Game jargon: When is a group not a group?

When is a group not a group? When it’s a party, fellowship, fleet, team, gang, etc.

New MMOs often flood players with a tsunami of jargon, using new words for old, familiar concepts as well as thinking up terms for new gameplay or lore which is specific to that game. It isn’t just the humble group that gets the makeover treatment, games use different terms to describe guilds (kinship, corp, legion, supergroup, society, etc), raids (warbands) and even different types of spell (mez, sleep, incapacitate, blind).

It can feel overwhelming when you jump into a new game. As well as the official jargon, players have probably adopted their own abbreviations and nicknames for different locations, instances, bosses, quests, items and each other. A general chat channel might as well be in a foreign language for the amount of sense it makes to a newbie – or at least an unfamiliar dialect. Learning the local slang is an important part of learning a new MMO and joining that game’s community. Many of the wackier pieces of jargon are purely emergent — the player base thought them up to represent something they wanted to talk about.

So why think up different names for groups and guilds in every game?

Names have power. By renaming a familiar entity, you can change how players perceive it. For example, in D&D the player who runs the game is known as the DM or Dungeon Master. Later RPGs renamed this role as Game Master (showing that a game wasn’t really centred about dungeons), Storyteller (White Wolf trying to focus their games on stories and storytelling), and … infamously … Hollyhock God (I think this was an attempt to make Nobilis even more way out than it is anyway). Most pen and paper games settled for some version of GM — after all, players knew what it meant and it did describe the role.

Guilds and groups don’t really fall into the same category though, because a guild in most games serves the same function. It really is just a case of swapping the name to something more immersive. And immersion is another reason to pick different names. Would it make as much sense to talk about a group in EVE as it does to talk about a fleet? Even if they are functionally the same? A fleet implies a group of ships, after all. Using the name reminds players of the setting and of what their ‘group interface’ represents.

LOTRO in particular really went hell for leather on renaming just about everything in game to be more Tolkienesque. As well as Fellowships (groups) and Kinships (guilds), they even reimagined character death as representing loss of morale. It made for a very immersive experience, even with the exotic and unfamiliar naming system. Even when the name is not particularly immersive, different words have different connotations to players. A ‘party’ just feels more fun than a ‘group’.

Then there is the issue of trademarks. If a company thinks up a lot of new jargon for a game, they can trademark it and prevent others from using it inappropriately. If you look through the list of registered trademarks for a company like White Wolf/ CCP, you’ll see that they have trademarked a lot of the game jargon for this reason.

Players are more amenable to some kinds of jargon than other. The different names for guilds have been enthusiastically embraced in games I have played. LOTRO players jumped immediately into ‘kinships’ and started happily referring to their ‘kinnies’ (instead of guildies). My friends who play Aion are chatting about their Legions. There was no confusion, no resistance, they were happy with the new name for a player organisation.

Groups on the other hand are usually referred to as groups. It may be different in space settings where the players represent ships, but my experience is that people have been more resistant to adopting different terms for a group. Perhaps the game jargon for groups was either awkward or didn’t add enough in the way of immersion to really catch on.

But still I wonder how upcoming MMOs will name their groups and guilds. I’m thinking that fleets will feature in Star Trek, but I wonder how Star Wars (yes you can sign up for beta now) will choose to portray guilds in that game. It’ll be a challenge to think of guild jargon that could apply equally to a player organisation for sith warriors or for a group of smugglers. Perhaps they’ll decide, in the end, that the easiest way is just to call a guild a guild.

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9 thoughts on “Game jargon: When is a group not a group?

  1. I think it does make a difference in Eve.

    A Fleet Commander is expected to have a sound tactical understanding of the game and I’ve never met or heard of one that doesn’t.

    A Corporation can tax its members and they accept it whereas I think most people would riot in WoW if the guild started taxing them.

    • I remember you could tax guild members in WAR also, now that you mention it.

      And there are WoW guilds which have a guild tax (just it isn’t an option in the interface) — but usually that’d be more businesslike raid guilds.

      Interesting point though.

  2. ST:O is going to have a hard time coming up with a good Guild replacement. Each race has different command structures, so what’s right for one race would be wrong for another. The only Federation Analogue I can think of would be the Corps of Engineers, so perhaps Corps would be the Federation Guilds and perhaps Houses for the Klingons.

  3. Well, from a historical perspective naming has never been standardized. Many of the old LP-MUDs I used to play had “guilds” which were combinations of classes and social organizations. All the “necromancers” had the same class abilities, a shared chat channel, etc. Some later skill-based games started using “guild” to mean just a social organization. Meridian 59 used the term “guild”.

    In LotRO’s case, I think calling a group/party a “fellowship” was a master stroke. Invokes the “Fellowship of the Ring” which helps get someone into the mood of the setting. Sure, grouping up to go kill goblins may not be as massive as throwing the Ring of Power into Mt. Doom, but it’s still a heroic reminder.

    The thing that trips me up about LotRO is “healing potions”. I use that generic term to mean potions that restore health (or morale in LotRO), but “healing” means removing wounds in the game. I think that’s where the jargon goes wrong: if you re-use a term to mean something different. I’d be like using the term “guild” in the medieval sense in a game. Better to just use a new name rather than trying to re-define an existing one.

    • This is probably the main source of the confusion. Guilds in real life and MUDs were fairly loose organizations, and re-purposing the name has diluted it’s meaning. Most likely, this dilution happened when an upstart emergent gameplay form known as raiding appeared in EverQuest, and the style of player interaction veered away from the designers’ intent. Then came WoW, which codified raiding and imported the terminology from EverQuest.

      • There is also the concept of player clans, the sorts of groups that grew from games like Quake and the like.

        It is true though that a lot of game terminology is still imported from EQ (I remember mezzes came from there too, and dings.)

  4. I wouldn’t be surprised if SWTOR borrows heavily from the SWG terminology and their “guilds” will be some variant of “Player Associations.”

    So long as they aren’t linkshells, I think they’ll be okay ;)

  5. Linkshells worked because a linkshell is the actual device you use to communicate with people, and they even used it for npcs like the weather reporters (who were all on one weather linkshell.) Unfortunately FFXI has a bad habit of not taking the lore and running with it.

    A linkshell makes a lot more sense than a guild to me, because guilds always were targeted in various games and history to specific professions. A shell is just a communication device so anyone could organize around it.

    This is actually where roleplaying becomes very, very useful, because instead of generic “guild” you can see yourself as a mercenary company, a city guard, a postal organization, a gang of thieves, or whatever the game allows. plus you don’t actually have to roleplay to give your organization a name.

  6. *squee*

    I just had to squee about the SWTOR beta signups.

    I like game jargon that gives flavors to different games… not that I mind WoW and it’s rather standard guild/party/raid, but I am kind of tickled by the idea of being a member of a Legion or a Kinship.

    Are there any games that use Houses? An IP like Dune or Song of Ice and Fire would make a great MMO IP… they could have Houses.

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