Cheevolution: video games jargon, word rage, and cheevos

Penny Arcade keeps track of videogaming culture so I don’t have to. And PA writer Jerry Holkins like words possibly more than I do, so as an added bonus I get the occasional dose of jargon that I’d otherwise miss out on.

For example: cheevo.

Today’s PA strip (which, for those of you lacking context, is a joke about the recently-announced mild price hike for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold online gaming-and-other-stuff service) brought the word to my attention.

A bit about video game context

Cheevo is shorthand for “achievement”, where (again with the context) an achievement in gaming contexts is some sort of badge-of-honor, otherwise valueless, that recognizes publicly that you have accomplished one or another varyingly difficult tasks in any given game. Kill your thousandth zombie? Achievement unlocked! Escape the sandmines without dying once? Achievement unlocked!

It’s an effective reward system for keeping players more engaged — or engaged longer — in the games they play. Microsoft didn’t invent the idea, but they were instrumental in mainstreaming it with the Xbox Live platform, and now basically any online-capable game platform and even many stand-alone games deploy some sort of achievement system. Parodic metacommentary games have been made. Ostensibly non-game mobile apps like Foursquare have used achievements to motivate users to stay active. Andy Baio, waxy of waxy.org, gave a great talk about gamic motivation earlier this year. The concept of achievement-like systems as abstract motivation for tasks, gaming or otherwise, has permeated the tech periphery of pop culture pretty thoroughly over the last few years.

And while the name may vary from system to system (Playstation maker Sony offers “trophies”, for example, while Foursquare offers “badges”), the name “achievement” has pretty much become the standard reference for all such rewards.

Cheevo?

But, so, yes, to cheevo: I read the strip and got to wondering just where the hell that came from, and when.

That the word exists is no surprise: gamers abbreviate and nickname and jargonize as much as any other group, and maybe more so historically than average given the need in online games to communicate with a minimum of keystrokes to keep one’s twitch muscles available for actual shooting/jumping/spellcasting/etc.

“Cheevo” has a entirely buyable ring to it: it’s kind of twee, sure, but it’s also snappy and easy to connect to the word its derived from, and anyway using a word because you know it’s sort of unsettlingly twee is hardly unheard of. So when did it start?

Doing some googling, the oldest cite I could find was this comment from July 5, 2007 on the gaming site joystiq.com by user “xenocidic”:

clearly it’s still shrinkwrapped as it doesn’t offer easy cheevo’s for his streak !

It’s worth noting that the actual word “achievement” appears nowhere on that page — xenocidic’s use isn’t set up by a prior use by either post author or fellow commenters. That suggests to me that the word was in circulation at least a bit before this, for the word to get used without comment, but that may be assuming too much about the longevity of any given joystiq thread (the comment came the day after the post and is the second to last in the thread) or the reactivity of the joystiq commenterbase to nonce words.

That xenocidic fellow uses it again on joystiq a month later, 8/8/2007:

why not just learn to play a real guitar …

i mean other than the lack of cheevos ~ why not …

and another user quotes and responds to the comment without blinking one way or the other at the usage.

By mid-november of that year, however, joystiq users have started to respond. In a post about the lack of achievements for ported older games, an unnamed user remarked:

seriously, achievements are addictive. We all know that. Some like to say “it’s supposed to be about the game!”. I have to admit that cheevos are and awesome thing, and make a game more fun for me. Speaking of that… just hit 10 grand last night with Assassin’s Creed! w00t!

Another user responds to the content of that comment and reiterates the “cheevos” usage, but then folks start talking about the usage itself, in a mix of word rage, defense, and just-to-annoy-the-annoyed repetition and intentional usage:

I wish people didn’t use the word ‘cheevos’.

CHEEVOS!!!! CHEEVEROONIES! Maybe something a little more l337 for you? Like cH33v0z! w00t!

Signed:
Cheevie McCheeverson

Cheevos

xenocidic himself speaks up at this point:

@btex, I didn’t like the word ‘cheevos’ either the first time I used it, but it’s really grown on me.

try it out sometime.

If I truly voiced how I felt about the bastardization of the word “Achievement” with “‘cheevos”, I would be accused of being prejudiced.

Oh and I’ve never heard anyone refer to Achievements as ‘cheevos’ but now that I have if I ever hear anyone say it again to me I’ll slit their throat, or just teamkill them repeatedly if it’s in a game.

@ Anticrawl… CHEEVOS! Run and grab the razor!

Another victory for slang and abbreviations!

I agree that these games will be bought and enjoyed by some (especially Psychonauts, which everyone seems to be on about), but I think they could have reaped a much bigger audience by including cheevos.

(yes, I said cheevos).

Cheevos.

And away it goes

Most of the early cites I found in 2007 were on joystiq, so it’s possible that site (and maybe xenocidic specifically) can claim some credit for the rise of the word into cultural ubiquity among videogame chatterboxes. By 2008 and certainly 2009 the word seems to have come into common casual usage in gaming discussions in general; the site cheevos.com exists for cheev-related bragging, useful tarpit Urban Dictionary has an entry from early 2009, and not just commenters but staff writers are using the word in headlines and copy.

But it remains conspicuously jargony as well, enough so that people start forum threads to complain about the usage or to assert (as in this thread from a couple months ago) that “cheevos is not a word and its annoying when people use as a replacement for achievement. Its just aggravating.”

And there’s backlash backlash as well, as in the sorta-activist blog Ch33v0 Unlocked, which embraces the usage (and the not-surprising transfiguration of “cheevo” to elite leet 1337 alphanumeric style) and basically celebrates it about as much as a blogspot blog could hope to.

2 thoughts on “Cheevolution: video games jargon, word rage, and cheevos

  1. After seeing that comic, I too was curious about its origin since I first heard it on the Joystiq podcast a while (years?) ago. I like the usage.

  2. I can’t help but appreciate that I read this post with the Domino’s Pizza “surf with tracker” thing at the top of my page. It in it’s own way a very gamery reward system for ordering unhealthy food. According to said tracker “joshua” is out delivering me a a pizza right now. spooky.

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