Image: Chris Kindred
Featured Feature

Paying Respects to Press F

Duncan Fyfe


“One of my teachers recently passed away, and I wanted to make a little joke at his funeral… and say Press F to pay Respects. Would that be rude?” began a question on Reddit. 

Fellas, is it rude to eulogize a teacher with a video game meme? Is it rude to dunk on Call of Duty before the bereaved?

“Yeah, best not to meme at a funeral,” one Redditor replied.

“Saying it quietly to yourself would be fine, I guess,” said another. “The whole reason it ever became a meme at all was that it was so out of place for a supposedly serious moment. Don’t bring that into a situation that’s actually serious.”

The cultural legacy of the 2014 video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a single meme of its most awkward moment, and a ceaseless discourse over whether the meme can be both funny and a sincere gesture of grief. “If you use F in real life, you suck”; “Honestly prefer F to RIP because life and death should be something to laugh with since it affects us all”; “If I died and I didn’t get some Fs I would be kinda disappointed.”

More thought has been given to this question of decorum than to the creation of the Call of Duty moment itself. “I don’t remember whose idea it was, really,” Advanced Warfare level designer Steve Bianchi told me. “It was not something that we really put a lot of thought into.”

“I’m pretty sure it was me, and I'm pretty sure that I wrote it,” says Advanced Warfare creative director Bret Robbins. “I’m the guy. I’m really the guy that was responsible for it.”


In Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, you play a U.S. Marine in the year 2054, deployed with your comrade and best friend Will Irons to repel a North Korean incursion into Seoul, South Korea. In the game’s first half hour, you and Irons battle North Korean soldiers and drone swarms in the streets of the abandoned city, scurrying under quadrupedal tanks and jetpack-jumping over derelict buses. All the while, the game urges you along with various button prompts: Hold Right Mouse to Aim Down Sights; Hold F While Falling to Safely Descend; Press Q to Throw a Threat Grenade.

After you find a demolition team killed in action, you must then finish their mission to blow up a mobile heavy weapons platform. You fight first to the demo team’s corpses—Hold F to Grab Charges—then to the target. Will slides open an access panel—Hold F to Give Will the Charges—and plants the explosive, but his arm is trapped when the panel closes.

“We’re outta time!” Irons shouts as the weapons platform begins to take off. “It’s okay. I’ll see you on the other side.”

You watch from the ground as Irons is consumed in the blast. “Why is one man spared while another one taken?” your character muses. “To this day I couldn’t give you an answer…. All I knew was my best friend was gone, and that part of me wished I had been taken instead.”

Two weeks later, you’re at Arlington National Cemetery, standing by Irons’ coffin. Irons’ father stands and—solemnly, silently—lays his hand upon the casket. Then it is your turn: Press F to Pay Respects.

Muddling through Advanced Warfare for a segment on his former TBS show, Conan O’Brien stops and looks to the camera. “What does that mean?! That’s crazy! Is there a button for, ‘I’m here ‘cuz I thought I might meet somebody?’” The audience laughs; they laughed harder at the appearance of the prompt itself. “Okay, here we go. This is a really emotional moment for me,” O’Brien deadpans, as we watch his index finger depress a button on an Xbox controller.

The Independent called it “gleefully tasteless”; Paste said it was “transparently lazy”; Kotaku just called it “very odd”. “It was a valiant attempt at pathos,” wrote Polygon, “the first time in a long time that a triple-A game was trying to communicate to me at a higher level. But at the same time, it felt hollow. Voyeuristic. Tawdry.”

But why did it elicit this kind of response? In 2011, the video game Batman: Arkham City featured an almost identical scene, inviting the player to “Pay Your Respects” to the chalk outlines of Bruce Wayne’s murdered parents. Only two months prior to Advanced Warfare’s release, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, directed players to enter stealth mode and press X to kiss their wife. Neither was considered “the dumbest interactive moment in gaming”, per GQ.

In an article for the now-defunct Gaming Intelligence Agency, game developer Andrew Vestal examined an important syntactic distinction between Advanced Warfare and Arkham City. “Arkham City asks the player to ‘[A] Pay Your Respects’ – a complete action, with the contextual button prepended as a UI element. Call of Duty asks the player to ‘Press [F] to Pay Respects’ – to push a button in a video game in order to perform the action. With this small change, the player’s action (push a button) now overwhelms the in-game result (Pay Respects).”

“Press F to Pay Respects” is a ludicrous and sticky bit of language. It can be read to suggest that pressing ‘F’ is not the keyboard shortcut for the gesture of respect, but the gesture itself. R.I.P., sorry for your loss, thoughts and prayers, hearts go out, I really am sincerely sorry, F.

This is how it’s been interpreted, anyway, in the decade since Advanced Warfare’s release. A Twitch streamer who inadvertently trips Arthur Morgan into the path of a train, or eldritch blasts a goblin off a roof, might ask viewers to throw some F’s in the chat. Lost 10,000 runes in Elden Ring? F. Stream goes down? That’s an F.

Press F for feelings
by inhalo

Is it rude to say ‘F’ at your favorite teacher’s funeral? Perhaps, but it ought to be consolation that ‘F’ can be used just about anywhere else, from accidentally deleting a Breath of the Wild save game to saluting people working retail on Black Friday, paying $300 for a Karen haircut, or just the possibility that gamers might never live in a golden age of Halo ever again. If it could fit in a verse of the Alanis Morissette song “Ironic”, you can press ‘F’ to it. 

The respects once meant for brave Will Irons are now itinerant keystrokes: stray Fs in search of a host, seeking a headshot in a deathmatch, or at least a dropped cigarette on a public toilet floor


“It became a joke!” cries Glen Schofield from his car, stuck in traffic. “People laughed at us!”

Schofield is the co-founder of California studio Sledgehammer Games, which developed Advanced Warfare. To date, Activision has published a major Call of Duty every year since 2005. Initially, the studios Infinity Ward and Treyarch alternated titles; after Sledgehammer assisted on Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 3 to good results, Schofield’s studio was promoted into the rotation as a primary developer, with Advanced Warfare as its first Call of Duty assignment.

“Suddenly we had a three-year window to do our own game, almost like a new IP within the Call of Duty universe, the opportunity to write our own epic summer blockbuster,” Robbins says. “We were flush with victory on [Modern Warfare 3] and ran into Advanced Warfare really pretty confident and feeling pretty good about the studio and our place in [the franchise].”

Advanced Warfare broke from the series’ historical and contemporary theaters of war, looking to a futuristic fantasy of action and military tech that Schofield enthusiastically portrayed with walking tanks and rocket jumps. “When I first pitched it, they were like ‘What the fuck are you thinking? That’s so crazy, that’s not Call of Duty. You can’t use a walking tank. No such thing as that,’” Schofield recounts. “I go to NASA, and the guy goes, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re in for a surprise today. We’re gonna show you a walking tank.’ And they lowered this giant metal tank, I got pictures of it somewhere. So, you know, the executives, they’re like, ‘Okay, man, go ahead and make it.’”

“The end of the first level is a banger,” says Robbins. Not only does Will Irons die, but the player loses his arm, pretext for outfitting the player with a robotic prosthesis and seducing him into a nightmarish world of private military contractors. Irons’ funeral, which immediately follows the intro, shoulders heavy narrative responsibility. First, the player must look down at the coffin, which is really an excuse for them to see that they are still missing their arm. Second, the player must meet Irons’ father — ultimately the game’s villain — who will recruit the player into his PMC. Thirdly, the player must have a moment to mourn Irons. 

“We really wanted you to have that emotional connection,” Bianchi remembers. “I don’t think you necessarily got that a lot in Call of Duty games, where you really take the time to mourn someone’s loss and move forward.”

“That was the intent,” development director Anthony Schmill says. “To, at some level, show that loss is part of combat and warfare, that people sacrifice themselves in these situations, and that the community of people who experience war are deeply impacted by the loss of comrades and soldiers and partners in battle.”

At funerals for Navy SEALs, there is a tradition of pounding a gold trident pin, which depicts an eagle with a cocked-back flintlock pistol and symbolizes fraternity between SEALs, into the lid of a coffin. The Advanced Warfare developers envisioned a similar beat for Irons’ funeral. The player would be prompted to walk up and hammer in a pin, and in doing so, conveniently reconfirm the absence of their arm. “We could have done it in a cinematic,” says Robbins, “but I always like it when things are a little more immersive.”

However, the pin idea was nixed by a military advisor late in development because Irons was a Marine, not a Navy SEAL. “They were really adamant that we couldn’t have that in there,” Bianchi remembers. Not wanting to lose the emotional beat, Robbins cast around for alternatives — would the player put a flag on the coffin instead? a medal? a photograph — but there was no time. But maybe that was okay; maybe all the moment needed to be was a hand resting on Irons’ coffin — briefly, meaningfully — and then having the player walk away.

“Yeah, okay, that sounds fine,” Schofield remembers telling Robbins. “That’s all we have time for.”

It is Call of Duty house style that there is never a button prompt without text. “Anytime there’s a prompt, it’s gonna say, ‘plant bomb,’ ‘activate,’ ‘open door,’ you know. There’s just text. Flat out,” Robbins explains. Near the end of development, Robbins went through a spreadsheet supplying text for any “naked” prompts. “The coffin was a blank,” he says. “And you’re just going through and writing them all out, and innocently, you know, it has to say something here, that seems like an appropriate phrase to use.”

The response was “a little surprising,” Robbins says dryly, “to say the least.”

Schofield thinks that the mockery hurt the game’s Metacritic score. “It showed up in so many articles: ‘Press F for respects?’ That’s the stupidest shit!’” Caught off-guard, the developers at Sledgehammer deliberated whether or not to patch the offending phrase out of the game, ultimately landing on the side of… oh, well.

“There was great combat, there were epic moments, right and left… but that’s what people remembered,” says Anthony Schmill. “I’m sure that lots of people enjoyed the game, but if that’s what the biggest thing they took away from it? Oh, well.”

“I thought, if that’s the thing that people rip on,” says Bianchi, “the weak moment, then that’s… you know, fine. It is sort of funny.” 

Ten years later, Robbins (now the head of Ascendant Software, developer of Immortals of Aveum) chooses his words carefully, given past experiences.

“It’s not what I wanted everyone to be talking about,” he says evenly. “I still think Advanced Warfare has some of the best level design and is one of the most beautiful Call of Dutys ever made. And it really felt like the internet had just decided to grab a small thing — which clearly wasn’t a small thing. It wouldn’t have happened if it was small. But in my mind, at the time, it was a small thing that overshadowed a lot of really great work. I was really surprised. I was like, ‘Why is this such a big deal? Why are people so laser focused on this?’ I asked friends, I asked people on the team, ‘What is this?’

“I think it was a criticism of a game overreaching. There’s nothing offensive about paying respects to your best friend who was just killed in front of you… If it had been in a cinematic, no one would have blinked an eye. If the text had been different, no one would have blinked an eye. It’s specifically those words, and specifically the action. It’s not a criticism of the scene. It’s a criticism of what the game was trying to make you feel. I think that’s the closest I can get to why this even was a thing. I don’t think if you did that today — honestly, I don’t think if you did it today, anyone would care. There was something about that time and where Call of Duty was at that time that just hit a nerve.”

Robbins knew about the moment in Batman: Arkham City when he was making Advanced Warfare; he thinks it might have been in the back of his mind. “I’m a huge fan of those games. I had seen it done. And it resonated. I had no problem with that. You put it maybe in the military context, maybe that ruffled more feathers? I don’t know. Maybe it was unearned. Maybe you didn’t feel that close to your friend that died. So don’t try to force it. You’re being clumsy.”

Robbins has more to say, more possibilities for why people reacted so poorly. There’s only one thing he is absolutely certain about. “I’m glad that my name wasn’t directly attached to it in any kind of way to start with,” he says. It is one thing to have your work go viral for all the wrong reasons, and another to be clearly identified as the author of it. “The internet is a strange and terrible place.”


Almost 10 years on from Advanced Warfare, the meme has eclipsed its master. “Press F to Pay Respects” is an organism in and of itself. Its origins are forgotten and, actually, not important. One Reddit user said they thought it was “a reference to Half-Life where the f button turns on the flashlight.” The details get all tangled, with one user saying that they had “seen people claiming that ‘it's actually disrespectful because in the scene what happens when you do that is you piss on the coffin’.”

In April, 2020, Rick May, who voiced the Soldier in Valve’s enormously popular shooter Team Fortress 2, died of complications from COVID-19. In tribute, Valve placed a statue of his character in the game, which reappears every April. On Reddit, in Team Fortress 2, and elsewhere, fans pressed ‘F’. Just the letter ‘F’, in chats and comment sections, pressed sincerely to pay respects. (Or for other reasons: “I was pressing F expecting some secret or free item lol,” said one Team Fortress player.)

Press F to pay respects
byu/Classy_Corpse intf2

In August, 2018, two Madden esports players — Eli Clayton and Tyler Robertson — were killed in a shooting at a Madden event in Jacksonville, Fla. During an EA Sports memorial Twitch stream, the following month, fellow gamers filled the chat with ‘F’s. 

“As a generation that grew up with meme culture and social media,” wrote Nicole Carpenter at Dot Esports, “the Twitch community was genuine in its expression, using the tools it has—memes—to mourn. It’s an extension of social media mourning, which is growing more and more common as our population faces mass tragedy and the loss of public figures.”

The meme is controversial, however. When news of streamer Desmond “Etika” Amofah’s death by suicide in 2019 hit the internet, some Redditors also took the ‘F’, although it caused some friction on the post. While some said the statement was in poor taste (one poster called it “awful” and “disrespectful”), others said it was appropriate. “He would have loved it. it is to pay respects,” said one Redditor. “Of anyone out there Etika is the right person to be honouring with memes,” said another.

“Press F to Pay Respects” us still a meme; one might say that it’s one generation’s equivalent of RIP — a brief, if perfunctory, expression of sincere sympathy. What has happened in the last 10 years is not that “Press F” went “serious”; rather, death went online. If you are online, you do not learn of Etika’s death in the newspaper or of Rick May’s from a mutual friend at a grocery store. You learn online, in your space, with your friends, where you are comfortable, but you still don’t know exactly what to say. This has not changed: it is not as if before the internet condolences were always expressed appropriately.

byu/InternationalAdvice5 inpressftopayrespects

What’s changed is that news of a school shooting comes to you in the same feed as a meme of Ant-Man flying into Thanos’ asshole. To both, you respond with an ‘F’. To Thanos, you say sorry for your loss as a joke; to the victims, you are sorry for real. Maybe you say it in both cases because it’s something you’ve seen people say before. Maybe you’ve internalized that “Press F to Pay Respects” only works as a joke because of the juxtaposition of sincere condolences with absurd circumstances. Maybe you don’t even know what you’re saying. Maybe you’re just grieving.

“The F meme seems kinda disrespectful in my opinion”, one poster in the Team Fortress subreddit said of the tributes to Rick May.

“The old man would’ve found it humourous,” someone replied. “Y’all obviously didn’t know the legend”.

“Dude literally no one would think it’s funny for their death to be respected with an ‘f’ meme. And you wouldn’t even know if he found it humorous because you didn’t even know him personally.”


In February 2020, Rick May suffered a stroke, and was moved to a nursing home. Two months later, he was gone. After his death, Jeremiah Foglesong, a gamer, whose father-in-law was May’s cousin, informed the family of the wealth of tributes that had been posted online: art, poems, Valve’s memorial inside Team Fortress 2. For Diana Lilly, May’s widow, an actor herself who wasn’t particularly tech-savvy, Foglesong printed hard copies of everything. “I did have to explain the lists of ‘F, F, F, F,” Foglesong says. He didn’t know the reference was from a Call of Duty game, but he told her it was “like throwing up a heart emoji, or a thumbs up.”

The concept of an internet community was fairly alien to Lilly, but the sentiment was clear, and she loved it. “It really meant a lot to me,” she says softly. “I was in such mourning at that time. And it was so nice to hear that other people were thinking about Rick, too. I knew he would just love that, because that meant so much to him: his voice work. Something that was so special to him, to think that other people thought it was special, too.”

It’s nice to be remembered. “In a way, I’m glad [Press F] got a little bit of attention,” says Robbins. “If that’s what it takes for people to remember that game, fine, because it’s a great game. It’s something I’m really proud of. I think everyone that worked on it really felt like we were making something special.”

It’s also hard to be remembered. “As we get further and further away from the date that he died, you hear his name less, just a little less,” says Foglesong. Still, every April, he returns to Team Fortress 2, a game he doesn’t play as much as he used to, to see May’s statue. “I think that’s beautiful, that they’re doing that.”

May was the artistic director at the Renton Civic Theatre in Renton, Wash. when he met Diana Lilly. In 1994, he appeared opposite her in a production of the Ira Levin play Deathtrap, where they played husband and wife. In the play, May’s character conspires to and kills Lilly’s character. Lilly’s mother was “disgusted” that she would date a man who kills her on stage. “He was somebody who was very talented and always fun to be around,” Lilly remembers of her husband. “If he showed up anywhere, people were always so happy to see him. He was always so funny, and had fun stories, and was just a good person to be around.”

“Rick would really love this,” she says. “He would love to be remembered.”

What a blessing it is to be remembered at all.

Duncan Fyfe is a writer and game designer. He lives in England.

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