Grokking And Greebling In The 'Strange Land' Of Gamer Lingo

For an All Things Considered series on trade lingo, Melissa Block speaks with game designer Max Nichols about the terms "grok" and "greebling."

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Imagine hearing this phrase at work - Sam has grokked the jumping. That's commonplace for Max Nichols. He's a videogame designer from Needham, Massachusetts, and he joins us to explain for our summer-long series on trade lingo. We've asked for jargon from your line of work that would stump people on the outside, and Max submitted grok, or grokked. Why don't you translate for us?

MAX NICHOLS: Alright, so grok is a word you would use to describe someone mastering something. Someone who has grokked something is someone who's kind of learned everything there is to know about that thing, and deeply understand it. We use it in game development and game design specifically, to talk about players who have essentially learned a mechanic in the game, one example would be jumping in a Mario game for instance, to the point where they can use that action as if it's just an extension of themselves. They don't need to like, think about using it - they just do it.

BLOCK: They've absorbed it kind of.

NICHOLS: Yes, exactly. A great example in real life actually is driving a car. Everyone - when you first get in the car and you're first learning to drive the car - the steering wheel in front of you is is very strange kind of like, mechanical contraption and you have to think about how your turning it and how those turns translate to the car's motions. And then eventually you reach a point where the steering wheels and the car are kind of just an extension of you.

BLOCK: Yeah.

NICHOLS: And the same thing happens with videogames. You translate, what is at first a hunk of plastic with buttons in your hands, into a kind of seamless connection to you and your game character - by grokking it.

BLOCK: Now the origin of this - of this word I gather, comes from sci-fi literature.

NICHOLS: Yes. So I have not actually read this book myself, but my understanding is that it comes from Robert Heinlein's, "Stranger in a Strange Land," which is a 1960s, kind of classic sci-fi novel. In that book it's a Martian word, that means to understand something so thoroughly that you have become one with it and - and even love it. It's a little bit, you know, up there for our use of it, but it's a pretty good description.

BLOCK: Max, do you have one more bit of game designer trade lingo that you want to leave us with before you go?

NICHOLS: Greebling.

BLOCK: Greebling.

NICHOLS: This is a term - it's kind of an art term. It refers to non-functional visual details, in like, you know, environment art or something. You'll usually hear it if you hang out with like, 3-D artists and stuff. Maybe they're - they're designing a 3-D model for a building or a - you know- a sword or something and they'll - you know, maybe they have the basic sword shape and then they're like, yeah let's add some greebling and then they add some spikes and some rivets, and it looks better at the end.

BLOCK: Well, Max thanks for talking to us about your bits of trade lingo from the world of - of game design. Grokked and greebling.

NICHOLS: Yeah it was my pleasure, Melissa.

BLOCK: Game designer Max Nichols lives in Needham, Massachusetts. He joined us to share his terms of the trade. You can send us your bit of trade lingo on Facebook or Twitter - we're @NPRATC.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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