Whitney: That is an odd name.
???: I was never given one, so I assigned myself one.
Killdra: So you settled on being called ???, spelled out like 3 question marks and pronounced like when you ask something 3 times in a row? Thats lame, really lame, even by DSBT standards.
When the name of something — be it a character, object, location, 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.
(If you're looking to pothole this trope, it's written like MyNameIsQuestionMarks.)
- In Beyblade Evolution, when fighting Kyoya for the first time, he refuses to introduce himself to the player until the player battles him, so, for the entire fight, Kyoya is known as "???" until the battle is won.
- Happens a few times in Iji:
- At one point, Dan gets kidnapped by someone who can't resist taunting you about it. Their name is displayed as "???" in the dialogue box, but if you're paying attention to the background music, their distinctive leitmotif gives away their identity.
- The first time you meet Iosa face-to-face, her name is displayed as "???" until she gets around to introducing herself.
- The Legend of Zelda series:
- 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. In the latter, it belongs to a ghost girl who Fi does not know the name of, but is named Phoeni according to the strategy guide.
- In Ocarina of Time the connected places of Dampé's grave and the Kakariko Village windmill, both identified as "?" despite the locations of both entrances being obvious.
- Furthermore, in Majora's Mask 3D the inside of the Moon is labeled as "???" if you save, quit, and look at the save file to load it.
- In the Nintendo Switch remake of Link's Awakening, the pile of bones in Yarna Desert that hints to the location of a Piece of Heart if Link sprinkles Magic Powder on it is also called "???" in the dialogue box.
- In the A Link to the Past ROM Hack Parallel Worlds, the Frozen World counterpart of "Your House" (Link's house) is "?'s House" and the owner is never met.
- There is also the final overworld area in the Light World, from where you can enter the final boss and get the ending, which is simply called "?" like the area in Ocarina of Time. It's heavily implied to be the top of Parallel Tower, but it's not confirmed.
- 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.
- Aversion in the series: In the first game, one character (who is a talkative, old lady) is hilariously referred to as "Oldbag" upon first meeting her; later we find out her name is actually Wendy Oldbag. One of the witnesses in chapter 2 of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is labelled as "Some Guy" until we find out his name which is Emeer Punchenbaug.
- Card City Nights 2: When entering the wharf, a person whose name is only "???", asks the player to get into the storage room.
- In Code 7, names of characters you don't know are displayed as three question marks. Mostly, these are less important NPCs whose name you never learn, although there are a few exceptions, such as Carla's name being displayed as ??? when she's shouting for someone to get her some bandages from far away, then switching to Carla once she comes closer and Zoya recognizes her.
- Every main series Danganronpa game has a character whose Ultimate/Super High School Level talent is unknown, and thus is listed in the Report Card menu and character introduction screen as "Ultimate ???". The first game has Kyoko Kirigiri (actually the Ultimate Detective), Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair has the Player Character Hajime Hinata, who is actually a talentless Reserve Course student, and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has Rantaro Amami (Ultimate Survivor/Ultimate Adventurer).
- 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.
- BlazBlue: The 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".
- The PS2 fighter Saint Seiya: The Sanctuary has "Gemini ???" as a character. In the series the game is based on, his name is revealed to be Gemini Kanon.
- 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).
- 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.
- Spiruna's assistant, Hella, in MapleStory is shown as "????" in NPC form.
- Repeat a particular Boss Battle in Warframe and you will get a message from a mysterious individual identified as "???" saying that your actions have consequences. Then you will eventually get ambushed during a standard mission by said mysterious figure, called Stalker. What's more, you can scan him to get an entry in your codex that gives some insight into the backstory.
- 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 Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy during the Crash 1 boss battle against Dr. N. Brio, when he Hulks Out the name above his health bar changes to "?!?".
- Kick Master: "You have found the ?? magic. This magic will ??" It allows you to see hidden items.
- The secret planet in Kirby Super Star's "Milky Way Wishes" is named "?". Its name was changed in Kirby Super Star Ultra... to "???".
- In Kirby & the Amazing Mirror, what appears to be Meta Knight is labeled only as "???" on his health bar when fighting him. When it's later revealed he's not actually Meta Knight but his Mirror World counterpart, his name changes to "Dark Meta Knight" for the penultimate boss fight.
- Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Return has two endgame areas whose names are question marks.
- "...???" is where you can meet Kainen after defeating the Evil Flame Pig, and the gate to the final area.
- "????" is said final area, the room where the Last Evil Pig's door is hidden.
- The final level in Yo! Noid 2: Enter the Void is just called "???".
- Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden uses ???? for people who are talking but haven't yet been identified.
- The Boxxy Quest series: For characters whose names are unknown until given, such as:
- BoxxyQuest: The Shifted Spires:
- Caleb, the second possible battle, named in the cutscene preceding his fight.
- Boxxyfan, gives his name before leaving and having a PDF.EXE be the boss battle.
- Kelly, the Pirate Captain, named by her First Mate, Nozzy, before taking on the party alone.
- Cloaked Figure, who is called "???" in the second meeting, before they enter the screen, who likes themselves as being mysterious, but gives the name "Intrepid" for use in their second meeting.
- Cornelia, called "???" before Boxxyfan names them in their meeting.
- BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm:
- Arianna, named before being fought in the Lake of Fanfiction.
- Mary Sue, named when talked to in the Lake of Fanfiction.
- BoxxyQuest: The Shifted Spires:
- In Chrono Trigger, the era/location of your final battles with Lavos is simply "???" as is the overworld of the Middle Ages and the Future before you find out what year it is.
- The flashy guy/Gigolo/Loki from Devil Survivor has his name displayed as "???" on the area menu.
- The hero of Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest starts off this way for the first battle. He's able to remember his name soon afterwards, but people continue to believe he's a Servant of Heaven.
- 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.)
- The Final Fantasy series: Multiple entries:
- In Final Fantasy V, there's a Blue Magic spell called "???". The reason for this seems to be the fact that it has no call box whatsoever. (If you care to know, it deals damage equal to the difference between your max and current HP.)
- Final Fantasy VI: Multiple characters:
- This is initially Terra's "name".
- 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?".
- Happens twice in Final Fantasy X. First, when Rikku joins you mid-battle early on. Then later, for an Aeon in a battle before you get to choose its name.
- Appears in Final Fantasy VII with the "Enemy Skill" materia, where it does the same as the FFV example.
- Final Fantasy Tactics: Unlike every other enemy in the game, all Zodiac monsters have their stats hidden behind question marks, though if you target them with Life Drain or Demi (which takes off 25% of max HP) or Demi 2 (which takes off 50% of max HP) you can get a pretty accurate estimate of their total HP.
- 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.
- Granblue Fantasy: Multiple characters:
- In a typical Visual Novel fashion, any on-screen character who hasn't properly introduced their name yet (directly by themselves or indirectly by other characters) will have them temporarily labeled as "???".
- Some of the Elite Mooks and bosses of the Arcarum expeditions have their HP and ATK levels replaced with "???" instead of using the typical green and red bar indicators of most enemies encountered in that mode.
- Hero & Daughter: Behemoth, the boss of the Forest Dungeon, is called "???" before it gives its name.
- Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass: The "???" that calls "Jimmy, wait!" when he enters the Giant Garden after the Petty Thugs leave, is revealed to be "Timothy Mouse" after he walks up to Jimmy.
- 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 final boss of Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. It's because they're The Nameless, as Vayne's Literal Genie Split Personality obviously doesn't have a name of its own.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- 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, there are enemies in Gwarhar Lagoon whose initial form is a shark fin poking out of the sand, with its name listed as "????". This is because there are actually two different enemies this could potentially be, and until the enemy pops out of the sand and shows their body when attacking, they look the same. One of them has the official name Sharkbone, while the other is a Blurp with a shark fin strapped on its back. They also regularly shuffle themselves on the battlefield, so you have to keep track of which is which to know whether to jump or not when they attack.
- In the Japanese and European versions of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, the Junior Shrooboid is labeled as "????" in battle.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, this is the name given in the tattle log for Doopliss before you find out his name.
- This is the name given to Antasma when you face him during the intro battle in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.
- Mega Man Battle Network 3: White and Blue: To stop a haywire tank, you must defeat a trio of viruses named ????. This is to obfuscate that they are small pieces of Alpha. They have an Underground Monkey form in the room with the final boss called Alpha Bug, which more clearly states what they are.
- Any tracks/traces from a monster that you haven't identified yet in Monster Hunter: World will be designated as "???". Similarly, after reaching High Rank, you start encountering tracks labelled "??? Rathian", showing that they are similar, but also different from regular Rathian tracks. The final boss is also labelled ??? during the fight, though this is because they don't actually have a name yet. The boss gets a name after it is defeated: Xeno'jiiva.
- The Other: Airi's Adventure: ??? is revealed as Luca after he and Airi talk for a little while and she remembers his name.
- Pokémon Gold and Silver, your rival gives his own name as "???". You're supposed to enter his name later, but many a small child ended up permanently naming him ??? when asked, thinking that was actually his name.
- Averted in the remakes, which instead call him Passerby Boy in the battle dialogue, which is more obviously a description, and if you somehow didn't realize that it's also too long to fit in the naming prompt. Similarly, he no longer tells you his name in dialogue; he instead drops his Trainer ID and the player character sees it, but the player doesn't, a better hint that whatever you tell the officer will become reality.
- Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl also use question marks to represent non-seen Pokémon in the Pokédex. Similarly, their equivalent/version of Missingno. is shown as the same icon, or for another kind, two white question marks.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity uses this when characters first appear. Later on, after Kyurem almost kills the player, this is also used for no given reason when the player awakens.
- Before the name was revealed to be Dark Nova, the Synergy Burst of Pokkén Tournament's second hidden character, Shadow Mewtwo, was simply referred to by just 3 question marks.
- In Pokémon Sun and Moon (and their Ultra versions), the Ultra Beasts are named "???" in battle until you catch them and they're registered in your Pokédex (subsequent battles use their proper names). However, in Sun and Moon they're given code names by the two International Police agents working on dealing with them, and one even gets referred to by its name during the main course of the gamenote . Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon also don't hide Poipole and Blacephalon/Stakataka's names.
- In Pokémon Sword and Shield, during the scripted encounter with Zacian/Zamazenta in the Slumbering Weald (shortly after the player and their rival Hop get their starter Pokémon), the game's respective wolf is labeled "???" in much the same manner as the first Nihilego encounter in the Alola games, as the player character hasn't learned about the legend yet. However, as it is merely a mirage, it does not attack and is not affected by any of your Pokémon's attacks. It knocks you and Hop out with mist after a few turns, disappearing shortly afterwards.
- In Generations II-IV, a "???" type existed which was neutral against all other types. However, this only appeared as the type of unhatched Eggs and the move Curse (which as a status move isn't normally affected by Elemental RockPaperScissors anyway), and in a few other niche situations.note In Generation V it was removed (and Curse changed to a Ghost-type move), presumably for the number of headaches it created for the programmers.
- It came back with a vengeance in Pokémon Sun and Moon in the form of Burn Up and Revelation Dance, with not only a ???-type Pokémon, but also a ???-type damage-dealing move. Like Roost to the Flying type, Burn Up removes the Fire type from its user, but it does not add a type back when the user is left with no type. The mono-Fire Cyndaquil and Growlithe lines get this move, as well as Moltres who is left as a Flying-type. On the other hand we have Oricorio with its signature ability Dancer and signature move Revelation Dance. The former causes the Pokémon with the ability to follow up someone else's dance move immediately, and the latter is a dance move whose type depends on the primary type of the user. Now Skill Swap Dancer onto Arcanine that have used Burn Up, put the Oricorio back into the field, and Revelation Dance. The Arcanine will immediately follow up with its own Revelation Dance, which due to it losing its typing become a legit ???-type damage-dealing move.
- The interaction of ???-type and Wonder Guard is also interesting in Gen VII. This setup requires a Mimic Shedinja which can only be created by teaching Ninjask the move Mimic all the way back to Gen III. Now the setup requires Shedinja learning Entrainment through Mimic off a teammate, bestowing its Wonder Guard ability to an Arcanine and the Arcanine using Burn Up. Due to the ???-type having no weakness, this Arcanine cannot be targeted by any damaging move, so only status conditions and weather can take it down without changing the Arcanine's type again if the Arcanine cannot use Rest. Otherwise either the opponent has to use Soak, Forest's Curse or Trick-or-Treat to add a type to the Arcanine or faint it with a Perish Song.
- Pokémon Gold and Silver, your rival gives his own name as "???". You're supposed to enter his name later, but many a small child ended up permanently naming him ??? when asked, thinking that was actually his name.
- The Star Ocean series:
- 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.
- Tales of Phantasia's Distant Prologue identifies the Precursor Heroes and the Big Bad with "????".
- The first energy golem your face in Telepath RPG is called "???" by the battle interface, this makes sense since these are a new technology from the enemies and your characters don't know what they are by this point, future energy golems are reffered as what they are.
- Sarn Kamina in the opening of Telepath Tactics. Tarion is also referred to as "???" until Emma calls him by name in the final arc, even though it's pretty obvious who he is since his name is mentioned prior to that.
- Trials of Mana: Some end-game enemies drop ??? Seeds, which either give the best gear in the game or a special item to allow for the second class change when planted.
- The Binding of Isaac: Multiple:
- An unlockable character and final boss of Wrath of the Lamb is called ??? (alternatively referred to as Blue Baby.)
- Unidentified pill types are also labelled as ??? before they're used.
- Getting the Curse of the Blind turns all chest/pedestal items into a "?" icon, and won't reveal what they are until touched.
- The Bonus Boss Hush, introduced in the Afterbirth update to Rebirth, is located in an area named ???, though its appearance as a blue-colored Palette Swap of the Womb floors led to the Fan Nickname of "Blue Womb".
- One of the pills introduced in Afterbirth is named "???", and unlike other pills, this isn't just a way to obscure its name; even after you identify it, this is the actual name of the pill. Since it forces a Curse of the Maze effect for the rest of the floor, the trope is exploited, so that you actually have to remember which pill it is, lest you mistake it for one you haven't identified yet and give yourself a detrimental effect again on a later floor.
- In SSX 3, if you do a huge enough chain of tricks (typically anything that would span greater than 3 lines of text), the game won't even bother trying to write all of them, and will instead list the combo as "???".
- In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, your secretary Isabelle's name is written as "???" until she introduces herself following your inauguration.
- While the Chinese Emperors in Crusader Kings II have names, every other stat is a question mark. They're so distant, so aloof from the petty squabbles of the barbarian West, and possessed of such a massive realm that all that matters is their representative in the Western Protectorate.
- 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 "???".
- Hitman: Blood Money has a mysterious female assassin charged with taking out Agent 47, identified only as "?".
- 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.
- 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.
- In The Specialists, one character actually goes by Question Mark, or Mark.
Anime and Manga
- One of the most powerful Witches in Puella Magi Madoka Magica does not have a proper name attached to it like the rest of its bretheren, instead referred to as "Walpurgisnacht" by magical girls who have had the misfortune of confronting it. Official promotional material takes it a step further, neglecting to mention its nickname in favor of the mysterious "?????."
- In Birds of Prey (2020), after Harley blows up the chemical factory and reveals to the world that she's broken up with the Joker (and is therefore no longer untouchable), people start coming after her to repay her for old grievances. When each one shows up, their name and grievance pops up on screen. But when Huntress shows up, we only get "Name: ??? Grievance: ???"
- In From Russia with Love, Blofled is listed in the credits as played by "?"
- 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 ???????".
- A meta example from Batman (1966): Actor Malachi Throne, guest starring as the villain False Face, was credited in the character's first appearance with a question mark in place of the actor's name, to be consistent with False Face's gimmick as a Master of Disguise with no traceable identity. Malachi Throne was understandably unhappy about this, and was given proper credit in his next appearance.
- 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.
- One time in Doctor Who, when the Seventh Doctor had to sign a guestbook, he wrote a really big question mark.
- The title of one episode of Lost is, you guessed it, "?" (pronounced "question mark").
- The lead singer of ? and the Mysterians, a band most famous for their hit "96 Tears".
- The George Jones song "Her Name Is" features a variant of this; the song is about a man pursuing a relationship with a married woman, but can't or won't describe her or say her name until she leaves her current husband. Any part of the song where her name or any description would be heard is replaced by a few musical notes.
- The German New Wave group/performer Nena (of "99 Luftballons" fame) has a song titled "?".
- It's not uncommon in a live-action role playing game to see a character whose name tag reads only "???". It just means that not everyone present recognizes that person, and players who know them will have "??? is Bob" or something on their character sheet.
- 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.
- DSBT InsaniT: ???'s name is literally is, because he was never given a name! Killdra really lays into him how ridiculous this name is.
- 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.
- Episode one of Over the Garden Wall has Jack Jones credited as voicing "???", the narrator, Greg's Frog.
- UTF 8 Coding. Should your name contain Unicode characters, those may come out as question marks in media like email or Usenet with a wrong charset.