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Linguistics

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What Does "Game on" Mean?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated: May 23, 2024
References

The English idiom “game on” is a phrase that speakers use when they want to express readiness for a challenge. This phrase is part of a wide category of sports metaphors that are popular in many English speaking communities. Many of these involve the word “game” as an abstract noun representing various sports, and in idiomatic use, various other activities.

The literal meaning of this phrase is a request to formally start or continue a paused game, and in figurative use, it is usually expressed alone. For example, someone who wants to participate in a simple race with another person might say, “you want to race me? Game on!” Since it is a stand-alone phrase, and not part of a larger sentence construction, the phrase is shown here as its own sentence when written.

In some other uses, English speakers might use the phrase differently, as part of an idiomatic verb construction. For example, someone who wants to start to be proactive about something might say, “I want to get my game on.” Here, the phrase refers to initiating something or becoming proactive or assertive. Some might even see the phase as a modern-day equivalent of a phrase used by the literary character, Sherlock Holmes, who was known for saying, "The game is afoot," at the beginning of a new adventure.

Besides this idiom, many other slang and colloquial phrases exist around the word “game.” English speakers might also talk about a “game plan” which refers to any kind of comprehensive plan, or say that someone does something “for the love of the game,” which means they enjoy that particular activity.

The phrase “game on” is part of an American interest in sports and recreation metaphors. Linguists have identified this type of idiom as a rather strong component of modern American speech. Newer uses, for example, include “hate the player, not the game,” which generally means holding an individual accountable for their actions rather than assessing those actions in the context of what is usually done in a given scenario.

The use of this sports metaphor is an abstract one. There’s also an opposite construction that gets used in modern English: “game over.” Where someone can use “game on” to express nearly any kind of beginning, “game over” functions similarly as a description of nearly any kind of end, and was likely drawn from 1980s era video arcade games, which commonly displayed this phrase at the end of a game. Both of these are extremely versatile phrases and are common in modern English use.

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Discussion Comments
By JackWhack — On Aug 22, 2012

@cloudel – It is sad that dating has to be a game. This means that men feel they have to be in a certain competitive mode, and this usually means they don't show their true personalities.

I have heard the term “get my game face on” in reference to both dating and selling a product. I have a guy friend who uses this phrase to prepare himself before he goes on a first date, and I have a female friend who says it before she pitches an idea to a client. I approve of my female friend's reference to competition, but I disapprove of the fact that my male friend thinks he has to sell the idea of himself to a woman.

By cloudel — On Aug 21, 2012

I have heard guys use this phrase in reference to being ready to pick up a girl. When my brother and his friends would go to parties, they would say that they had to “get their game on.”

I always hated the fact that they viewed flirting and dating as a game. This implies that someone wins and someone loses.

Dating can be a very addicting game for some men. Some never settle down with one girl because they don't want to stop playing around.

By giddion — On Aug 21, 2012

I remember those fun video games from the eighties. My cousin and I would play them for hours without stopping!

I had the video game system at my house, so my cousin would call me and ask if she could come get her “game on.” It was sort of an addiction with us, as it was with thousands of other people at the time.

We also used this phrase when we would play competitive video games that allowed us to fight against one another. We would yell, “Game on!” before each round to signify that we were ready for battle.

By DylanB — On Aug 20, 2012

My coworkers and I like to play free games online during our spare time at work, and as long as we have nothing better to do, our boss doesn't mind. We always ask each other if there is anything left to do, and if there isn't, we say, “All right. Game on, then.”

It's our little way of letting each other know that we approve of each other playing these games. If one of us was loaded down with work and the others were playing, that would create resentment and just be unfair. “Game on” is only stated when we have made sure that everyone is out of work.

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