Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

This Beloved Video Game Meme Just Turned 20

In 2001, American Greetings had one of the most popular websites on the internet. Everyone wanted to send an e-Card; it was a novelty. Tripod, Angelfire, and Geocities were filled with homespun websites decorated with "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" gifs, and Newgrounds was rapidly becoming one of the most popular sites on the net.

At the same time, everyone was posting a meme that is now only known to true gamers.

It's been 20 years since "All Your Base" blew up on the internet. Of course, "All Your Base" wasn't created in 2001. It came from a localized 1992 port of a 1989 arcade game, Zero Wing. In Zero Wing, the laughably bad English translation included such gems as "Someone set us up the bomb" and, of course, "All your base are belong to us." The poor translation went largely unnoticed for many years but eventually exploded into the internet zeitgeist. While the origins of any meme can be vague, "All Your Base" likely started when users of a gaming forum noticed the game and started Photoshopping it into different contexts. From there, it got turned into a techno music video, and its fate was sealed.

According to Know Your Meme, interest in "All Your Base" peaked around 2004 and has been falling ever since. But there are few memes as swiftly recognizable or with as much lasting power. As early as 2001, Wired wrote about the phrase showing up in everything from Flash animations and t-shirt. As late as 2019, politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the phrase on Twitter to promote a higher marginal tax rate.

Why was the translation of Zero Wing so off the mark? The truth is likely that most translations fell short in that era. It wasn't important — even with the mistranslated text, players could still determine roughly what was going on and what they needed to do next. Perhaps many didn't notice or make a fuss at the time because Zero Wing was a somewhat disappointing game regardless.

Many players have wondered what the intro to "All Your Base" really means. According to Legends of Localization, "Someone set us up the bomb" is more accurately rendered "It appears someone has planted explosives." And "All your base are belong to us" can be more accurately translated to "With the help of the Federation government forces, CATS has taken all your bases." Significantly clearer language, but arguably less meme-worthy.