Press ‘F’ to Pay Respects: History and Meaning

Press “F” to Pay Respects: It’s one of the most well-known video-game-based meme moments we’ve seen – and it found its origin in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Over five years ago, the game premiered one of the most… bizarre scenes in video game history.

The original scene

It starts out well enough. The game sets up a somber, emotional scene. A funeral is going on, for one of the soldiers who died in South Korea, the best friend of our protagonist Jack Mitchell. Set in 2054, the game features a new conflict, a new war the player has to fight through. The scene is quite serious, with delicate music playing as each of the previous soldiers walks past and touches the coffin of their fallen friend and comrade.

Then, it’s the protagonist’s turn. We walk up to the coffin, and a prompt appears on the screen. “Press ‘F’ to pay respects”. It tears up the moment, destroying all the emotional charge the game managed to build up. Once the player follows the prompt, their character touches the coffin… and off we go.

Press F to Pay Respects

It mocks the otherwise well-crafted scene and rather ruins the immersion. There are plenty of moments like that in gaming – character choices that let us either hug the crying widow or pickpocket her purse, for example. What aims to be a moral choice just as easily can make a serious moment into an absolute parody.

That’s exactly what made press ‘F’ such a perfect choice – a simple prompt entirely inappropriate for the moment it is happening in. It didn’t take long to cross from ‘gaming fail’ over to popular meme.

See also: Call of Duty vs Fortnite

The Game

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released in 2014. One of a long series of CoD titles, it features most of the same elements that players are used to. Single-player, multi-player, zombies and so on. The player takes on the role of a US Marine Corps Private First Class and fights in a conflict between the US and Korea, as well as some terrorists for good measure.

At the end of the first mission, the player’s best friend is killed in an explosion, saving our player’s life. Outside of the coffin scene, the story was praised by critics and fans alike – the scene itself faced heavy criticism though, despite the success of the game.

The Meme

It now finds its use in just about any situation – usually as a mockery. A joking way to show ‘sympathy’ in the face of a ‘tragedy’, like someone dropping a pen. The less impactful, the better suited the meme is to the situation.

In some, fairly rare cases, it’s used as a sincere way of showing empathy – for example on the stream of the Jacksonville shooting a few years ago. This is definitely the less common use though; Press ‘f’ tends to be used more in joking situations. There are even countless parody videos featuring it – and even unprompted, gamers all around the world have taken to commenting ‘F’ under things. From embarrassing public moments to failed attempts to qualify for an esports tournament, ‘F’ has managed to permeate every possible space – it’s one of the Internet’s favorite reactions!