Horde It Through The Grapevine: Neologisms in Game Genres

Pretending to have read Wittgenstein, I often bang on about how words symbolise ideas, whether coherent or incoherent, and how this association comes about. To explain that in more depth; videogames are excellent non-verbal communicators, alongside paintings, movies and sculpture. Words need to be coined for new ideas drawn from important common stimuli drawn from these objects of perception. Like art, the descriptions the creator puts on something aren’t always the ones that stick.

To The Tune of: Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Pretending to have read Wittgenstein, I often bang on about how words symbolise ideas, whether coherent or incoherent, and how this association comes about. Following my Red Faction preview on Eurogamer, where I referred to its multiplayer as ‘Horde Mode’, Phill Cameron asked me:

“Just out of curiosity than anger or pedantry or anything, but do you know why ‘horde mode’ has become the vernacular, instead of whatever the many other games that did the game type before it called it?”
My answer:
“I guess because a) it’s pithy b) it got a lot of play time c) it worked really well d) it’s from a huge franchise. Neologisms work best when everyone understands the reference.”
Gears of War 2: Horde mode

To explain that in more depth; videogames are excellent non-verbal communicators, alongside paintings, movies and sculpture. Words need to be coined for new ideas drawn from important common stimuli drawn from these objects of perception. Like art, the descriptions the creator puts on something aren’t always the ones that stick; we’re well aware that the cover system most associated with Gears of War (2006) – which has taken the non-game specific title “cover system” – was drawn initially from Kill Switch (2003). This was an awful Namco third-person shooter and the developer called the system “OCS”, standing for offensive cover system, the last bit of which has stuck. However, this wasn’t the first time this system had appeared; it appeared in the arcade shooter Time Crisis (1995) before that, and in Konami’s Devastators (1988).

None of the games before Kill Switch named this system (or if they did, they didn’t communicate with the press or the public); so Kill Switch’s title stuck. However, because the phrase was clunky to deploy, it got edited; I remember it appearing as OCS then offensive cover system in our review for PC Format, then by the time it appeared in Special Forces: Fire for Effect it had already become “cover system”. Now, I imagine many people think Gears of War invented it.

Horde mode is the same; co-op survival modes have been in hundreds of games – Smash TV in the arcades was little else. Arena / static co-op survival has also appeared in a handful of games – Unreal Tournament 2003’s Invasion mode for example, or elements of Left4Dead – but Gears of War 2’s version was so much fun and so popular that it became the standard reference. There was a reference needed because “static co-op survival” might express exactly what the game is, but it’s only needed to communicate that once; after that, we all know what Horde mode is, and we’d rather use the standard, shorter phrase. Many people who’ve played the mode won’t have even thought about it as a genre – horde mode is just a sufficient signifier for them of something they recognise but have never analysed. People know what a Hoover is without knowing that it uses a vacuum to clean.

Given ten years, there will be a generation who’ve never played Gears of War 2 (which will be dated in terms of graphics and gameplay by then), but still recognise the Horde genre, from word of mouth. Mass distribution of a stimulus with an associated name creates neologisms.

 

 

On Getting Mullered

BBC NEWS | The Reporters | Robert Peston

Then there’s the plight of all those overseas businesses that manufacture cars in the UK.
They’re being mullered by a massive contraction of available credit and a collapse in sales.

(My emphasis)
The premier journalist for these days of collapsing economies, Robert Peston, uses a phrase I’ve only heard in pubs and student haunts, where it means “badly damaged or drunk.” What a strange word it is too and, of uncertain, recent derivation; how odd for a BBC journalist to be using what is still considered an outsider, slang word. The peeps over at World Wide Words find an OED entry saying it was used earliest in UK prison slang in the 1950s to mean “badly beaten up”, with the OED editor Jonathan Green thinking it derived from the same root as “mulled”, as in wine, from some odd indo root meaning “die”. Elsewhere, I’ve seen the derivation as that coming from Gerd Muller, who played football for Germany in the 1970s (third-highest scoring striker of all time.) My feeling would be that the word will have been popularised by this, but was already in circulation amongst lags by that time.

Considering how recent the common usage is and the crucial “er” in the middle, I’d think it must come from a famous name of the era; the only two I can find easily are a chess-player and a radio physicist, so I doubt it was either of them. I’d suggest Franz Muller, an infamous murderer of the 1860s, who not only beat up a banker then threw him to his gruesome death from a moving train but then became even more famous for the strange cut-down beaver hat that he wore and left at the scene, which became oddly popular (Winston Churchill was the most famous wearer).