When the name of something — be it a character, object or menu item — is unknown in a video game, it will often be represented by a string of question marks.
One of the simplest and most prevalent video game interface tropes.
The reasons for this vary (see below), and the result can range from confusion to an Interface Spoiler
. See also No Name Given
Confused Question Mark
is for a different meaning of the symbol. Can be related to My Name Is Inigo Montoya
Video Game Examples:
- Three characters in HarmoKnight get their names put as "???". Two birds, one princess.
- The princess one is more ironic. Her name is blurted out, but it will still read "???" until mentioned again.
- Pokémon Gold and Silver: Your rival gives his own name as "???". You enter his name later.
- This caused many a small child to permanently name him ??? when asked, thinking it was a kind of trivia where there's a right answer you need to enter to continue. Kind of embarrassing when the older fans told you you had done it wrong, but Hilarious in Hindsight.
- Averted in the remakes, which instead call him Passerby Boy in the battle dialogue. Similarly, he no longer tells you his name in dialogue; he instead drops his Trainer ID and the main character (but not the player himself) reads it, getting his name from there.
- Hasn't stopped people who played the original games from calling him "???" solely because of nostalgia. Though for any who want to enter it correctly, his real name is popularly said to be Silver.
- Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl also use question marks to represent non-seen Pokemon in the Pokedex. Similarly, their equivalent/version of Missingno. is shown as the same icon, or for another kind, two white question marks.
- The Codex of Alchemical Engineering gives approximately 13 question marks for the mysterious Level 15 compound.
- As yet unavailable games on the WarioWare grid are represented by question marks.
- As yet unavailable minigames in Mario Party are represented by "?????????????????".
- In Super Mario RPG, the character Geno is labeled "???" at first. His actual name isn't much better: it's ♥♪!? in other languages and a set of unique hieroglyphs in Japan.
- In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, the shark fin enemy in Gwarhar Lagoon is identified as "????". The enemy's official name is Sharkbone, but it's called "????" to refer to the fact that it's unidentifiable underground and its attacks will either send it aboveground or launch a Cheep Cheep with a fin tied on.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, this is the name given in the tattle log for Doopliss before you find out his name.
- In World of Warcraft, if something has a significantly higher level than you (more than 10 levels), the level is displayed as "??" in its tooltip (in the level indicator in its portrait, however, the "level" will be a skull). This is also true for things that are coded to be "X levels higher than you", i.e., "boss"-rank creatures.
- In the Ace Attorney games, a new character's dialogue will be labelled as spoken by "???" until you learn the person's name. This is also occasionally the case for previously-appearing characters who speak from off-screen and then appear. Similarly, any person you talk to gets recorded in your files for later viewing, but their name, age (and depending on the situation, their gender), will all be displayed as "???" until you learn who the person is in greater detail. In Dual Destinies, this becomes the Phantom's name after you've determined that he is not Detective Bobby Fulbright.
- This is initially Terra's "name" in Final Fantasy VI.
- The temporary ghost party members you can get on the phantom train have the same "name".
- The xylophone-heavy song that plays when first you meet Gau is called "??".
- Final Fantasy IV: The After Years does this straight, and has a variation. When a character talks from offscreen, their name is given as "???". When someone is in disguise (like in Edge's Tale), the name is given with a question mark at the end, like "Trainee?".
- Spiruna's assistant, Hella, in MapleStory is shown as "????" in NPC form.
- Kuroko's name card in the non-continue game credits for Samurai Shodown 2 is obscured and "????" is read below, regardless if you fought him or not. Supposedly what's obscured is his real name (Kuroko is an alias).
- The flashy guy/Gigolo/Loki from Devil Survivor has his name displayed as "???" on the area menu.
- BlazBlue's credits list "??????" as the voice actors for Hakumen and V-13 to hide the fact that they are alternate versions of Jin and Noel and therefore have the same voice actors.
- Persona 4 Arena gives this name to some opponents fought in Story Mode. Specifically, the "Shadows" of the main cast and the Big Bads, otherwise known only as "Eerie Voice" and "Malevolent Entity".
- In homage to all of the previously mentioned JRPGs, Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden uses ???? for people who are talking but haven't yet been identified.
- Tales of Symphonia does this with Kratos, when he first joins the party. Yeah, he was a bit of a lone wolf.
- Along with every boss, mini-boss or Big Bad who doesn't introduce themselves off the bat. Rodyle spends half the game with his name as "???" even after you hear his name. Perhaps justified in that the party was not in the scene at the time, but still.
- In Tales of Phantasia's Distant Prologue, the heroes and the Big Bad have their names replaced with "????".
- The unidentified items in Star Ocean games.
- The GBA Fire Emblem games have "??" as the HP total for their final bosses at the beginning of the battles, because given that the normal cap is 60, HP displays are only two digits, and the final boss of each game has 120 HP. Once they're knocked down to 99 HP, they'll show their HP total as usual (even though the in-battle HP bars only show 80 HP.)
- In the NES game Magician, if you try and craft a spell which doesn't exist, the runes full up with question marks and the spell name is listed as "UNKNOWN..."
- The DS game Glory of Heracles uses this for the main character at the start. Early in the game, he is told he is the great hero Heracles. After another Heracles joins the group, Leucos asks him to come up with a name for himself to differentiate the two... at which point the player is finally allowed to input a name.
- In Rune Factory 3, before you learn someone's name or if you hear someone talking in the distance but cannot see him, his name is listed as "???".
- The final boss of Mana Khemia. It's Vayne's Literal Genie Split Personality, which obviously doesn't have a name of its own.
- Super Robot Wars labels unidentified units (ones that haven't fought one of your units yet) with question marks and their status screens are also question marks. In addition, bosses with very high HP (over 100,000 in Super Robot Wars Original Generation) have a ???????? HP count.
- This trope is combined with shadowed portraits (or a generic outline) to conceal the identities of characters in certain dialogue scenes (usually villains plotting). The effect is occasionally spoiled by someone's distinctive hairstyle.
- Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars does this with any character you currently do not know who is. Using the same number of ?'s as letters in their name, as well as silhouetting their image. However, a keen eye may reveal a couple of identities before the game does.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the hand in the Stock Pot Inn's toilet is entered in Link's Bomber Notebook as "???". In a Mythology Gag, the same character appears in the past in Oracle of Ages and in Skyward Sword.
- Played with in The Binding of Isaac, where a unlockable character is called ???. Pills are labelled as ??? before used.
- Kick Master: "You have found the ?? magic. This magic will ??" It allows you to see hidden items.
- Katawa Shoujo labels dialog by characters unknown to Hisao with a descriptive tag, like "twintails girl". Lampshaded early on when Hisao identifies the wrong person as "Hakamichi", resulting in the name being struck out with the correct one next to it for a few boxes, then finally replacing both with the character's nickname.
- In the arcade version of Art of Fighting, Mr. Karate had no name. Instead, there was only a "?" beneath his character portrait. "Mr. Karate" was actually a Fan Nickname, which SNK eventually adopted into canon.
- In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, your secretary Isabelle's name is written as "???" until she introduces herself following your inauguration.
- In Project X Zone, all characters whose names have not yet been said are identified as "???" even though for some, it should be painfully obvious who they are. This also creates a bit of Interface Spoiler in the cutscene that introduces Soma, Alisa and Vashyron. When Soma asks for Alisa and Lindow to tell him what the hell's going on, "Lindow" speaks up but the name on his text box still reads "???", hinting that he's not actually Lindow.
Non-Video Game Examples:
- The title of one episode of LOST is, you guessed it, "?" (pronounced "question mark").
- One time in Doctor Who, when the Seventh Doctor had to sign a guestbook, he wrote a really big question mark.
- The lead singer of ? and the Mysterians, a band most famous for their hit "96 Tears".
- In The Specialists, one character actually goes by Question Mark, or Mark.
- It's not uncommon in a live-action role playing game to see a character whose nametag reads only "???". It just means that not everyone present recognizes that person, and players who know them will have "??? is Bob" or somesuch on their character sheet.
- The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin says at the beginning of the book that Leon Carillon "changed his name to ?". What the "?" really stands for is part of the solution of the mystery.
- In Demo Reel, the five main characters who make movies are Donnie DuPre, Rebecca Stoné, Tacoma Narrows, Carl Copenhagen, and Quinn. Because the last of these only has one name, the credits list his name as "Quinn ???????".
- In Turnabout Storm, Ditzy Doo/Derpy Hooves/Bright Eyes/the gray pegasus with the bubble Cutie Mark keeps insisting that her name is different from whatever Twilight Sparkle is calling her, changing it every time. The text boxes change correspondingly... until they apparently give up and just start calling her a string of question marks.
- The German New Wave group/performer Nena (of "99 Luftballons" fame) has a song titled "?".
- Destroy The Godmodder: Used for whenever an entity's alignment or anything else about them has not yet been revealed. Be it their hit points, their power, and sometimes even what they do.
- Also invoked by players who will use question marks when they don't want others to know what it is that they're summoning.
- Burn Notice manages to combine this with Fun with Subtitles, while simultaneously Played for Drama. When Michael confronts Simon, the subtitles list him as a Simon; but instead of a description all there is a "?", showing how little is known about him.