“F” in a moment of internet tragedy, when a YouTuber confesses they were mercilessly dumped. In a flash of live, online embarrassment, when an Overwatch player misclicks their ult, “F.” The internet is a graveyard of “FFFFFFFF,” with some uncountable number tossed off every hour, everywhere, to pay respects.
Five years ago today, the Call of Duty team unintentionally gave a new life to the letter “F” with one of the most flippant, most iconic gamer scenes in all of media. It was an early scene in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, released November 4, 2014. Let’s remember the moment that brought us the meme.
A somber funeral is underway for a soldier who died in South Korea—the best friend of protagonist Private Jack Mitchell. It is a serious and sad scene. Delicate violin music swells as soldiers take turns touching the casket. Then, it’s the player’s turn. Looking over at your fallen comrade’s picture and into the graveyard’s distance, a prompt appears on-screen: “Press F to Pay Respects.” Above it, it reads, “Pay Respects F.” You hit the button and touch the coffin.
Playing the game in 2014, Conan O’Brien even commented in his “Clueless Gamer” segment, “Hold X to pay respects? What does that mean? That’s crazy! Is there a button for, ‘I’m here because I thought I might meet somebody?’”
“F to pay respects” is iconic not because it’s uniquely stupid, but because the balance between “sad” and “flippant” is so hilariously lopsided. Commemorate the whole of your friendship, comradeship, brotherhood, grief, love and morning. Just hit the button. The game goes to all of this trouble summoning sadness and solemnity and then totally throws that out the window when it asks the player to engage in it by slamming that one dumb key.
In a mad rush to just get through a game, we’re used to spamming the right click button throughout sad expository dialogue or skipping the cutscenes where star-crossed lovers finally kiss. Participating in emotional moments in games can feel real silly when they pause to ask the player whether they want to a) hug the crying mother or b) steal her fresh bread and jam. “F to pay respects” so simply and perfectly illustrated this cavern between gaming feels and breezy gameplay that we encounter all the time.
Five years after Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, “F” is for paying respects online. It’s not always posted ironically, although I’m sure, right now, someone’s copy-pastaing thick blocks of “fffffff” while someone on Twitch mourns the Hello Kitty purse they lost at a bar last Saturday. You might toss off an “F” when, for example, one of your favorite websites is drained of its lifeblood after months of corporate vampirism. Or during a Jacksonville tribute stream expressing grief over the 2018 shootings.
To “F” we say, “F.” Thank you for your service and the memes we made along the way.