Follow TV Tropes


Symbol Face

Go To
JuST p0pp1NG 1N 70 dlßtORt r3æLiTy!note 

Alright, so you've reached that stage of character design that seriously affects the character. The face. So, what do you want? Some freckles? Rosy cheeks? Long, big nose? Red eyes? Nope, throw that all out. The character's face is a symbol.

Symbol Face is when a character's, face, is well, a symbol. This is a rare design choice, as most characters would have a hard time showing emotions and stands out. When this trope is in play, it usually means that the character is gonna be real special. Well, it doesn't because this is prevalent enough to be a trope, but that's beside the point.

There are multiple reasons as to why a character may have a symbol as their face. Perhaps they're a construct or a robot, made by a group who put a logo on the character's face. Or maybe they're some guardian who bears a symbol on their face which represents their nature. Maybe they are a mystical monster with a mysterious past that causes them to have such a face. Maybe they were cursed to have a face like that. They might just be wearing a cool mask or helmet.

As for the symbol itself, there are many good, bad or ehhh reasons for the design choice.

This trope is obviously unrealistic, because if you had a symbol for a would you preform some of the functions that require the missing organs? Humans have noses, eyes and mouths for a reason you know! Which makes it even more likely that the character is non-organic or magical unless it's a mask.

Symbol faces rarely appear in written media because it's a visual trope. The author may see no need to describe a symbol face because of the fact that no one will see it, and that it's harder to describe emotions without a face.

The trope is usually seen as mysterious yet inviting due to the unusualness when the symbol is the face itself, as it's something that people do not expect to see when looking at someone's head. Audiences might be intrigued by this, wondering what's going on inside that head. As a result, expect the mystery and intrigue of this sort of character to be cranked up more than the rest of the cast because of the thoughts and feelings being hidden due to the inability to express. Characters with a symbol face may come off as secretive despite making no efforts to hide anything. They have a higher chance of being seen as monstrous and being monstrous because of how unnatural their face is. They might have an odd skin color, unnatural body, and generally strange features. They may be inhumane, or at least seen as inhumane.

When people see a living being, they look at the face first. When the creature lacks a proper face, people might even wonder if they're alive, and not just some organic robot (if they're not a robot already that is). They might be treated with less sympathy because they're "less" than living, and won't have much empathy. It's hard to relate with someone who has a drawing of a letter as their face. Or that could all be thrown away, and they might seem as cool, powerful and mystic anyways instead of uncanny and inhuman.

Might be a Nightmare Face depending on the symbol's design. Can be a Butter Face if the character has an attractive body. Usually doubles as a Frozen Face and/or Eyeless Face, if the symbol does not contort to show emotions and/or has no eyes respectively. Compare Non-Human Head when the entire head is something unusual. Characters usually are The Blank besides the symbol. Sometimes paired with Bioluminescence Is Cool by the symbol glowing.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Grayson:
    • All Spyral operatives have Hypnos implants embedded on their eyes, which hypnotize nearby observers and jam recording devices. As a result, it's impossible to identify the agents' faces, which are perceived as a flesh-coloured spiral.
    • In the first issue, the reader is introduced to Mr. Minos, current leader of the covert operations agency Spyral. His true appearance is never shown, as his facial features are distorted into the shape of a spiral, symbolizing both the name of the organization he leads and his obsession with keeping secrets. Nightwing (Rebirth) would then reveal that he is actually an A.I. given human form via light construct technology, and therefore has no real face of his own.
  • Marvel Universe: Back in the 1980s, the tech-centric criminal organization Advanced Idea Mechanics had a group of their mooks use powered armor. The front of the helmet was a smiley face, which was found to be an effective and intimidating psychological tool.
  • In Prez (2015), major corporations have been granted legal personhood and are each represented by a man whose real face is hidden by an unchanging holographic mask based on the corporation's logo. The most prominent of these in the series is the CEO of Smiley Industries, whose head is a "Have a Nice Day" Smile. Other have the heads of cartoon animal mascots, or more abstract symbols including a communications satellite and a missile.
  • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Tarn wears a mask shaped like the Decepticon insignia.
  • Watchmen: Rorschach famously wears a white mask with shape-changing black and white ink that never mix. The ink changes and takes form into multiple shapes and patterns. This is supposed to show how he only sees the world though Black and White, Good and Evil. There is no gray; the inks do not mix to become gray.
  • In Welcome to Tranquility, local criminal Emoticon wears a screen-like mask over his face that displays whatever emotion he's feeling in the form of an emoticon. His real face was horribly disfigured by his abusive grandfather when he was younger, and thus the mask is both the only way he can show any expression of his feelings. The mask also prevents him from concealing his emotions; the emoticon presented will always betray what he's really feeling.

  • Elantris: Exaggerated with the seons — small Spark Fairies with a central magic rune making the whole body technically a symbol. Although they don't derive any unique abilities from the rune other than an innate knowledge of its meaning, the seons are fragments of one of the gods that fuels the magic system, and there is one seon in existence per rune in the Language of Magic.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The Cryptics are a type of spren who appear in the Spirit World as humanoids with a floating, ever-changing fractal pattern in place of a head. They also have an intuitive understanding of patterns, making them excellent logicians, translators, and cryptographers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "Smile", the titular Emojibots are humanoid service robots whose faces consist of LED displays that show various emojis to indicate their moods and intentions. Throughout the episode, the Doctor and Bill use these emojis to gauge how good of a job they're doing at pretending to be happy so that the Emojibots don't attack them.
  • Squid Game: The games are enforced by guards who preserve their anonymity by wearing pink tracksuits and masks with a circle, square, or triangle on the face. These shapes are used to tell the rank of the guard.

  • Squarepusher's live band Shobaleader One all wear helmets with LED faceplates displaying different shapes and colors. Squarepusher himself has a red square, Strobe Nazard has a blue circle, Company Laser has a green triangle, and Arg Nution has a yellow rectangle.


    Video Games 
  • Black & White: Exaggerated. Each Physical God appears as a giant Spark Fairy with the god's symbol floating within, making the whole body a symbol with light around it. The same symbol appears over Village Centers where the god has influence. These are of course used to differentiate players.
  • The main playable characters, or Hosts as Hours (2020) calls them, all have symbols on their faces. The Invader has as a symbol which resembles M, the Prophet has a symbol that resembles a pair of I, and so on and so forth. Few Hosts have anything that passes for a face. While some symbols can be explained, such as the Vestige's, who's symbol represents a headset and an eye (possibly related to how he's a sniper and may have had people to communicate to, before he was banished from the Guilty), most can't.
  • Multiple Lesser Nobodies from Kingdom Hearts have the Organization XIII symbol as their face, give or take a mouth under it. This, of course, is meant to show what they are and who they're aligned with.
  • The Roblox game Lua Virus has characters known as the Payloads. Most of them have their team symbol as their face such as Overcharges having a yellow V for faces, Diamond Drones having a blue diamond shape as faces, Point Blanks having green pixel art of an explosion as their faces, and so on.
  • Pokémon has a group of characters called the Regi Pokemon, which all have dots in different arrangements as faces. These faces represent the system of Braille, which is used as written language for blind people.
  • Starbound: Novakids are an entire race of "interstellar gas-bag people", who have some sort of metal crest instead of face. The crest can be basically anything - from a horseshoe, to a venus symbol, to a sheriff badge. They also can be The Blank, lacking the crest entirely, but that's only one Character Customization option
  • Tower Defense Simulator has many enemies with odd faces, most notably being the zombies that usually attack first. The symbols on their faces vary from crosses, slashes and forked crosses. There are also the molten enemies, which have faces that resemble the letter M. The only exception is the Molten Titan, who has eyes that drown out the symbol and put it in the backseat. It is most likely used to show these creatures aren't human, at least not anymore.
  • One of the bosses from ULTRAKILL, Gabriel, wears a helmet with a golden cross on the front, showing his status as an Archangel and his importance. There are no visible eyeholes.

    Web Animation 
  • Madness Combat's Nevedeans all have crosses for faces, with no exception. Sure, there may be extra features piled on, but the cross is still there. This is used to show that the person is "human", and that the lack of it is a result of their monstrous nature.

  • Homestuck: The "god of all monsters" Yaldabaoth is a Great Serpent with a head shaped like the sunburst symbol of the Light Aspect, although he has no overt connection to Light. Until his death, it generates a bright enough light to obscure his features.

  • SCP Foundation has an anomalous statue designated SCP-173. The statue, among the multiple horrifying qualities such as moving when not looked at and snapping necks, has an odd pattern on its "face". It's unknown what its meaning is, or who painted it. It might just be abstract art, or an attempt to generate fear.

    Western Animation 
  • Super Giant Robot Brothers!: Thunder's face is a digital display. It usually displays basic face symbols (eyes and a mouth), but can also change to match certain situations, such as an exclamation mark to denote surprise.