While it originally meant ‘to gamble’, more recently the colloquial verb has been used in online forums to mean ‘to game’, in the sense of playing (and often streaming) video games online.
Internet slang in Germany is often rife with Anglicisms, leading to worries about ‘Denglish’ and the English language’s perceived influence over the way German is spoken, particularly by young people. ‘Zocken’, unlike its popular synonym ‘gamen’, bucks this trend.
As in much of Western Europe, the popularity of gaming in Germany has skyrocketed in recent years. Germany has the second largest gaming market in Europe after Russia, generating a record high of €8.5 billion in revenue in 2020.
Gaming in Germany also spans a wider demographic than in most countries: the German Games Industry Association estimates that almost 10 million gamers in Germany are 50 years or older, and also highlights that there is a more-or-less even gender ratio among German gamers.
The industry has expanded in a number of different directions: whilst some are using games to make social change and to facilitate education, others are raking in a fortune streaming established games from platforms such as YouTube or Twitch. There are a number of globally high-profile German gaming YouTubers who are foundational to the industry: for instance, Gronkh (4.9 million subscribers), Paluten (4.2 million subscribers) and GermanLetsPlay (3.5 million subscribers).
Gaming is also subject to relatively strict regulation: the State Media Treaty introduced late last year contained a specific regulatory framework for live streamers which has sparked some controversy.
It states that anyone averaging more than 20,000 viewers on their streams requires a broadcasting license, meaning that games rated 16+ cannot be played until after 10pm, whilst games rated 18+ cannot be played until after 11pm. In April, Germany’s biggest Twitch streamer MontanaBlack described feeling ‘forced’ to leave the country in order to maintain his income and freedom over his streams.
As a colloquialism, you are more likely to run into ‘zocken’ on online forums such as Reddit than in a German classroom, but it is a versatile verb with a simple conjugation which you can easily throw into a conversation with your friends.
Ich werde am Wochenende bestimmt zocken.
I will definitely play video games on the weekend.
Du hast den ganzen Tag im Internet verbracht. Was hast du gemacht?
You spent the whole day on the internet. What were you doing?
Ich habe gezockt.
I was gaming.