “Damn it, Jeff!” or “Man, I got Jeffed!” when blocked by a minion. No one else in League of Legends says this. It is a special term invented by one person and used by a small group of people living on the fifth floor of Centennial Hall. People say it without thinking, and some do not even know that the word was invented by Krishna. Language and terminology evolves and spreads more quickly than imaginable.
What is amazing about this is after several over-the internet interviews with strangers, one person said that they too have a term for the annoying minion that gets in the way. He and his friends call those minions “the secret service”. This is something that is also not at all a widespread term, just something used between friends. Gaming allows folklore and culture to develop in small groups as well as large, and it is interesting to see how different people perceive different parts of League of Legends and come up with their own terminology to pass on.
MMO’s are a world rich and thriving with an ever-changing language and lore behind the language. Though the language can be cruel and degrading, it can also be positive and inspiring. Every word has its own story, and everyone learns the language from each other. No matter how mocking the words, it would still amazing if in one hundred years from now gamers are still begging each other to “please stop feeding,” whatever that may mean!
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