My informant used to play the massive multilayer online game World of Warcraft. In this game players are able to talk and play with one another in real time. In fact, group play is encouraged and is often essential to complete some of hte harder portions of the game. Because of this, there is a large online community of World of Warcraft players who interact with eachother regularly and have created their own customs, phrases and rituals.
My informant explained to me one such phrase that is commonly used in World of Warcraft. In order to understand it, however, you must know a little bit about the game. In World of Warcraft there are group encounters called dungeons. In these dungeons teams of five to twenty five players work together to defeat high level enemies and earn exceptional rewards (usually in the form of items to better equip your avatar). After you defeat a boss, they drop randomly generated loot that the players then divide up among themselves. Usually who gets which pieces of loot is determined before the boss dies to avoid confusion. If not, players often roll a virtual die and whoever gets the highest number gets the item. However, certain players, referred to as “ninjas” will simply take the loot quickly before his team has the time to figure out which items go to whom. This is called “ninja looting” and is very looked down upon in the community. On the subject of “ninja looters” my informant revealed that these people “can ruin the fun for the other players and are usually kicked out of the group.” When asked who started this phrase or why they are called that, she responded by saying that “I’m not sure where it came from, when I started playing the game back in 2007 it was already a very established term. As far as what it means goes I think its just like you are a ninja because you are sneaking in and taking something and then hopefully leaving before someone realizes.” She went on to say that “ninja looters” are very disliked by the general community and often will be blacklisted if they are caught multiple times.
This term reminds me of the term “pirate” which refers to people who illegally download media on the Internet. In this game a “ninja” isn’t a literal ninja, but is rather someone who breaks the looting rules and disrupts the order of the group. In this sense, I feel like the ninja is just a metaphor for someone who stealthily takes something from the larger community like a real ninja might have done.