Ever wonder when and why gamers started using the term 'nerf'?

Here's a quick history lesson about one of the community's most common (and odd) terms

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • November 26, 2017 at 12:01 p.m. PST

Non-expanding recreational foam. That's what you're abbreviating when you talk about NERF, Hasbro's (originally Parker Brothers) line of action toys.

It may just be recreational foam, but it's spawned a line of toys that brings in upwards of $400 million every year, and perhaps even more importantly, inspired a term that can be heard daily across the entirety of the gaming world.

Join any conversation concerning balance updates or tier orderings and you'll almost certainly start hearing about buffs and nerfs.

The terms are so commonplace now that they fade into the background, but while it doesn't take much in the way of mental gymnastics to see how we got to 'buff' for making things better, why on Earth do we use the term "nerf" to talk about toning things down?

It's actually a practice that dates back to the ancient times of the late 90's. September of 1997 saw the release of Ultima Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Keeping in mind that this was 20 years ago, players were not as vocal about the changes and alterations they wanted to see in games. This was partially because communication wasn't quite what it is now, and partly because games weren't updated and changed as frequently as today.

Ultima Online was something of an exception to this, as it developed a community that was known for being particularly vocal about anything and everything that they deemed imperfect (it's difficult, but you might be able to picture such a community if you really try).

Little did they know they'd be setting the stage for common gamer practice across most every game and genre in the future.

As a response to the unhappy community, Ultima Online's designer, Raph Koster, hosted an online chat to try to get a clear idea of what needed to be changed to better balance the game and please fans.

Koster jokingly referred to weapons that had been toned down as "Nerf" versions, alluding to the child-safe foam toys. He mentions it himself in an entry on his aptly named Raph Koster's Website:

"For the record, the term 'nerfing' entered online gaming vocabulary because of Ultima Online. At some point, we reduced the power of swords in melee combat, and players started complaining that they were hitting each other with nerf swords. The rest is history…"

And there you have it. The next time you're talking about nerfing Balrog in Street Fighter 5, you'll know that what you're really talking about is adding some extra foam padding to his gloves.

Source: Medium.
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