Hold On! Gimme A Sec

The meaning of the title “Free Guy”

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Hollywood does its best to be a trendsetter, but as is the case with Free Guy, sometimes movies just miss the boat entirely.

Free Guy, released by Disney last Friday, was directed by Shawn Levy (Real Steel), and stars Ryan Reynolds as “Guy,” a nonplayable character who lives in the fictional world of Free City. While the movie tries very hard to be relevant and timely — it references popular franchises like Grand Theft Auto and features cameos from famous streamers like Imane “Pokimane” Anys and Seán “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin — it falls behind with one specific reference to gaming: its title.

As it turns out, the film’s title is actually a reference to gamer terminology that is no longer widely used or understood. The term “free guy” refers to a second or extra life.

Polygon reached out to a couple people who stated they’d heard of the term before, and they all indicated it was used to refer to “an additional life.” “I heard it and used it many times in the past, […] but not for many years,” Matt Helgeson, a former journalist at Game Informer magazine, told Polygon over Twitter. He recalls playing it during the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis eras.

William Garcia, a retro game fan, told Polygon that he believes he first heard the phrase in the 1990s. “It was basically a life in a game (usually a game like Mario or Sonic, but I guess Pac Man or stuff like that where you can see like a number or otherwise count the number of lives left),” he told Polygon through Discord.

New ways of interacting with games become increasingly popular when new games are released, and new memes and vocabulary can emerge quickly. For example, since comical TikToks and memes popularised the phrase “sussy baka” — a reference to both an imposter in the mafia game Among Us and the Japanese word for fool — it has become part of the lexicon of fans. Or the rise in popularity of phrases like “metaverse,” which have been frequently used to characterise games like Fortnite and Roblox in recent months.

So it’s no surprise that, given the length of time it takes to make a film, references may be a little out of date, regardless of how current the reference was at the time.

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