Google picks the one fight it will never win—with Sonic fans

(Image credit: Sega)

The all-conquering tech giant that is Alphabet, nee Google, has finally overreached itself. The Google Play X account, essentially Google's public-facing games side, decided to do its own version of a popular meme, a thread that began with these fateful words: "Sonic, but as you scroll he gets older and older."

I've been doing this job a long time, and one of my learnings is that you don't fuck about with the Sonic fans. You don't look too closely at the fanfiction, you never image search for Amy, and you certainly don't mention that most of the post 16-bit games are rubbish. More than anything, you just don't get the details wrong, and Google got everything wrong that it could have

Google Play got off to the most spectacular start possible, posting an image with the caption:

"1991 Sonic. The cover? Rotund. Husky. Still fast as lightning. The actual game? 8-bit GLORY." Sonic the Hedgehog did see a release on the 8-bit Master System, but the game that made it a smash hit was the 16-bit Genesis / Mega Drive version. Google's crimes didn't end there though: the image features Tails.

Thus comes the first of many community notes, the X feature that allows community sourced corrections to popular tweets, which pointed out the above before going in with both red sneakers. "Tails (seen in picture) was not created until 1992 for Sonic the Hedgehog 2," reads the note, "meaning this is not a 1991 Sonic, but rather a later port of the original game."

Sit down and shut up, Google Play! Reader, it did not. In fact things got even worse.

The whole hog

The above tweet claims this image of Sonic is from 1993, and my old ass can assure you that no videogames looked like this in 1993. The imperious community note dismisses Google Play's nonsense, and even theorises about why it made such a mistake:

"This is Sonic as he appears in Sonic Boom," reads the note, "which released in 2014, not 1993. It is possible that Google Play have confused it for the game Sonic CD, which did release in 1993 and contains a song called Sonic Boom."

Stick that one in your pipe and smoke it, Sundar. Unbelievably things get worse. Next up is "1996 Sonic. Are those the MSCHF boots???" This is accompanied by an image of a much later game, and you can tell by this point the Sonic fans are getting tetchy: not only does the community note identify the game the image is actually from, 2013's Sonic Dash, but goes on to helpfully list all the Sonic games that actually did release in 1996. If only there were some indexed search resource to easily find such information!

"2003 Sonic," is up next, according to Google, which then posts an image taken from promotional material from Sonic Jump (2005). The community note again lists all the games that did release in that year, a pattern followed on Google Play's subsequent tweets about "2006 Sonic" ("This image is from the 2017 mobile game Sonic Forces Mobile," reads the community note).

You can almost feel the temple vein of Sonic fandom collectively throbbing at this point. "2018 Sonic," notes Google, "weirdly looked like 90's Sonic." Well maybe that's because "the image is actually a screenshot from the original 1991 game" you morons, and by the way "Sonic Mania released in 2017."

"2020 Sonic," says Google, with an image apparently from the 2020 film. Finally, it got one right! Not so, say the eagle-eyed hog nerds: "this frame came from the second Sonic the Hedgehog film which came out on 2022 not 2020" the community note sputters, incredulous at this continued car crash. Finally Google decides to tap out with its worst effort yet:

"2022 Sonic," says Google. "Just like us, he’s healed from 2020 but isn’t quite the same."

"This image has been digitally altered to attempt to remove characters in the background," thunders the community note. "Given the shoddiness of the result, it was likely done by AI." Plus this image was "first revealed in 2023" as a teaser for the Sonic Prime show that "premiered in 2024."

All in all, this is such terrible posting from Google Play that you half-think it must be deliberate: the only thing that dissuades me otherwise is the Sonic fans coming up with plausible theories for certain of the mistakes. There's also some theorising that this may be down to AI generating the tweets, though these days it's hard to tell whether something is bad because of AI involvement or just bad.

But whatever the reason, Google could not have got it more wrong than this. The real treat of course is in the replies, which are just the open-mouthed astonishment of an entire fandom at how they massacred my boy. Indeed, the final word on this whole farrago comes from the meme-happy official Sonic account itself, which simply replied to Google with: "what are you doing."

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."