Bretwulfo kept stumbling across a message that will be familiar to anyone who’s played Elden Ring: “Try finger, but hole.” At this point, many players would probably roll their eyes at finding yet another use of the game’s messaging system to graffiti crude humour across FromSoft’s incredible fantasy world. The problem was that Bretwulfo is Brazilian, and plays the game in Portuguese – that oft-seen message simply does not translate the same way.
“I was always plunging into holes thinking there was going to be something in it,” Bretwulfo says. “I only got what it was supposed to mean after someone placed it on the ass of a corpse.”
For players who don’t speak English as their first language, Elden Ring’s many meme-messages can be far more of a troll than they were ever intended to be – and English-speaking players may well be getting just as confused by some international equivalents.
“Try finger, but hole”; “Fort, night”; “Dog”; these are just some of the many memes that the English-speaking Elden Ring community have been flooding the game’s messaging system with over the last month. While they might seem like strange phrases in isolation, they’re a product of the game’s communications being restricted by design. You can’t just freely write whatever you want in Elden Ring and stamp it outside some boss fog. Everyone has the same limited number of phrases to choose from, all of which can be cleverly combined to help or hinder fellow Tarnished (it’s usually hinder).
What you may not have known is that the game’s messaging system operates on a global scale – and understandably these player-posted phrases aren’t fully localised for other languages. Instead, they’re translated quite literally – and it’s led to all kinds of international confusion in The Lands Between.
The most famous early example comes from a Twitter user named ETC_only, who recently posted about their experience with the “Fort, night” meme. Anyone who plays Elden Ring in English will easily recognise this for what it is — a pun on the only game on Earth where Neymar can beat up Kratos next to a stage Travis Scott has performed on. But ETC is from Japan, and the translation is far too literal for the joke to carry over. ETC’s resulting Twitter post about the issue went viral, roughly translating to:
“I’ve been searching for a big night-only event at some fort because I see messages like ‘Fort, night’ everywhere in Elden Ring, but apparently people playing in English are [just posting] Fort and Night.”
ETC spent a significant amount of time trying to trigger nighttime events in Elden Ring purely due to the number of “Fort, night” messages they came across. To make matters worse, Elden Ring actually does feature a variety of different scenarios that are locked to different times of day — bosses like Night’s Cavalry, Deathbird, and Bell Bearing Hunter will never appear while the sun is up. In that context, when you come across a note saying “Fort, night”, it’s only natural to assume that someone or something is planning to throw down at Stormveil or Castle Morne once dusk hits.
IGN recently had a chat with ETC about their time with Elden Ring, as well as several other players from various different countries who echoed their experience. At time of writing, we have been informed of similar misinterpretations occurring in Japanese, Chinese, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, and more — and that’s just for “Fort, night.”
“The ‘Fort, night’ one did something very different to me,” Erikviking98, an Italian, tells IGN. “For me, the situation got worse. One of the first times I saw the ‘Fort, night’ message was in front of the Warmaster’s Shack. If you go [here] at night, you will find a boss. The problem comes because in Italy, the word that translators use to say ‘Fort’ is unusual to indicate a fortress — the same word is more commonly used to say ‘strong’ or ‘powerful’.
“So, in my eyes, the message was actually saying to look for a strong enemy at nighttime. Since that first time there actually was one, I was misled to believe all of them meant the same thing. Every time I found one of those messages — which are basically always found in empty shacks like the Warmaster’s one [presumably because they slightly resemble Fortnite’s rickety wooden constructions] — I thought there was a nighttime-only boss. I came back to the closest Site of Grace countless times to set it to nighttime.”
This is just one meme that unintentionally caused players from non-English-speaking countries to conduct weird and unpredictable experiments. There are lots of other phrases that are translated a bit too literally. ETC explains that messages like “bug ahead” posted in response to weird gameplay behaviours don’t really work in Japanese, because “bug” becomes “虫,” which only means “insect.” Phrases like “Edge, lord” — pertaining to Ensha, the woman who stands with her arms folded outside Gideon’s study — are similarly confusing. Lofkor says this appears as “Limits, sir” in Spanish, which led them to believe it had something to do with flirting. Hilariously, she will never actually talk to you — any attempt to speak to her will only end in silent tears.
Of course, these examples are only for English translations to international versions of the game. It can just as easily work the other way round – ETC alone can think of plenty of other potential mistranslations.
“「この先、馬はないぞ」（no horse ahead）is Chinese internet slang for ‘liar ahead’ that makes no sense in Japanese or English,” they explain. This was later corroborated by Hkgpeanut, a Mandarin-speaking player from Hong Kong:
“The Mandarin for horse(馬) sounds similar to mother(媽), and saying ‘no mother ahead’ [is] similar to ‘f**ker ahead’. If you find it in front of a ‘hidden path ahead’ it’s probably a Mandarin way of saying ‘liar ahead’. Curses related to mothers are common for Mandarin speakers.”
While this hasn’t had as much of an impact on English-speaking players as “Fort, night” has had on people who speak other languages, it could still have an undesirable effect. If an English speaker leaves a message saying “No horse ahead,” another player will likely perceive it as a warning that the in-game horse, Torrent, is unusable in the next area. If they were to unequip their Spectral Steed Whistle — which would be an efficient choice given that it speeds up cycling through consumables — they’d possibly never realise that, actually, it was just a Mandarin-speaking player bemoaning someone for making them whack a wall for the 50th time (even if that does work in one specific area). You could have used your horse all along. Sorry.
ETC also wonders if 蛇 (snake), a message often posted in grass or near ladders, isn’t always as obvious a reference to Metal Gear Solid’s Snake for English-speaking players as it is to Japanese ones.
Another potential point of confusion you may have come across: how many of you are wondering why you keep coming across the word “Grass?” Does it mean you should go out and search through grass? Is it a bastardisation of “Grace”? Has someone found a funky farm in Limgrave?
“Grass means lol [for Japanese players],” ETC says. “The word itself became [so] much of a meme that you don’t really have to find something laughable, you can just put a「草」message in front of a piece of grass and it would ironically be funny, since most Japanese people would find it hard to interpret the word with its former meaning when it’s actually just a piece of grass.”
Brilliantly, it can have an entirely different meme-meaning if it was posted by a player who speaks Mandarin. “‘Grass’ in Mandarin sounds like ‘f**k’,” Hkgpeanut says. “I saw it near a chest that you have to parkour your way down to. Guess that guy died a lot to reach it.”
For anyone who sees the very similar “Grace” message — particularly in places where there is not, in fact, a Site of Grace — there’s a very real possibility you’ve just stumbled across something a Spanish player got a laugh out of.
“I´ve only seen one in-game message that I´m almost certain was posted by a Spanish speaker,” Lofkor says. “In Spanish, ‘Grace’ can also mean ‘funny’ or ‘sense of humour’, so people are making shitposts with dad jokes or old memes followed by a screenshot of ‘Lost Grace Discovered’ (Lost Sense of Humour Discovered). There was this guy that posted a message at the bottom of a ladder saying, ‘Try looking for grace’ — ‘Intenta buscar gracia’ — which reads like, ‘Think about why this is funny’. That, I must admit, was pretty funny. Unlike the horde of enemies I was ambushed by because someone put a message under the ladder…”
The beauty of all of this relatively harmless confusion lies in the simple fact that Elden Ring’s messaging system is sufficiently cryptic for overly direct translations to seem genuine.
Elden Ring Screens [October 2021]
Most of the players we spoke to have noted that this phenomenon isn’t new to Elden Ring. According to several of the people included in this piece, some more lewd players have been posting messages like “Big chest ahead” in relation to certain bosses since way back when the first Dark Souls launched — and even back then it was causing people to go looking for extra-large treasure. Lofkor says they would have been much more confused by the number of times they’ve read “however orifice” if not for the fact they’re already acutely aware of “the obsession Dark Souls players have with buttholes.”
Rimavelle, a player from Poland, concurs – and even considers the confusion of older FromSoft games’ messaging systems as something like practice for filtering out the memes in Elden Ring.
“Some of those are old community memes, so I’m familiar with them already and just memorised them,” Rimavelle says. “Sometimes when I’m confused about a message, especially when I’ve seen multiple of the same ones, I translate them back into English in my head and check if they make sense.”
While Rimavelle’s prior experience with the Souls series gave them greater insight into the kind of jokes the community might be telling, even they struggled with some of the more esoteric phrases. Because “Edge, lord” translates literally in Polish, they spent ages looking at various edges and ledges in the hopes of uncovering some kind of secret.
“Like an idiot,” Rimavelle says. “I figured it was yet another meme when I saw a few of them in a row, and translating them in my head made it finally make sense. Weirdly enough, I didn’t see much of the ‘Fort, night’ ones.”
It’s amazing to consider how a messaging system as limited in scope as Elden Ring’s has fostered so much mayhem. People are accidentally playing this game in unusual ways because they’ve been tricked into thinking a Fortnite meme has some kind of deep, hidden significance. It’s an effect that could likely only ever be accomplished in games as lonely, strange, and cryptic as FromSoftware’s creations.
The further question, then, is whether or not this confusion is actually good for the game. While the majority of the people we spoke to appreciate that it’s all in jest, some players online have been quick to label the jokesters of The Lands Between as “trolls” or “griefers.” This is generally more applicable to Tarnished who post messages like “Try jumping” in front of a cliff, as opposed to anyone whose memes are being lost in translation, but it’s still a point worth paying attention to.
“To be honest, FromSoftware should allow players to set a flag on messages like the ones we have on subreddits,” says Erikviking98. “Users could mark messages as jokes, gameplay tips, secrets, spoilers, and so on.”
While this poses an interesting solution, it also invites new problems. There is a genuine divide among players when it comes to FromSoft’s famed messaging systems. People like Erikviking98 might want more transparency when it comes to the nature of individual messages, but Lofkor reckons they’re “pretty impressive given how restrictive the system is.” There’s no clear-cut answer here, which is arguably what the notoriously quiet devs at FromSoft want. Let’s be real — it would be pretty funny to watch some random guy voluntarily roll off a massive cliff in a game you spent several years of your life working on.
Speaking of which, the idea of FromSoft allowing their extremely serious games to feature cheap tricks and fully-fledged toilet humour is fascinating. What’s the game here? The world lies in ruin, as power-hungry demigods toil over meaningless titles while the weak indiscriminately war with one another like feral animals. Then some lad walks up to a face-down skeleton and writes, “Time for pickle” with a crusty old finger.
It’s ridiculous, but then again, so are most of these games. The conscious juxtaposition of how grave these worlds are with how moronically their inhabitants (read: us) often behave allows experiences like Elden Ring to revel in what is arguably video games’ best attempt at absurdism.
Or maybe it’s just a load of devs giggling whenever someone combines a couple of monosyllabic words to say something really crude. After all, when quizzed about what they did because of these messages, Bretwulfo was plain with their answer:
“Mostly throw myself into holes, haha.”
Cian Maher is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter.