As of yesterday, it’s been 20 years since “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” was uploaded to Newgrounds. Let that sink in. And while you’re doing that, feel free to watch the video in its entirety there, too. It’s been kept safe in a Flash-emulating container, so even now, it’s safe from the inconvenient fact that Flash has been discontinued.
As Ars Technica reports, the history of the “All Your Base” video is longer than just a single upload. Much of it is taken from a tiny GIF of the Mega Drive game Zero Wing, which had been circulating widely online because of its disastrous English translation (and the GIF itself existed because of early emulation culture). “Early Internet communities poked fun at the sequence by creating and sharing gag images that had the silly text inserted in various ways,” writes Ars author Sam Machkovech. The meme didn’t really take off until the video, uploaded on February 16th, 2001, was posted to Newgrounds. “The video presents the original Sega Genesis graphics, dubbed over with monotone, machine-generated speech reading each phrase,” Machkovech writes. “‘You are on your way to destruction’ in this voice is delightfully silly stuff.”
Machkovech’s piece gets into more of the history and the context around the video itself, which is fascinating. He also correctly identifies the video as a bridge between early internet meme culture — which was mostly text-based and how we got things like ROFL — and the multimedia memes we have today.
Watching it now, 20 years later, the thing that stands out to me most is how culturally dated the video feels. It’s from the era of internet culture when the whole joke was getting the reference; back then, the internet was much harder to access and not the kind of culture-defining trend machine it eventually became. Knowing the reference — and sneaking it in places it didn’t belong — was funny because not everyone could figure out what it meant, unless, of course, you were part of the tribe. That kind of humor felt like the dominant mode of internet discourse up until Dashcon; even now, you can make people’s eyes twitch by typing something like “the narwhal bacons at midnight,” or “I like your shoelaces.” (Though “superwholock” would probably work, too.)
When social media became massively multiplayer, to borrow a phrase, that sense of in-group belonging became cringe. Now, you have to advance the meme to participate.