The Roll Safe meme, in which logically sound but absurd advice is accompanied by someone pointing to their head with a knowing half grin, has slowly been building up steam since late January. But late last week the Internet joke hit critical mass in the gaming world when Nintendo took it to a new plateau of absurdity with its signature dad humor.
The meme arose from actor Kayode Ewumi’s performance in a BBC Three web series called Hood Documentary. Soon after, GIFs and screen caps of the moment where Ewumi points to his temple and gives a sideways glance toward the camera started to surface. By January of this year, the Roll Safe meme exploded on Black Twitter as a way of lampooning sage lifehacks that have fatal flaws. The advice ranged from comically bad to tragically comic.
As the meme filtered out into different parts of the Internet, each niche community put its own twist on the humorous expression of people’s will to succeed in the face of cosmic obstacles in the most self-defeating way possible. There were Dragon Ball Z Roll Safe memes.
And also Fire Emblem ones, a few of which were particularly salient in the wake of Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo’s latest mobile game that leverages charming anime characters to encourage users to invest in a sultry casino simulator.
Games ranging from Final Fantasy XV to Overwatch had different variations on the theme; a testament to the pervasive absurdity underlying not just our own lives but also the all too familiar and inane logic of most video game systems.
So naturally, it was only a matter of time before some video game brands weighed in with their own carefully crafted homages to the Roll Safe meme.
But it was Nintendo who elevated the meme even further away from its everyday roots to new levels of family-friendly, on-brand #normcore-ness.
It didn’t take long for the Internet to respond by holding the meme back up as a mirror to interrogate the company’s own recent history through the lens of Roll Safe.
One of the more explicit shortcomings in Nintendo’s attempt to hop on board the meme gravy train with the rest of the cool kids was the fact that its joke only further obscured the origins of a meme while using it to buoy its own brand image.
The Roll Safe meme originated, like the Arthur meme and others, largely on Black Twitter as way of making fun of the dumb shit people do in the face of the range of seemingly insurmountable struggles they face every day. Nintendo, unsurprisingly, reduced the complexity of that much sought after comic relief to a boorish riff on Mario Kart’s terrible RNG mechanics.
In completely absurd economic and political times, both in Britain where the Roll Safe meme first surfaced, and in America where it found a natural second home, one thing remains infinitely predictable: if there’s a dope meme on the Internet about the ways people make light of the daily crap they have to deal with, corporations somewhere will eventually nick the joke and try to commodify its last bit of comedy gold.