In 2015, I abandoned climbing for a while and devoted myself to video games. Our second child was a newborn, our older child was a toddler, and my wife and I were tired and stressed, ravaged by what one friend labeled the “infant-toddler tornado.” Then three nasty viruses tore through our house in as many months, leaving me depleted by post-viral syndrome on top of chronic health issues. Too feeble to autobelay 5.9 at the gym much less walk around the block, I repurposed the time I would have spent climbing by diving into the sci-fi first-person shooter game Destiny on my Xbox.
I’ve been gaming on and off since 1981, when my father bought me an Intellivison. The home console was a reward for bringing my behavior grades up at school, where, predictably, they’d taken a nose-dive after my parents divorced. Knowing that getting my behavior grade back to a “check-plus” (from my unhappy “check minus”) earned the Intellivision, I pretended to be a functional human being again—at least in class. (At home, I draped a sheet over a card table and, holing up inside on a pile of stuffed animals, watched sitcoms on a black-and-white portable TV and read horror novels. I also brought liverwurst sandwiches to school, had a bowl cut, and wore crimson velour shirts. I’m not sure how I didn’t end up as a serial killer—or Q-Anon follower.)
With its rich graphics and highly immersive gameplay, Destiny was a far cry from the Intellivision’s 16-bit airplane-battle game Biplanes. Destiny is also a highly addictive blend of single-player campaign levels, community events, and raids—multi-player missions that require cooperative problem-solving and complicated mechanics. To get your character raid-ready—with enough styling armor and guns and skill points to be a solid team player—you had to clock in each day, grinding for loot, not unlike going to the rock gym during the week to be fit for the weekend. There are three characters in Destiny—the Titan, the Warlock, and the Hunter—and I had all three, so I’d spend hours grinding after the kids went to bed. My raids started at 9 p.m. and sometimes didn’t finish until 2 a.m. Within weeks of picking up Destiny, I was a dizzy, bleary, bloodshot-eyed mess. But I needed something to fill the void left by climbing.
Like climbing, online gaming has its own culture, one steeped in insider lingo. While in the past I’d always been a solo player, my immersion in Destiny meant I needed to pick up the terms, and fast: AFK, GG, cheesing, AOE, bullet sponge… It was sort of like my early days climbing, when all these new words—crank, gaston, anchor, flash—were flying at me. So here are some of these gaming terms that, in my opinion, might nicely augment climbing’s vernacular.
Definition: “Away from keyboard” or “away from the controller.” When on the brink of bladder infection you finally take a pee break after six hours straight of World of Warcraft, you’re going AFK.
Application to climbing: This applies to absentminded or inattentive belayers, you know, the kind who strike up a conversation at the crag while you’re cruxing 10 feet above your bolt and you have to scream down, “Fucking watch me!” 50 times to get their attention. Maybe AFB—“Away from belay”—would be more apt.
Example sentence: “Oh no. You don’t want to climb with Steve. He went AFB again at the Project Wall last week. Shelly’s two inches shorter now after she cratered in the road.”
Definition: A smurf is a highly ranked player who creates a fake account to pose as a noob and play against lower-ranked players, pwning them for cheap thrills.
Application to climbing: You know this guy: He struts into the bouldering cave in street shoes, looks around to see if anyone’s noticed him, then ostentatiously campuses the jug haul warm-up/beginner climbs, because he’s “strong” and because he can and because he’s a smurf.
Example sentence: “Smurf alert—coming in hot, with the tank top, aviator haircut, rolled-up skinny jeans, and AirPods. Quick, everyone bail to the autobelays so he won’t have an audience!”
Definition: Staking out a choice spot on the map rather than roaming around in order to get the drop on other players—usually applicable in the player vs. player / deathmatch environment.
Application to climbing: Come to think of it, we already use this term to describe staying for a long time at a rest—but I think we should also extend it to route-hogging.
Example sentence: “Despite the ‘No Camping’ sign right below the cliff, Vanessa and Joey set up a toprope on the wall’s most popular warmup and, as the incredulous masses piled up below them, began to run fitness laps on the thing.”
Definition: Some change to the gaming environment—usually thanks to a software update—that enhances your character’s power, such as making a favorite gun more lethal or adding hit points to armor.
Application to climbing: Anything that gives you a leg up is a buff: a kneepad, a stick-clip, watching beta videos on YouTube, training, trying hard, being young, not having a mortgage, not having children.
Example sentence: “Rick’s planning on buffing up his send game by inventing sticky-rubber finger-condoms. I think he plans on turning into a smurf!”
Definition: Some change to the gaming environment—usually thanks to a software update—that reduces your character’s power, such as making a beloved gun less lethal. The term refers to Nerf products, play weapons expressly designed NOT to do real damage.
Application to climbing: Anything that detracts from your performance: bad conditions, poor sleep, crowded cliffs, having a job, having children, caring too much, not caring enough, being older than 25.
Example sentence: “There I was, tied in and ready to dayflash To Bolt or Not to Be, when my wife called to say Billy Jr. had been lighting trash-can fires at school again—it totally nerfed my psyche.”
Definition: An enemy that takes forever—and a bazillion rounds of ammunition—to kill.
Application to climbing: Any route that takes longer to send than you’d originally anticipated.
Example sentence: “Bibliographie was a real bullet sponge for Alex Megos—it took him 60 days of work, and he’s onsighted 5.14d!”
Definition: Finding a shortcut or workaround that reduces the game’s difficulty. For instance, in Destiny during the Nightfall mini-raids, you could often find secret holes in the map protected from the final boss’ attacks and pick him off slowly with a sniper rifle, versus playing with proper mechanics.
Application to climbing: Finding (and relying on) trickery like kneescums, toescums, and heel-toe hooks rather than just squaring up and cranking down like our Lycra-clad forefathers. Could also apply to the discovery of new holds or sequences, or the practice of hanging body-length slings off bolts to avoid runouts or facilitate “off-route” climbing.
Example sentence: “Sally wore two kneepads, preclipped the fourth bolt, clipped the anchor from a 13-foot extended draw where you normally clip bolt six, and otherwise just cheesed her way up Enormohang—then had the goddamn nerve to downgrade it.”
Definition: Doing small, rote, repetitive tasks in order to level up your character and/or amass loot. Tedious, but necessary. Occasionally meditative.
Application to climbing: Anything that’s not actively climbing is grinding. Driving to the crag. Warming up with resistance bands. Icing angry joints. Training.
Example sentence: “Chuck’s been grinding on the hangboard all winter. Says he plans to either be stronger than me or hopelessly injured come spring.”
Definition: To quit the game in a fit of pique.
Application to climbing: Oh, we’ve been ragequitting for years now, before there was even a term for it. “Dirt me! Just fucking dirt! FUCKING DIRT ME RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!”—sound familiar?
Example sentence: “Rick ragequit after some 12-year-old smurf came up and did his gym proj barefoot with a stick of beef jerky hanging out of his mouth, Airpods blasting Hoobastank.”
Definition: A deliberate misspelling/derivative of “owned,” meaning to dominate another player. This word exists because “o” and “p” are next to each other on the keyboard.
Application to climbing: We have for sure been saying “owned” for years now, though at some point, unfortunately, that morped into “shitting” or “pissing” on a project. (Just picture it in your head, someone literally doing this, then ask yourself why you say it.)
Example sentence: “Rick then unquit and pwned his gym project after the smurf left. Some stretching, a quick toke off the vape pen, and Enya on the iPod were all it took to buff his game again.”