the first meme

well, mine at least

The PlayStation 5, a computer that runs video games (interactive software that usually requires the user to achieve some sort of "win state”), launched yesterday. People are loving it.

It certainly looks like PlayStation is back in the news, which gives me a great chance to talk about the first meme I consciously witnessed. I don’t know if this will mark me as extremely old or sorta young, but this meme happened in the spring of 2006. The PlayStation 3 was set to come out in the fall, and I cared about video games at this point because that same spring, my freshman year of high school, I bought an Xbox 360.

(I’d initially thought buying an Xbox would make my IRL friends want to come over to my house and hang out more, and ultimately improve my social life — so I’d spend less time alone in my room refreshing Homestar Runner and the front page of Digg 1.0, and torrenting the entire discographies of classic-rock artists and then meticulously cleaning up the MP3 metadata for my iPod — but instead it led to me reading a lot of video game blogs and then down a deeper internet rabbit hole. You can daisy-chain together a series of events that starts with me buying an Xbox 360 and end with the absolutely psychotic emails that you receive in your inbox twice a week.*)

Around 2006, there was a lot of video game chatter online, but a lot of it was text-based. It was also very primitive. For a while around, this time I listened to a podcast called “Sarcastic Gamer,” which is the most embarrassing sentence I’ve ever written. Like, you could just call yourself The Sarcastic Gamer. Nobody had claimed that space yet. There was not a lot of multimedia, even on nascent sites like YouTube. If you wanted to watch footage of video games you could go to IGN or Gamespot or GameTrailers, and load up a lo-res trailer but Let’s Plays weren’t really a thing. Livestreaming wasn’t event really a thing, except for the truly committed and for special occasions like an E3 press conference.

In 2006, Sony was hyping up the PS3 at its annual keynote, and one of the launch games the company showed off was called Genji: Days of the Blade. The combat scenarios in the game, the presenter explained, were “based on famous battles which actually took place in ancient Japan.” He then proceeded to fight a giant enemy crab.

“So here’s this giant enemy crab.” The guy demoing the game then attacked the crab’s “weak point for massive damage.”

The press conference also featured CEO Kaz Hirai announcing a new Ridge Racer game by saying “rriiiiiiiidge racerrrr!” which was also very embarrassing. Both of awkward moments were cut together into a video that is now almost completely unwatchable. This is how we lived.

These moments quickly became the talk of the town. In my hazy reminisicing, I want to believe that everyone was posting about the Giant Enemy Crab. Or at least it seemed like everyone was posting about the Giant Enemy Crab. These days, it’s common to livetweet video-game announcement events, but back in 2006, Twitter didn’t even exist yet, nor did the Facebook News Feed. There were no centralized platforms where everyone could get their jokes off, or read the jokes.

And yet, as I browsed a bunch of different video game websites, everyone was clowning on the Crab, and they were clowning on Kaz Hirai’s enunciation of “Ridge Racer” (I think the power of the enunciation is it’s somehow both deflated and too emphatic). Organically, this funny, curious thing that would sound completely stupid if you tried to explain it to somebody who wasn’t there was spreading around the internet. It was a meme. It wasn’t the first meme, but it was the first time I got to see a meme at its inception. Everyone just kinda instinctively knew that the Giant Enemy Crab was funny.

Unfortunately, contemporary memes are almost always platform-specific. Something becomes a meme on Twitter, or Reddit, or TikTok, or Tumblr, or Facebook, or YouTube, but these memes rarely transcend their platform borders. Part of this is because each platform has hundreds of millions or billions of users, and has unique ways of conveying information and methods of interaction. The 2006 internet was a bunch of blogs and forums and one video-sharing website. IT was a lot easier to transpose something from one area of the web to the other because the conversational formats were nearly universal. That’s no longer the case.

I’m waxing nostalgic. At its core, though, it’s just three funny words smashed together:

  • Giant - don’t see too many giant things these days

  • Enemy - okay, the stakes are growing; I can’t trust whatever this thing is

  • Crab - crab??

“Giant enemy crab,” “massive damage,” and “real-time weapon switching” became terms you could slip into forum posts to let others know they you were also in the know. Shorthand reused over and over as a joke and a marker of specialized knowledge — these are quintessential traits for a meme.

So imagine eagerly anticipating next-gen, cutting-edge hardware, and then you get, essentially, “Here’s our historically accurate game set in feudal Japan featuring giant enemy crabs. You can pay $599 for the privilege of experiencing the crab firsthand.” Bonkers. Weird stuff like this happens a millions times day in a million different corners ofthe internet, but it happened a lot less often 14 years ago, and at a slower pace. People got a lot of mileage out of the crab. It happened in May and more than a month later, people were still clowning on it and it got added to Urban Dictionary in June. Imagine a meme lasting more than a few days anymore. You simply can’t!

Anyway, here’s a funny remix.

*Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Brian, you were 15 in 2006. What were you doing on the internet before the aforementioned Homestar Runner/Digg phase?” That’s a great question. The answer around 2001 would be playing Flash games on nick.com and cartoonnetwork.com, and before that, it would be loading up AOL Kids and clicking on “Homework Help” and expecting that the answers to literally my homework would magically appear.

Elsewhere…


Thank you for reading BNet. There’s no reason Hatsune Miku couldn’t host Jeopardy!.