The early aughts were a weird time. George H. W. Bush’s loser son somehow became president, god-awful bands like Crazy Town and Staind had songs on the Billboard Hot 100, and we made do with, like, one meme a year. In 2001 that meme was “All Your Base,” a Newgrounds video that ironically celebrated the poor Japanese-to-English translation of Toaplan’s 1992 Mega Drive game Zero Wing. Today, that video is officially 20 years old.
As with most things from that era, it’s hard to pin down which website or messageboard first popularised the absurdity of the Zero Wing intro. It rocketed into the collective consciousness with ridiculous dialogue like “Somebody set up us the bomb,” “You have no chance to survive make your time,” and of course “All your base are belong to us,” some of which was uttered by a sinister character named CATS.
But like most internet culture at the time it made its way to the Something Awful forums, which predates places like 4chan and Reddit as a hub for anonymous online discussion and general jackarsery.
Soon after, the intro was parodied in a song by Something Awful poster and musician Jeffrey Ray Roberts, which in turn was used as the basis for a video by Bad_CRC, who crowdsourced edited images of Zero Wing lines in real-world locations and advertisements to plaster over Roberts’ thumping techno track. The original “All Your Base” video was uploaded to Flash depository Newgrounds on February 16, 2001 and garnered millions of views, a huge number in the time before YouTube.
The imaginary photos in the video soon became reality, as websites for the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, The Guardian, and Wired published stories on its popularity. When students from North Carolina University hacked into a local news station’s weather-reporting system in 2004, “All your base are belong to us” is one of the phrases they used as digital graffiti. And now, 20 years later, it still pops up from time to time thanks to folks like billionaire dork Elon Musk and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
While its cultural cachet may not be the same as it was two decades ago, “All Your Base” was an important precursor to the meme-filled World Wide Web we know today. It saw disparate creators come together and iterate on a singular joke, making everything from music to elaborately edited photos and animations to celebrate a few silly lines from an obscure import Genesis game.
“All Your Base” is indicative of an era when the internet felt like a wild frontier rather than a place of business owned by a few massive corporations. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go try to wrap my head around the fact it’s been 20 years since I first saw this video.
Take off every ‘ZIG’!! For great justice.