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 title of the movie itself is actually a reference to gamer slang that isn’t really used, or all that known anymore. The phrase “free guy” means an extra life, or a one up.
Polygon reached out to a few folks who expressed familiarity with the term, and they all said that they remember it being used to refer to “an additional life.” Matt Helgeson, former writer at Game Informer magazine, told Polygon over Twitter that he, “heard it and used it many times in the past, [...] but not for many years.” He remembers using it around the time of the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis.
William Garcia, a fan of retro games, told Polygon he thinks he heard the phrase around the ’90s. He told Polygon over Discord, “It was basically a life in a game (usually a game like Mario or Sonic, but I guess probably Pac Man or stuff like that where you can see like a number or otherwise count the number of lives left).”
As new games come out, new ways of interacting with them become more popular, and new memes and terminology can develop at a rapid rate. See, for example, the adoption of the phrase, “sussy baka” — a reference to both an imposter in the mafia game Among Us and the Japanese word for idiot — that has been integrated into the vernacular of fans ever since comedic TikToks and memes popularized it. Or the growing prominence of terms like the “metaverse” — which have been increasingly used to describe games like Fortnite or games on Roblox in the past year.
So it’s no surprise then, that with the years it can take to make a movie, references might be a little dated, regardless of how recent the reference might have been at the time.