Understanding the "geek"
The way we communicate has dramatically changed through new technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones, etc., bringing the world to experience and often incorporating cultural aspects of globalization into their everyday life. With these new means of communication, micro-communities that had historically been segmented due to their inability to communicate found themselves thriving through migration from local to online. In this article, we will focus on one particular community: gamers. Historically speaking, gamers have always been the introverted, reclusive type – there was no romanticizing gaming as it was considered an activity for basement dwellers and geeks only – however, with this new ability to communicate in a fast manner from the comfort of your home, the gamer community evolved. No longer did gamers have to lug around 25 kilograms of PC to their friend's house to be able to play together, as they could finally do it from the comfort of their own home through the internet. With this development, gaming shifted from a usually local practice to a global arena. No longer could you be the best as your competition was now the world. The facilitation for connecting developed a strong community with a thirst for putting their skills to the test. This led to the creation of thousands of PvP (Player vs. Player) games where both teams and individuals could put their skills to the test.
Evolution of Gaming Communications
Competition in gaming has evolved to an unprecedented degree in the last fifteen years. While video games have a myriad of possible social interaction aspects which could be discussed, in this article we will focus on means of communication in teams within these communities. As in any other interaction in life, good team communication is essential to achieve peak performance. In a context where one word can make the difference between a victory and a loss, keeping your team well-informed will make all the difference. We will explore the impact of communication amongst gamers and analyze how the gaming community has evolved into a superdiverse social environment with more than one center, how communication amongst members increases cohesiveness through a newly acquired “technoscape”, and how gamers have super-vernacularized language to best fit their needs. We will use the game Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) as our medium for analysis, as this is one of the more popular online competitive first-person shooters (FPS) out there, where communication amongst the team is absolutely essential in a competitive environment.
Understanding the theory
As previously mentioned, this article will attempt to make sense of communication interactions between individuals through several theoretical frameworks, these being the concepts of the supervernacularization of language and the emergence of a technoscape. “Supervernaculars” is a term created by Jan Blommaert in his work Supervernaculars and their dialects (Blommaert, 2012) to describe changes or evolutions in language typically seen in technologically mediated communication. In a nutshell, supervernaculars are evolutions of previously created information tailored to communicate a specific idea with the least amount of effort. A good example of supervernaculars would be emojis and abbreviations such as “lol”, “brb”, “wtf”, etc. While we do not directly use the words for what these abbreviations mean, we understand them as they have become a common form of speech in the World Wide Web. Emojis work the same way, except in a more visual manner. Some of these supervernacularizations make complete sense - we understand the smiley face is happiness. We understand an angry face is sadness. However, we give meaning to different signs and symbols arbitrarily. Generally, supervernacularizations are used as they are abbreviated, quick, and easy to write. We will link this concept to supervernacular forms of speech directly related to the micro-hegemony that is CS:GO, primarily being game-related abbreviations for making sense of what is going on.
Furthermore, to understand the creation of the online gaming community we can recur to Arjun Appadurai's Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy (Appadurai, 1990) from where we draw the concept of technoscapes. A technoscape is best described as something that brings novel types of cultural exchanges and interactions through technological means, which can now occur at breakneck speed. In a globalized society where spatial boundaries no longer exist, there is a multiplicity of cultures, backgrounds, nationalities, genders, etc. in the gaming world. The interesting thing about gaming, however, is that these differences are less relevant to the player as when online, their own cultures and realities have little relevance to the competition. They are simply a gamer. We will use the concept of technoscapes to understand the homogenization of gamers as a community, and the unimportance of nationality in gaming.
Supervernacularization as "callouts"
In CS:GO, a good callout can be the difference between victory and defeat. Callouts are best described as “transcribed tactical verbal communications” (Tang et al., 2013) which operate within a real-time spatial and contextual frame which in this case are maps. There are hundreds of callouts for dozens of maps – each typically specific regarding location and action. A common callout is “upper”. “Upper”, in a normal context simply means the one above, yet for CS:GO players, upper stands for much more. Upper means that given that players are in the map “De_Dust2”, a member of or the entire opposing team is currently engaging your team from the upper quartile of the map, and that your attention should be refocused there. Another common supervernacular expression in CS:GO is “nade the site”. This instructs players in their own team to throw grenades towards the “site”, or bomb site, where one team can plant a bomb to assert victory without having to eliminate the entire enemy team. This interaction is circumstantial and spatial, as when said at any other position other than in close proximity to a bomb site, it would not really make sense. When said outside of the game, it wouldn't make sense at all.
Communication in competitive video games is very rarely used to socialize – the directives are mainly related to achieving tactical teamwork and seamless coordination. Most of the time, term supervernacularizations are directly related to both timeliness and spatial context. When a player makes a “callout”, he is rarely referring to only one player – while the instruction's target may be an individual, all people in the team must listen in and know their surroundings well, as your teammates' actions may have very important repercussions in the outcome of the game. Out of all interactions seen, the most prominent callouts tend to be about oneself, with 38.7 (Tang et al.) callouts per minute per team, and 43.5 (Tang et al., 2013) callouts per minute regarding something location specific. These callouts were never above eight words and were usually repeated multiple times to assert the claim more concretely, as well as elicit timely responses. With timing being crucial for seamlessness, communication in CS:GO has become more and more optimized as the player base grows more competitive. This specific phenomenon, as well as supervernaculars were born thanks to the emergence of technoscapes.
Gaming as a Technoscape
The vast amount of individuals from different nationalities whose first language is probably not English has made these callouts more “international-friendly” so that all players from all nationalities are able to understand directives with a minimum mastery of the language. Simplicity is the key in this technoscape, and the shorter, more easily understandable a callout is, the more it will stick in the community. This method of communication demonstrates an emergence of a global pattern of behavior for individuals in the gaming community. This generates an entirely new dynamic for cross-cultural interactions, where cultural dissonance is largely irrelevant due to the urgency of achieving victory.
Online competitive gaming, in a way, gravitates away from traditional constructs for interactions in a global scape by making the individual's political affiliations, language, culture, ideology, etc. irrelevant in the context one will interact with them. It creates a global cultural “script” revolving around a homogeneous goal that will provide either immediate satisfaction or immediate disdain. Global (gaming) culture, therefore, converges around a set of varying pre-established goals. All individuals in the party leave culture, ethnicity, and ideology aside as secondary to the creation of relationships in games. For team creations CS:GO players will be more concerned with whether you like to use fire or smoke grenades rather than if you are a supporter of the green party in your (completely irrelevant) country of origin. This created cultural script has changed (first) the writing style of people who play games and consequently the jargon and therefore the speech style of those in this community. It doesn't stop outside of videogames either – jargon from this particular community is used outside of the game as a valid method of communication – as it allows individuals of the gaming community to both invoke a common cultural script they have, as well as make sense of their surroundings through that particular set of supervernaculars. To give a few examples: “that was leet” stands for that was legit, an abbreviation of legitimate, in this case meaning “that was awesome”. “My mother texted me, but I was afk.” Meaning my mother texted me, but I was away from the keyboard. AFK is an expression a player uses when he/she has left their gaming station, but in this scenario, it means the user did not have his/her phone on them when their mother texted them.
In conclusion, gaming communities have developed from local to global in a couple of decades thanks to the availability of new interconnectivity technologies. The “globalization” of video games has also further allowed for the creation of cultural scripts and the supervernacularization of language designed to fit more specific scenarios. The use of jargon has facilitated seamlessness in team tactical play, has created a language through which gamers can communicate with the least amount of clutter, and strengthened communities where the only prerequisite to belong is to be skilled at what you do. This however comes as a double-edged sword. Competitiveness also makes the gaming community extremely critical and prone to exclude, as the personal aspects of the relationship created are completely overlooked/irrelevant.
As for the pros and cons of voice chat in online gaming, they tend to be evident. As pros, one does not waste time typing, which is one of the main reasons for failure for casual players who must communicate something to the team, yet do not employ the use of a headset. It creates a more seamless, less disjointed experience for all players and allows them to feel like a unit, making gaming satisfaction become closer to reality. The cons of communication in online gaming are also evident: some players prefer to not listen to all the chatter, (mainly in game modes where there are no teams), and the prevalence of inappropriate remarks when gaming outside a professional environment. These can often cause players severe stress and a feeling of impotence, making them stray from “toxic” gaming communities.
All in all, the ability to communicate and enjoy games with others has led to a variety of micro-hegemonies and technoscapes that continue developing based on the necessity of the players. Where traditional language has become less used, supervernacularization of language has proven to be necessary to increase efficiency and tactical superiority in competitive and non-competitive gaming environments. These two phenomena strongly intertwine as they both build each other up – technoscapes lead to the creation of online communities, where jargon and supervernacularization of language start to appear, which therefore creates different, hegemonic technoscapes which leads to new jargon fitting these new scapes and so on.
Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. Design: Critical and Primary Sources.
Blommaert, J. (2012). Supervernaculars and their dialects. John Benjamin Publishing.
Tang, A. Massey, J,. Wong, N., Reilly, D. & Edwards, W. (2012). Verbal coordination in first person shooter games. 579-582