O Rly? Slang and Communication Development in the World of Warcraft Gaming Community

My thesis!  I passed by defense and am looking to have it peer reviewed. It looks like I’m going to have to tailor it to fit into a publication, so I figure that this version would be considered separate and different.  Enjoy!

O Rly? Slang and Communication Development in the World of Warcraft Gaming Community


The number of homes with computers almost tripled from 1993 to 2003, from 22.8 million to 61.8 million. In 2003, 54.7 million homes with computers were also online (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). Nearly 73% of American adults have access to the Internet (Madden, 2006), and 97% of children between 12 and 17 play video games, with 59% of them gaming with others online and offline (Lenhart, et al. 2008). In 2007, Americans bought more than 267.8 million video games, generating more than $9 billion in sales in the United States alone (Entertainment Software Association, 2007). Currently, the most profitable online game – World of Warcraft (WoW) – generates an estimated $100 million a month (10 million users paying a $13 a month subscription fee). More than 10 million users make this the most successful massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to date.

All communication in this community takes place through “computer-mediated communication” (CMC), a form of communication that occurs through any computer interface that acts as an intermediary between people. Using CMC, this MMORPG brings large groups of people together to enjoy a virtual fantasy world. Azeroth, WoW’s interactive, three-dimensional, fantasy world, allows people to team up with their friends to complete quests or combat an opposing faction. The players participate in lengthy game sessions that require the aid of their peers. Prolonged game play and frequent interaction with the same group of players results in an active Internet community. Many of these players form officially recognized, permanent group communes, known as guilds, to help each other with in-game activities. (See Appendix I for a more detailed account of WoW).

While WoW players use CMC within the game’s interactive fantasy world, most Americans use CMC everyday when they e-mail, instant message, text message, microblog on Twitter, use chat rooms and blog. WoW users constantly send each other different types of instant text messages through the game’s interface. Five types of messaging exist in WoW: players can communicate with other characters in proximity in the virtual game world; communicate directly to another player (called a “whisper” or “pst”); message all guild members at once; send a message to people in a private chat channel; or message other players in the same quest group (a temporary alliance of players to complete an objective). All of this communication takes place though a keyboard and a computer screen, resulting in interesting entomological developments. Electronic communication intermediation changes the way people use language, likely due to the tools used to transmit messages. Famed social psychologist Marshal McLuhan said the “medium is the message,” meaning that the medium used to a deliver a message affects the message’s outcome (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967).

Possible Social Consequences of CMC

Society could experience drastic shifts in language as people who grew up with CMC enter prevalent roles in society (Beck & Wade, 2006). By 2012, Millenials – people born between 1974 and 1994 who grew up in the early days of computers – will comprise the majority of the work force (NAS, 2006). In the same year, the gaming industry anticipates that yearly revenues will top $68 billion, as more gamers play video games online (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2008). More gamers online also means more people using CMC as they interact with others through their gaming consoles.

Other trends suggest that CMC use has already affected daily life. Sixty-four percent of adults have logged on to a computer from a mobile device at least once, and 51% of adults say it would be hard to give up their cell phone, up from 31% in 2003 (Horrigan, 2008). American teenagers already use CMC as their primary method of communication; 84% use instant messenger (IM), text message, e-mail or post comments on social networking sites (Lenhart, Arafeh, Smith & Macgill, 2008). In less than a decade, this age group, a group that does not know a time without computers, will enter the work force, bringing along its CMC habits and new ideas for communication (Beck & Wade, 2006).

Despite the prevalence of CMC, little research investigates the uses of slang language in CMC. A mixture of abbreviations, acronyms, video game and technical jargon, emoticons, and words to describe things that do not exist outside the virtual world, language usage in CMC, slang included, differs from other types of communication because of its unique blend of language, input devices and the method by which messages are displayed (Taglimonte & Denis, 2008). As the research indicates, CMC will eventually permeate all aspects of society. Since parts of the population have yet to adapt to CMC use, studying a community that communicates entirely through CMC could shed light on the reasons behind the creation and benefits for CMC slang. Applying findings to other communities, both virtual and real world, could help to predict the future of communication.

Online gamers are an excellent source for studying the use of slang language in CMC. These people communicate almost entirely through a computer interface and many gamer communities have developed their own vocabulary and idiomatic expressions (Crystal, 2001). This study examines the use of slang in the WoW community, the largest online game to date, and hopes the findings supply future avenues of research.

Literature Review

Online communities, including groups of gamers, have developed slang as a method to converse with each other in a CMC environment. Slang terms start in a community of like-minded individuals with similar interests (Alim, 2002; Child & Mallinson, 2006). The WoW community has formed around the interaction of the group members in a CMC environment, and the community’s slang has resulted from the technology used to communicate (Crystal, 2001). The proceeding literature review discusses the link between slang development in the gaming community and CMC influence on gaming language.

The Gaming Community

Online video games bring like-minded people with common experiences and interests together to form communities. Studies have shown that online gaming attracts people for social reasons such as friends and family, competition, or teamwork.

In a study looking at social interaction through media, Jansz and Martens (2005) surveyed 176 gamers at a highly attended, annual multiplayer computer game party held in Europe to learn the reasons attendees participated in the event. The results showed that gamers came together for camaraderie, competition, and to form a game centered community.

A similar study conducted by Williams et al. (2006) investigated reasons WoW players grouped into guilds. The researchers developed tracking software to monitor players. Every time a player logged on, the program recorded if the player grouped with other players or played by him or herself. After gathering data on the gamers, the researchers conducted ethnographic interviews and discovered that many guilds formed for social reasons. Guilds frequently consisted of friends from real life, coworkers, family, or friends met while playing WoW. Williams et al. concluded people generally played the game to interact with their friends in a convenient and fun sociable setting.

Mortensen (2006) tried to determine what made WoW popular with gamers. Through participant observation, interviews, and surveys, Mortensen compared WoW to simpler, text-only, role-playing games known as multi-user dungeons (MUDs). After interviewing WoW players and people who participated in MUDs, the researcher found gamers came together to accomplish tasks and tackle obstacles that they could not do alone. Theses obstacles required teamwork and an understanding of the game. The need for social cohesion resulted in an organization of guilds and a gaming community.

In the same vein, Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, and Moore (2006) used a computer program to track WoW players’ grouping habits. The authors found that WoW players spent most of their time in a group with other people, and the number of players in a group increased from five to 40 when players’ characters reached the most advanced game content; level 60 characters at the time of the study. The game became more socially intense, meaning more people played together as larger groups, as players reached higher levels of game play. Ducheneaut et al. concluded that the more time people spent in the game, the more likely they were to form friendships with other players.

Examining another popular computer game, Pena and Hancock (2006) compared experienced to inexperienced gamers. Over a two-week period, the authors recorded and coded 5,826 text messages sent between 65 gamers playing Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. The researchers also monitored gamers’ activity, categorizing the players by experience, based on time spent playing the game during that two-week period. Pena and Hancock concluded that more experienced players interacted with the regular players as if they were long-time friends and acted as ambassadors of good will to players new to Jedi Knight II. These actions created a gaming community through positive actions and feedback.

In the studies above, researchers found that people are attracted to online gaming for social reasons such as interaction with friends and family, competition, and teamwork. Because of this migration to online gaming, people on the Internet formed a community that shares similar virtual experiences.

Slang in Communities

Slang terms and community development parallel each other. Slang terms developed in communities help express ideas, actions, similar experiences not typically found in a dictionary. Slang can also speed the delivery of a message or thought.

Slang language develops in communities for various reasons. Childs and Mallinson (2006) analyzed the slang of Texana, North Carolina through a field study and interviews with several teenagers from the Texana community. Fieldworkers asked the teenagers how they learned slang and the context in which they used it. Childs and Mallinson concluded the teenagers used slang in everyday speech to fit in with the community they were a part of and were trying to represent.

Alim (2002) also explored slang in communities. He asked what social forces encouraged hip-hop artists to use slang. Alim coded interviews with, and albums by two major hip-hop artists, DMX and Eve, to determine these social forces. Alim concluded hip-hop artists use slang as a way to identify with their target audience, the communities in which they grew up.

Parsons, Kinsman, Bosk, Sankar, and Ubel (2001) investigated slang in a hospital community. Parsons et al. interviewed 33 hospital interns about the slang used by their co-workers and the acceptability of the slang in a hospital setting and outside of it. The authors found that most interns did not find the slang acceptable outside of the hospital, but used slang to explain a situation quickly to coworkers.

Cooper (2001) also studied slang acceptance. He randomly distributed 150 questionnaires in several public places, from grocery stores to college classrooms, to ask respondents in which situations certain slang terms would be acceptable. The author found that slang terms, such as “this situation sucks” and “what a hunk,” were acceptable in certain situations and were indicative of a person’s upbringing and community relations. Cooper concluded that there were socially appropriate moments when one might use slang to fit in with a peer community.

In an analysis of slang and pun development, Lillo (2008) discussed the introduction of new meanings for words and phrases into the English language. He suggested that additions to the English lexicon come from events in society and give insight into broader changes to society. In 2007, a Reuter’s story reported that Merriam-Webster recognized the term “w00t,” Internet slang for a happy shout, as an official dictionary entry (Szep, 2007). According to Lillo, this addition of CMC slang to the English language suggests society may be adapting to CMC.

Further discussing the development of slang in society, Crystal (2001) noted that larger communities fragment into smaller groups, each with its own slang. These groups not only recognize widely used slang terms within their social strata, but also create additional terms specific to their immediate peer group. This is an important point to consider when one examines the WoW community, which is broadly divided into two opposing factions, the Alliance and the Horde. Game play servers further divide the WoW population. Approximately 100 game play servers exist, each with little to no interaction with other WoW servers, possibly giving the players a “server dialect.” Additionally, Crystal found:

. . . clear signs of the emergence of a distinctive variety of language, with characteristics closely related to the properties of its technological context as well as its intentions, activities and personalities of the users. … Many new technologies are anticipated, which will integrate the Internet with other communication situations, and these will provide the matrix which further language will develop. (p. 255)

Crystal also posited that CMC’s lack of a central authority to police language has resulted in the slang used on the Internet today. Without some authority enforcing standard conventions for grammar, spelling and sentence structure, Internet users have developed their own variation of the English language. A style guide for WoW slang does not exist and any player could potentially create a new term that becomes common in WoW vernacular.

Slang develops in communities to help express ideas, actions, similar experiences or things not typically found in a dictionary, and to deliver messages faster. Having slang as a common identifier helps a person fit in with his or her community, but segments within communities may develop additional slang terms exclusive to that segment of the community. Slang can also help deliver a message quickly to another person, particularly in the CMC environment of online gaming.

Computer Mediated Communication

Studies show CMC has affected many aspects of society. As a result, new forms of interaction, language, and socializing have developed. These shifts toward CMC use in daily life provide a multitude of unexpected and new uses for digital communication. People, the younger generations in particular, feel comfortable using a digital device as a proxy for conversation (Beck & Wade, 2006). Many common tasks have changed through the daily use of CMC.

Taglimonte and Denis’ (2008) study comparing IM language to spoken conversations coded more than a million words of IM conservation and transcribed an unspecified number of recorded conversations. Between 2004 and 2006, the authors recorded audio and IM text from Canadian teenagers between the ages of 15 and 20 and found that they used a wide variety of synonyms in IM conversations, but rarely varied words in spoken conversation. Patterns and usage varied a great deal, much of it being inconsistent with current grammar and language rules. Taglimonte and Denis concluded that language usage in a CMC environment evolved into something different from both writing and speaking.

CMC affects more than just language use. Simon (2006) experimented with 160 students to determine if CMC affected length of time necessary to relay a message. Students completed three tasks by communicating to another student using face-to-face communication, video conferencing or instant messaging. Participants described an issue presented to them while the researchers timed each activity. Simon found that students needed more time to describe an issue through instant messaging than through either video conferencing or face-to-face interaction. Text-based communication made interactions much longer than other communication methods.

Stone and Posey (2008) also studied the amount of time needed to deliver a message through CMC. The authors randomly assigned 144 subjects to 48 groups that interacted face-to-face or through instant messages. The groups tried to complete an assignment within a time limit. The researchers video-recorded the face-to-face groups and logged all the CMC conversations, then compared the two. Findings indicated that CMC groups often did not complete their tasks before the time expired, taking longer in the decision making process. Stone and Posey concluded verbal communication was faster than CMC because of the time necessary to type out messages, even when subjects used abbreviations. In addition, CMC users missed the non-verbal communication of face-to-face encounters.

Green, Hilkien, Friedman, Grossman, Gasiewski, Adler et al. (2005) also investigated interaction via CMC. The authors compared face-to-face interactions to conversations held on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to determine differences. The researchers randomly assigned 40 college students to one condition or the other, and instructed them to talk to a researcher disguised as a peer and trained to respond the same way for every encounter. Green et al. found that students preferred interacting with strangers via AIM because it relieved much of the tension and awkwardness of lengthy interactions with strangers; students used CMC to overcome their social phobias.

Research shows that slang develops inside a community and a community that uses CMC as its primary method of interaction may be able to develop slang using CMC. As CMC becomes more common, communication itself may change. Before CMC, most people would talk and meet in physical places. With CMC, people can interact without needing to be physically present. This has allowed new communities to form in the digital world, each with its own language.

Slang terms and community development parallel each other (Crystal, 2001). Slang terms require people who have the similar experiences and share enough interaction to solidify definitions with their peers. Slang use also helps people identify other community members.

Members of the WoW community use their slang to describe complex tactics, emotions and thoughts through the in-game chat channels. Given the size of the WoW online community, its members offer a rich opportunity to study the development and use of computer-mediated slang. Therefore, I propose the following research questions:

RQ1: How and why does slang develop in WoW?

RQ2: How do members of the WoW slang community benefit from the use of computer-mediated slang in WoW?

RQ3: To what degree do WoW community members use this computer-mediated slang outside their online community?


While some research explored the development of slang in CMC, no study has specifically examined the large community of online gamers who play WoW. In cases like this, Judd, Smith, & Kidder (1991) recommend conducting a survey to capture information from a population not previously studied. Surveys also capture the opinion and feelings of the group at the time of the study (Babbie, 2004). To collect survey data, I used Survey Monkey, an Internet survey site. For other populations, an Internet-only survey would exclude the section of the population without Internet access. Since WoW players must be online to play the game, a web survey did not exclude any part of the population and would be a familiar medium.


I used my social network to share the web survey. I posted a link to the online survey on two WoW community sites, forums.worldofwarcraft.com, the official game bulletin boards, and coteriesodalis.com, a WoW guild Web site. Additionally, I e-mailed the survey to 30 friends, asking these people to take the survey or pass it along to their WoW playing acquaintances. My final sample contained 301 respondents.

Online Survey

The questionnaire itself contained 25 questions, both multiple-choice and open-ended, that asked participants about their game play habits and language use when playing WoW. (See Appendix III for questionnaire) I administered the survey through Survey Monkey. This tool automatically summarized the results of the multiple-choice questions and provided a list of the open-ended responses for each question. The survey was available for 11 days, from August 9, 2008, to August 20, 2008. To ensure eligibility all respondents had to agree to the electronic informed consent terms before they could access the questionnaire. In addition, respondents were screened to ensure that they played WoW and were 18 years old or older. Of the 398 people who were directed to the survey site, only 301 of them met eligibility requirements and completed the questionnaire.

I reviewed each open-ended response twice before parsing the results into appropriate categories based on answers. Survey Monkey also allowed me to analyze the sample by individual responses, giving me the ability to compare people with similar characteristics and responses to the rest of the sample. For example, I was able to compare variables by age groups and people with or without level 70 characters.

Methodological Limitations

The survey method has several methodological limitations. Questionnaires, especially multiple-choice questions, frequently force respondents to choose a predefined answer that may not accurately represent their true feelings on the matter (Babbie, 2004). Certain answer choices may be overlooked because the researcher supplies predetermined categories of answers. Similarly, questions asked by the researcher may not elicit the intended response. Respondents may interpret questions in a manner unintended by the researcher (Babbie). Finally, certain characteristics make a person more likely to volunteer for a survey than others. This could also bias responses in favor of those more willing to volunteer (Babbie).


This study sought to explore the development, use and benefits of slang in the WoW community. Below I first discuss important findings from the survey, and then explicitly answer the research questions posed at the end of the literature review.

Sample Demographics

A total of 301 eligible respondents completed the questionnaire. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were between the ages of 18 and 25 and nearly all were younger than 45 (see Table 1). Three-fourths of respondents (75%) were male. Responses came from 108 different game servers, with a plurality (43%) from the Zul’jin game server. As Crystal (2001) stated, smaller groups within communities form different slang. Each WoW server is isolated from the others and may have slightly different slang terms. Since most of the responses came from the Zul’jin game server, results could be skewed in favor of slang on that server.

Table 1

Respondents Age


Percentage and number of sample



60% (175)


27% (86)


10% (33)


1% (4)

Over 55


Results do not equal 100% because of rounding.

Player Character Choices

Almost all respondents played WoW for more than a year (95%), and 86% had more than one character in the game. Only 7% of respondents did not have a level 70 character. This gives an indication of time the respondents have spent in the game. It generally takes 10 to 15 days (200 to 360 hours) of game playtime to get a single character to level 70, meaning these people had ample WoW experience and exposure to the game’s slang.

Of the two factions in the game, 53% of respondents played on the Alliance faction, 41% played on the Horde faction, and 6% spent equal time playing as the Horde and Alliance. Crystal (2001) posited that groups within a community could form mutually exclusive slang. Each faction has its own cities and heroes, which results in slight differences in slang. Since more responses came from Alliance players, the results could have an Alliance bias.

Knowledge and Use of Slang

The majority of respondents (91%) reported using slang when playing WoW. More than two thirds (68%) of respondents reported that they learned the game’s slang in less than a month and nearly all respondents (96%) learned it within their first three months of playing WoW.

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they picked up on the meaning of WoW slang terms through contextual clues, 8% asked a friend when they did not understand a term, 6% asked the person who used the term for the definition, and 4% learned the slang terms from playing other games. Although the vast majority of respondents (71%) thought it was possible to reach level 70 without knowing WoW slang, 82% thought it was highly unlikely. Most of the respondents reported that players pick up the slang in the chat channels and cannot avoid the slang because of its frequent use. One respondent noted, “You are subjected to them [the terms] in text channels throughout the game. You would have to avoid all major cities in game, which is impossible due to the NPC (non-player controlled) characters, from which you learn spells as you level up, are in the major cities.” Another reported, “It’s possible to reach 70 without interacting with another player, though I’m not sure why you’d want to do that in an MMORPG.” Nearly all respondents (97%) indicated that they would be willing to teach slang to WoW users who did not know a term, saying in the open-ended responses that “everyone’s new once” or “I’ll teach them if they ask nicely.”

When asked to define eight WoW slang terms, all of the respondents could correctly define at least one, while nearly all (86%) could define at least seven terms (see Table 2). In addition, when asked to list three additional slang terms, all respondents listed one, and 94% listed three. However, one slang term SW, which stands for the Alliance city Stormwind, was correctly identified by 83% of the Alliance players, but only 68% of Horde players, indicating the possibility of faction-specific slang. The rest of the terms in the survey were faction neutral.

Of the eight terms, all Horde players correctly identified two terms (LF2M and Alt), whereas all Alliance players could only identify one term (Alt). Respondents who played both Alliance and Horde factions could correctly identify five of the eight terms. These findings indicate that players with characters in both factions had a better understanding of slang than players that only played on one faction.

Players without level 70 characters had a harder time identifying the eight terms presented in the questionnaire than players with a level 70 character. All players without a level 70 character could identify one term correctly, but far fewer could identify as many as the level 70 players (see Table 2). People who had not reached level 70 had not spent as much time in game, and did not know some of the terms associated with higher character levels. For example, MgT stands for Magister’s Terrace, an area of the game that only level 70 characters can enter. Only 40% of respondents without a level 70 character correctly identified this term, while 91% of people with a level 70 character knew the term. The more experience in the game, the more slang terms players could recognize.

In addition, respondents identified some slang terms as having more than one meaning. Eighty-four percent of respondents identified the term “BOP” as only bind on pickup, 7% people identified the term as only blessing of protection, 8% respondents identified BOP as both terms. One respondent noted that BOP can mean “Bind on Pickup or Blessing of Protection (depending on context).” Seventy-one percent of respondents said they learned WoW slang through context, so it seems that context helps players to determine the intended meaning of the slang term used.

Table 2

WoW slang terms correctly identified (See Appendix II for term definitions)


Total respondents recognizing the term


Respondents with a level 70 character recognizing the term


Respondents without a level 70 character recognizing the term


Horde players recognizing the term


Alliance players recognizing the term


Respondents playing both Alliance and Horde


the term


Respondents with less than 1 month of play time recognizing the term


Respondents with 1 to 3 months of play time recognizing the term


Respondents with 3 to 12 months of play time recognizing the term


Respondents with more than 1 year play time recognizing the term



77% (232)

81% (214)

82% (18)

68% (85)

83% (132)

88% (15)

100% (1)

100% (2)

92% (12)

76% (216)


86% (261)

91% (254)

40% (7)


86% (137)

82% (14)

100% (1)

0% (0)


89% (254)


99% (297)

100% (279)

82% (18)

99% (124)

98% (156)

100% (17)

100% (1)

100% (2)

77% (10)

100% (284)


98% (295)

97% (278)

77% (17)

99% (124)

97% (154)

100% (17)

100% (1)

50% (1)

69% (9)

100% (284)


97% (291)

99% (277)

64% (14)

98% (122)

96% (152)

100% (17)

100% (1)

50% (1)

62% (8)

99% (281)


98% (296)

99% (277)

86% (19)

100% (125)

97% (154)

100% (17)

100% (1)

100% (2)

69% (9)

100% (284)


100% (301)

100% (279)

100% (22)

100% (125)

100% (159)

100% (17)

100% (1)

100% (2)

100% (13)

100% (285)


99% (297)

99% (276)

96% (21)

98% (122)

99% (158)

100% (17)

100% (1)

100% (2)

92% (12)

99% (282)

Out of 100% for each term. One hundred percent means all respondents in the category recognized the term.

Development of Slang and Benefits

When asked in an open-ended question why they used slang in WoW, 96% of respondents cited the need to deliver a message quickly. One respondent noted that the slang “actually makes it easier to get the gist of a statement quickly. I know what I’m looking for and a quick glance…[the slang] will let me know if it’s there or not.” Slang not only sped up delivery of the message, but respondents could read the message faster. Respondents indicated that the action in the game required their attention, and that removing their hands from the keyboard for more than a few seconds could result in their character’s death or the death of one of their friends’ characters. As one respondent noted, “Being able to type something any amount of seconds quicker than the full word could save your life in a bad situation.” Respondents also noted that shorter slang phrases required less space on the screen.

Previous findings suggested that slang developed in communities as a way to identify with other community members, but in the open-ended responses only 6% of survey respondents’ comments agreed (Alim, 2002; Childs & Mallinson, 2006; Cooper, 2001). One respondent said WoW slang “was part of the WoW culture” or “makes the game feel more like a game.” This group of respondents stated that WoW slang helped them separate the game from reality. This differentiation made the game more enjoyable for these people.

Using Slang Outside the WoW Community

Nearly half (46%) of the respondents indicated they had used WoW slang out of the game’s context. Almost half (47%) of respondents between 18 and 35 used slang outside of videogames, compared to a third (33%) of respondents over 35 (see Table 3). This indicates that respondents’ age affected their slang usage outside of the game. Respondents younger than 35 were 1.5 times as likely to use a WoW term outside of the game.

Fourteen percent of the responses indicated that they used the slang in a jocular manner with friends outside the game. A small number of respondents (5%) indicated that some confusion from non-players when they used WoW slang. One respondent stated, “I’ve used ‘IMO’ [in my opinion] with my mom before. She was really confused.”

Table 3

WoW Slang used Outside the Community

Age Group


n= 175



Over 35




Slang usage outside of WoW

47% (78)

48% (41)

33% (14)

46% (137)

Additional Findings

Interestingly, 68% of respondents preferred to use voice chat

(talking to other players through a computer microphone) to typed messages, and 53% used voice chat more often than sending text messages to other players. All respondents who used voice chat said it was faster to give verbal commands than to type out instructions. In the open-ended responses, 4% of respondents indicated that they preferred to use voice chat only when playing with friends; they preferred text chat when playing with strangers. Eleven percent of respondents reported that they did not like voice chat for reasons relating to self-esteem noting, “[I] Don’t like talking much,” “I feel more comfortable typing to others,” or “I’m too shy to talk much.”

Only 3% of those surveyed disliked WoW slang. The general sentiment among these respondents was “abbreviations tend to dumb down the community as a whole.” One respondent noted, “It gets irritating seeing people use terms you have no clue what they mean. It forces you down to there [sic] level of mentality and that gets very low.” It is interesting that these respondents would continue to play the game when they dislike its most commonly used form of communication, especially considering the finding that 82% of respondents reported that WoW slang was unavoidable.

Answering the Study’s Research Questions

RQ1: How and why slang may develop. WoW slang likely developed to deliver a message quickly in a CMC environment. Almost all (96%) of respondents indicated that slang developed in WoW to deliver a typed message quickly. This finding agreed with Parsons et al’s (2001) study that slang developed to speed up conversation through terms that represented an otherwise verbose explanation. Respondents noted that WoW slang developed so that fewer keystrokes were necessary to convey a typed message in a computer-mediated environment. From a pragmatic standpoint, slang in the text-based CMC environment developed to save time typing, allowing players to concentrate more on the game and spend less time sending and reading messages

RQ2: Possible benefits of WoW slang. Research indicated that speed of message delivery benefited the players. Findings indicated that message delivery speed was the most obvious benefit to slang usage among those who use text or voice chat. This supports previous linguistic research indicating that slang develops to help communicate a message quickly (e.g. Parsons et al., 2001). Something I did not find in other research was the possibility that players created slang in this computer-mediated environment because they were required to use a keyboard to send a message. The results showed that 96% players wanted to spend as little time typing as possible.

Previous studies showed that communication through CMC took longer than verbal communication (Simon, 2006; Stone & Posey, 2008). Yet, despite the fact that nearly all (96%) respondents cited speed as the primary reason for using slang in CMC, only 68% preferred the recognizably faster voice chat and even fewer (53%) people used voice chat regularly.

There could be other social factors for this contradiction. According to Green, et al. (2005), CMC took the anxiety out of talking to strangers. In an open-response question, 11% of respondents stated they were uncomfortable with speaking to others in WoW and preferred to send type messages. Future studies would help to clarify the reasons for CMC preference over speed of message delivery.

RQ3: Slang use outside the WoW community. Almost half (46%) of respondents used WoW slang outside of the game. This number was slightly higher for the 18 to 35 age group (48%), and much lower for respondents over 35 (33%). This lends supports to Beck and Wade’s (2006) findings that younger generations have adapted to a different type of communication, and it points to a correlation between age and the adoption of instant messenger use and slang. My study indicates that, generally, the older a person gets, the less likely he or she is likely to use slang outside of the game. In future studies, a larger sample of people over 35 would provide more accurate results.


Speed and Slang

It seems that slang used in WoW’s CMC environment was the result of the electronic medium and the devices used to input the message. Almost all (96%) of respondents used slang because it took less time to type out. Respondents indicated that typing large phrases would take a lot of time, fill much of the screen with text and, if not read quickly, would disappear when the next message was received. The slang created by the WoW community accounted for these things

Many mobile devices can only display a limited number of characters on the screen. Creating messages that fit on the screen is essential if a user wants to deliver a message. CMC services such as text messaging and the Web site Twitter limit messages to 140 characters, which might encourage the use of abbreviations and slang. The growing popularity of these devices and may begin to affect written language, as more and more busy people use them. At the end of 2007, for the first time ever, mobile phone users sent more text messages than they made phone calls (Mindlin, 2008). It will be interesting to see how this will affect communication in the future. The slang terms identified in this study could be the archetype for future digital communiqués. The possibility exists that language will change so radically that it will be unrecognizable by today’s people. Of course, another type of communication may supplant CMC.

Preference for CMC

Although studies showed that verbal communication was faster and 96% of respondents stated they used slang in CMC because it was faster than typing out an entire message, 47% of WoW players did not regularly use voice chat (Simon, 2006; Stone & Posey, 2008). This suggests that WoW players consider more than just speed when trying to deliver a message.

It could be that people enjoy the anonymous nature of the Internet and use the game to escape the real world or that some people find that voice chat disturbs their virtual escape. Maybe people want to interact with others on a minimal level, and voice chat requires too much intimacy. Some players (11%) indicated they lacked the self-esteem needed to speak in front of large groups. Other players simply did not want to hear other people while playing the game. Six percent of respondents stated that slang helped them distinguish the virtual world and real life. Future research would help clarify the matter.

This study highlights the possibility that some people would prefer introductions via CMC before meeting face-to-face. The 11% of respondents with self-esteem issues could use CMC to relieve anxiety of real world encounters by establishing a common ground and creating future conversation topics. Thirty-two percent of respondents preferred to use text chat, and 4% self-reported they did not voice chat with strangers. It would be interesting to see if people become comfortable enough to use voice chat with people they met on WoW after playing together for a certain period.

Habit could be another explanation for people who prefer using text in CMC. Gamers may be comfortable communicating with keyboards and uncomfortable switching to a new method. Until recently, computers and Internet connection speeds limited players to text communication. People who have been playing the game longer most likely do no have the newer technology that allows for voice chat, and may not feel compelled to switch to the new technology.

Slang Use Outside of WoW

This study’s findings show that people under the age of 35 also tend to use WoW slang outside of the game more than older gamers. This could be for a variety of reasons. The younger social group could be more accepting of video game slang than the older, or it could be that the younger group grew up with video games and the older age groups did not. It could also be that more people under 35 play WoW, making it easier for these people to find someone familiar with video game culture. Beck and Wade (2006) found that video game playing was much more common with people under 35. Whatever the cause, it seems there is a significant decrease in slang usage in the 36-45 age group.

Lillo’s (2008) discussion of culture shifts manifesting as changes in language could prove true with additional studies. Young people today use computers more and, according to those surveyed, are more likely to use WoW slang outside of the game. If this is an indication of what may possibly happen in the future, Internet slang may start appearing in the mainstream more often as today’s youth mature into the generation that has the most social influence.

The possibility that CMC slang will cross into other forms of communication exists in the WoW community. The recently added voice chat option allows players to speak to one another, eliminating the need for typed messages. The origins of WoW slang were text based, so one could imagine these slang terms being spoken aloud after players used these terms at length in CMC. Previous languages started orally and moved to the written word, whereas WoW language started as text and now has potential to move to voice. Future research on written text becoming a spoken language would be in interesting etymological study.

Study Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research

Originally, I sought to obtain a random sample that would be statistically significant and representative of the entire WoW population. I requested a list of the 10 million players from Blizzard, the creator of the WoW game, but the company would not release user information or player data. Without being able to obtain the entire list of WoW players from Blizzard, I could not create a random sample from the population. Instead of a random sample, I used a volunteer sample.

In addition, using my contacts to distribute the questionnaire and recruit respondents could have created a homogenous sample because the possibility exists that I only know people in one small subgroup of the WoW population or the sample does not include all the subgroups that might exits in the WoW community. Crystal (2001) noted that sub-communities with their own unique slang language might develop within a larger group. If several WoW sub-communities developed their own slang and the questionnaire did not reach them, this study’s responses may not accurately portray language use in the larger population of WoW players; they may provide a portrait only of the WoW players with connections to me.

The questionnaire had its limits as well. It did not ask respondents to identify any Horde-specific slang terms. A comparison of Horde and Alliance players’ use of the terms would provide more representative findings concerning bias faction slang knowledge.

In the future, a study that analyzes WoW players’ preference for using voice chat with strangers would be quite helpful in determining the place of voice communication with in the WoW community, and potentially other gaming communities. Only 4% of the respondents in this study reported that they preferred to use voice chat with friends. A question that directly asked people their communication preference, voice or text, with a group a strangers would be illuminating.

Finally, this study reports findings from WoW community members from a particular snapshot of time. Gamers will likely move on to another game in the next few years. Regardless of the game, future studies on the Internet-based slang permeation and CMC use will tell if any discernable change in language has occurred.

Appendix 1

World of Warcraft

WoW is a MMORPG, an interactive fantasy computer game played online. Azeroth, the built-to-scale game world, takes approximately an hour to cross on foot and contains dozens of towns and cities, each with unique characters and architecture. The game’s fantasy elements show the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and general mythology. The game’s story line revolves around two warring factions, each with its heroes and villains.

These two factions, the horde and the alliance, cannot communicate directly with each other in the game. Any attempt at communication with the other faction shows up as gibberish on the screen of the opposition. Each faction has several large cities and typically controls several geographic areas of the in-game world. This occasionally leads to faction conflicts resulting in player-versus-player (PVP) battles.

When a person first logs in, he or she chooses from nine character classes before customizing the character’s look. Each character class has unique abilities and the different classes compliment each other. Some classes restore health lost in combat, others specialize in melee damage and others cast spells from a distance.

At the time of writing this, the highest character level was 70. To increase a character’s level, players must complete quests, explore the world, or fight creatures. These actions earn the player experience points. Once a character has enough experience points, he or she reaches the next level. It takes approximately 10 to 15 days of playtime to get a character to level 70. As players increase their character levels, they gain survivability, new skills, and better equipment as they explore the world. Weapons and armor also add additional attributes to characters making the characters stronger and killing enemies easier.

Appendix II

Slang term definitions

Slang Term





Magister’s Terrace


Bind on pickup or Blessing of protection


To steal an item from another player


Pick up group


Looking for two more


Alternate character


Real life

Appendix III

The Questionnaire

· Thank you for your willingness to participate in this study. I am conducting this research for my Master’s thesis from Johns Hopkins University. The purpose of this research study is to determine the reasons and uses for slang terms in World of Warcraft.

· There are no risks involved with your completion of this survey. Your participation is voluntary and may be terminated at any time by simply exiting the survey or closing your browser window. Your responses to these questions are completely anonymous; the researchers are not collecting any identifying or personal information and will not be able to identify participants based on their responses. Before completing this questionnaire, please read and complete the informed consent form.


1.) Do you play World of Warcraft?

a. Yes

b. No

2.) How old are you?

· Under 18

· 18-25

· 26-35

· 36-45

· 46-55

· Over 55

3.) Tell me a little about yourself:


a. Male

b. Female

4.) Approximately how many months have you been playing World of Warcraft?

a. 1 month or less

b. More than 2 months, but less than 3 months

c. More than 3 months, but less than 1 year

d. More than 1 year

5.) How many World of Warcraft characters do you have?

· 1

· 2

· 3

· 4

· 5

· More than 5

6.) How many level 70 World of Warcraft characters do you have?

· 1

· 2

· 3

· 4

· 5

· More than 5

7.) What gender are your characters?

1. Male

2. Female

3. I have both male and female characters

8.) What faction do you spend the most time with?

1. Horde

2. Alliance

9.) Please define as many of the following as you can (without looking them up):


10.) If you are familiar with the above terms, how did you learn their meaning?

· Picked up on their meaning based on contextual clues

· Asked a friend or guild member

· Asked the person that used a term you did not understand

· From other games

· Other ______________________

11.) Please list and define three other slang terms you have used in World of Warcraft:

1. Term 1___________________

2. Term 2___________________

3. Term 3___________________

12.) Have you used similar abbreviations to those listed in question 8 in WoW? Why?

1. Yes

2. No

3. If yes, why? _________________________________________________

13.) Do you believe slang helps your game play?

1. Yes

2. No

3. Why? ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________________________

14.) Did you learn this slang early in your game play, or as your progressed through the levels?

15.) Do you believe it is possible to reach level 70 without knowing these terms?

16.) What other benefits to the slang do you see?

17.) How do you feel about WoW gamers that do not understand the slang terms? Are you willing to teach them?

18.) Do you prefer to play in groups or by yourself?

1. I prefer to play by myself.

2. I prefer to play in a group.

19.) Do you feel that groups are a necessary part of the game?

1. Yes, groups are a necessary part of the game

2. No, groups are not a necessary part of the game.

20.) Do you feel that knowledge of WoW slang speeds up your level progression?

21.) Have you used any World of Warcraft terms (ones listed above or otherwise) in a

context outside of WoW (i.e. with your mom, or a friend that does not play


· No, I only use these terms online with other WoW members.

· Yes, I have used a World of Warcraft term while talking to someone that does not play WoW (Please describe the situation and list the terms you used) ______________________________________________________

22.) When grouped with other players, which do you use most often:

· Voice chat (such as Ventrillo, WoW voice chat, Team Speak)

· typed message

23.) When grouped with other players, do you prefer communicating using the voice chat or typing a message?

a. Voice chat (such as Ventrillo, WoW voice chat, Team Speak)

b. typed message

– Why is this your preference? ____________________________________

24.) What World of Warcraft game server do you spend the most time on? (Participants will select only one from a dropdown menu)

Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. Your answers and opinions are very important. Please pass this survey along to other World of Warcraft players.


Alim, H. S. (2002). Street-conscious copula variation in the hip hop nation. American Speech, 77(3), pp. 288-304.

Babbie, E. (2004). Survey research. In The practice of social research (10th ed., p. 242 – 280). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Beck, J. C. & Wade, M. (2006). The kids are alright. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Blizzard Entertainment. (2008). World of Warcraft. Retrieved May 4, 2008, from http://www.worldofwarcraft.com

Childs, B., & Mallinson, C. (2006). The significance of lexical items in the construction of the neolinguistic identity: A case study of adolescent spoken and online language. American Speech, 81(1), pp. 3-30.

Cooper, T. C. (2001). “Does it suck?” or “is it for the birds?” Native speaker judgment of slang expressions. American Speech, 76(1), pp. 62-78.

Crystal, D. (2001) Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., & Moore, R.J. (2006). MMO with mass appeal: A look at game play in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 1(4), 281-317.

Entertainment Software Association. (2007). Video games and the economy. Retrieved June 5, 2008, from http://www.theesa.com/gamesindailylife/economy.asp

Green, M. C., Hilkien, J., Friedman, H., Grossman, K., Gasiewski, J., Adler, R., et al. (2005). Communication via instant messenger: Short- and long-term effects. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35(3), 445-462.

Horrigan, J. (2008). Mobile access to data and information. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Mobile.Data.Access.pdf

Jansz, J. & Martens, L. (2005). Gaming at a LAN event: the social context of playing video games. New Media & Society, 7(3), 333-355.

Judd, C. M., Smith, E. R., Kidder, L. H. (1991). Questionnaires and interviews Asking questions effectively. In Research methods in social relations (6th ed., p. 228 – 265). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Janovich College Publishers.

Lenhart, A., Arafeh, S., Smith, A., & Macgill, A. R. (2008). Writing, technology and teens. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved May 24, 2008, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Writing_Report_FINAL3.pdf

Leavitt, F. (1991). Research methods for behavioral scientists. California: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.

Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., MacGill, A. R., Evans C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games, and civics. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Games_and_Civics_Report_FINAL.pdf

Lillo, A. (2008). Covert puns as a source of slang words in English. English Studies, 89(3), 319-338.

Madden, M. (2006). Internet penetration and impact. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Internet_Impact.pdf

Marshall, M. & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage. In (J. Agel, Comp.). Corte Madera, California: Gingko Press.

Mindlin, A. (2008, September 28). Letting our fingers doing the talking. The New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2008 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/technology/29drill.html

Mortensen, T.E. (2006). WoW is the new MUD: Social gaming from text to video. Games and Culture, 1(4), 397-413.

NAS. (2006). Generation Y: The millenials; Ready or not, here they come. NAS Recruitment Group. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from http://www.nasrecruitment.com/talenttips/NASinsights/GenerationY.pdf

Parsons, G. P., Kinsman, S. B., Bosk, C. L., Sankar, P., & Ubel, P. A. (2001, August). Between two worlds: Medical student perceptions of humor and slang in the hospital setting. Journal of General Intern Medicine, 16, 544-549.

Pena, J., & Hancock, J. T. (2006). An analysis of socioemotional and task communication in online multiplayer video games. Communication Research, 33(1), 92-109.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008). Global entertainment and media outlook: 2008-2012. PricewaterhouseCoopers. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from www.pwc.com/outlook/

Simon, A. F. (2006). Computer-mediated communication: Task performance and satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 146(3), 349-379.

Stone, N. J., & Posey, M. (2008). Understanding coordination in computer-mediated versus face-to-face groups. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 827-851.

Szep, J. (2007, December 11). “w00t” crowned word of year by U.S. dictionary. Reuters. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://www.reuters.com/article/internetNews/idUSN1155159520071212

Taglimonte, S. A., Denis, D. (2008). Linguistic ruin? LOL! Instant messaging and teen language. American Speech, 83(1), 3-34.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2005). Computer and Internet use in the United States: 2003. Retrieved on November 5, 2006, from http://www.census.gov/

Williams, D., Ducheneaut, N., Xiong, L.,Yee, N., & Nickell, E. (2006). From tree house to barracks: The social life of guilds in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 1(4), 338-361.

Zhao, S. (2006). The Internet and the transformation of the reality of everyday life: Toward a new analytic stance on sociology. Sociological Inquiry, 76(4), 458-474.

This entry was posted in blogs and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to O Rly? Slang and Communication Development in the World of Warcraft Gaming Community

  1. Agel says:

    Thanks for share.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s