Before Pepe, before Dat Boi, before Doge… there was Zero Wing.
The video game's poor English translation has fed the internet meme machine for decades with the nonsensical phrase "All your base are belong to us" since "at least" 1998, according to online compendium Know Your Meme. But more importantly, the game was ported from its original arcade format to the Sega Mega Drive on May 31, 1991—exactly 25 years ago today.
Zero Wing may have spawned the first mainstream internet meme, and the first meme ever to be summarily run into the ground by nerds.
A presciently-titled Wired article from 2001—the headline "When Gamer Humor Attacks" is a lot less innocent post-Gamergate—charted the meme's rise from a flash video to forum mainstay, and its description of the world's response presaged what happens today when a new meme emerges from the ether of the web to freak out the Olds and the Normals:
"Chat rooms are buzzing with 'all your base' mutations and gossip. Web reporters are frantically searching for an explanation, firing off e-mails [sic] to geek gurus, demanding to know what is going on."
A sign of simpler times? Not really. As precious as the idea of "web reporters" begging internet types to explain the latest meme is, we still do it.
Why are teens tweeting "fuck me daddy" at the Pope? We'd better ask some teens and find out. Why is everyone losing their shit over a CGI frog riding a unicycle? Newsrooms are on the case. Even the human subjects of latter day memes have been subject to heartfelt (or not) "where are they now?"-style write-ups.
When "All your base are belong to us" blew up, internet memes were still a relatively new concept to the mainstream. Now, they're the waters we swim in, but the sheer quantity of niche memes proliferating across the web on any given day hasn't done anything to lessen our interest. Hell, explaining them is a vehicle to success on its own.
Perhaps the most prescient quote in the aforementioned Wired article comes from an anonymous internet commenter: "This just goes to show, things don't have to make sense to be funny."
All your content are belong to us.