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I often hear the phrase, "That is imba" in the video gaming community. It seems to refer to something powerful or unskillful:

Hunters are so imba.

Grenade launchers are imba!

But I have also noticed that it is often used tongue-in-cheek or sarcastically to mock people complaining about something being altered in the game:

"Waa... they nerfed my class! Now that other class is imba!" QQ more, please.

What does "imba" mean and where did the term come from? Is it used outside of gaming? My first encounters with it related to Starcraft which has a well known Korean professional gaming league. Is "imba" a loan?

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which leads to a similar question... where did "nerfed" come from :P – tenfour Apr 15 '11 at 23:00
@tenfour From Google Books: The term 'nerf' as a verb in the MMOG context has its roots in the orginal weapons balance pass of Ultima Online in late 1998. At the time, the melee weapons in the game were so damaging as to make all other forms of combat pointless - much like CH [creature handlers] in SWG today. As a result, one of the first serious balance actions of the dev team was to reduce the damage done by melee weapons drastically - 50%. – Uticensis Apr 16 '11 at 0:16
(cont'd) As a result, players began to decry the action, claiming that they now had nothing but 'nerf weaponry', using the word as an adjective derived from the Nerf brand of foam weapons and sporting gear common in the United States. – Uticensis Apr 16 '11 at 0:16
@Billare: Thank you!! I have been wondering about this for years. – Cerberus Apr 16 '11 at 16:53
up vote 14 down vote accepted

It comes via real-time strategy games, where one goal of the designers is to keep things balanced for all the various players; deviations from that goal are carefully scrutinized by the community that plays the game. More precisely, it comes from the regular complaint from certain types of gamers QQing over their losses — usually due to their inferior skill at the game — that the game's mechanics are broken or imbalanced.

Using imba, then, as a shortening of imbalanced, is a facetious way of mocking that attitude, by declaring even acknowledged essential parts of the game — such as the Hunter class in World of Warcraft, or some of its top players (usually insanely good ones) — imbalanced because in a way, if you don't know how to handle uber classes or uber players, they "break" the mechanics, albeit in a legal way.

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Good point that is also used ironically. – Cerberus Apr 15 '11 at 18:33
A lot of people I know use it to refer to things that are really good, as a replacement for awesome; as opposed to mocking in any respect. – Orbling Apr 15 '11 at 23:11

It means unbalanced, and it comes from imbalance. The word is normally used as an adjective (this move is imba), not as a noun (*you should fix the imba of that move). I have no idea why it became imba rather than unba, which would have been more logical; but this is how I have seen it used with regard to games. I don't think I have ever seen it used elsewhere.

It is used to indicate that a certain move, feature, or property renders one choice far superior or inferior to another, in such a way as to force a player into the superior choice or out of the inferior choice, whereas normally a good game would give a player several equally valid paths to victory.

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Note that the word imbalance has existed for over a century. – Dusty Apr 15 '11 at 18:41
@Dusty: Right, it would be better to say that it came from imbalance than from unbalanced. – Cerberus Apr 15 '11 at 18:59
Why don't you edit your answer then? The word clearly comes from imbalanced (the state of being out of equilibrium) and has nothing to do with unbalanced, in-balanced, or those other things. ;-) – ghoppe Apr 15 '11 at 20:05
@ghoppe: The problem is that "imbalanced" is not an existing word, and "imba" doesn't mean "imbalance", which is a word. But you were right, I was just too lazy to edit it right way. I have done so now; does this look better? – Cerberus Apr 15 '11 at 20:15
@Cereberus Looks better. – ghoppe Apr 15 '11 at 20:21

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