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How did the word "nerf" develop to it's current meaning in MMO/multiplayer games?

I can remember seeing it for a long time to have the same or similar meaning, even before the explosion of MMOs that happenned with World of Warcraft.

(I used the terminology tag, as it seemed the closest fit, though I'm not actually asking what the word means.)

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You might have some luck finding history of early usages of the term by asking on the English language Stackexchange site. –  Chris Bye Apr 4 '12 at 15:53
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@Slothsberry: It's actually already been asked. –  Ullallulloo Apr 4 '12 at 15:58

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

Nerf has it's own wiktionary entry (with the meaning "to water down, dumb down or especially weaken, particularly in the context of weapons in video games").

Etymology From NERF® ("non-expanding recreational foam"), a range of toys made of soft foam, ineffective as actual weapons.

Once powerful skills, tactics or strategies that have been rendered significantly less effective by changes in game mechanics are said to be "nerfed", as these once potent weapons have since been rendered as powerful as the foam toys.

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Ironically a child at my little sister's daycare has had his eye shot out by a nerf gun. –  orlp Apr 5 '12 at 6:35
    
I'm sorry to hear that. :( Hasbro, the maker of Nerf products, does provide safety information and eye protection with all of their products. Unfortunately getting kids to follow those guidelines them is another matter. –  raveturned Apr 5 '12 at 8:18

Nerf was introduced as a trademark name for toys made of foam-like material for indoor play in 1970 (Nerf ball).

The following Wikipedia entry gives info about the term regarding computer gaming:

In video gaming a nerf is a change to a game that reduces the desirability or effectiveness of a particular game element. The term is also used as a verb for the act of making such a change.The opposite of nerf is buff (in one of that term's two usages).

The term originated with Ultima Online, and refers to the Nerf brand of toys which are soft and less likely to cause serious injury. It is used in the context of virtual worlds such as MMORPGs (like UO) and MUDs, but has become a part of the general vocabulary of gamer slang and can be found in various places where adjustment of power levels from one version of a game to the next is relevant.

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The word nerf is simply applying the proper noun of the company and product "NERF", which makes and sells air and spring powered guns using foam ammo.

So by saying a stat or character was "Nerfed" you're saying it has been given the same soft, less deadly "foam" coating as NERF applied to guns and ammo.

I'm not sure when it was first used, but it's origins have always been the NERF product.

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Don't forget the foam swords and other melee weapons they have now. –  TimothyAWiseman Apr 4 '12 at 16:18

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