THE BLOG

Why Glitches Are an Important Part of Gaming Culture

05/06/2015 17:14 | Updated 05 June 2016

Glitches are often seen as a negative presence in a game. They can break a title or even prevent the progression of a player. Nevertheless, they remain a beloved aspect of gaming culture. Part of the reason for this is that they have informed everything from let's plays to speedruns.

Even today, I can remember seeing my first glitch in a game. My brother burst into the front room clutching the Gameboy in his hands. Excitedly, he thrust the dimly lit screen under my gaze. There was The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, for the original Gameboy. I stared closely as he edged his character towards the side of the screen, and pressed down on the control pad and the select button simultaneously. The screen panned across as normal, but the protagonist was now positioned in the far wall, out of bounds.

The screen warp, as it would come to be called, could be performed to beat the game in record time, skipping key portions of the game by clipping through different obstacles. It could also be used to cause some interesting events to occur. For example, you could use it to get the shield early when retrieving the sword at the start of the game, and recruit Marin, typically a side character, as a constant companion on your quest. Neither of these had any real effect on the story, but they were fun to perform. It gave us an exciting new past time, allowing the player to experiment to see what they could find. It also showed us that game developers were human and could make mistakes just like everybody else. Being young, it was hard to associate the prepackaged box and its contents bought from a shop shelf with the game's creators on the other side of the world. Glitches were a meaningful human imprint that helped us to make that connection.

Glitches have since become an integral part of gaming culture. So much so, they were included as a significant part of the plot in the 2012 Disney animated feature Wreck It Ralph. They're also a constant topic of discussion on the Internet, in forums and in video game publications; and are especially important within the speedrunning community.

Speed Demos Archive, an online web site that documents speedruns, is a testament to the way in which glitches inform gaming culture. Simply by visiting the site, you will encounter a whole host of players using mistakes and oversights by developers to achieve world record runs of games.

There are also members of the Let's Play community that focus specifically on glitches in games. One of the most prominent of these is A+Start, a channel that runs an ongoing series called Son Of A Glitch. This channel has over 15 million views, in addition to 154,000 subscribers.

Glitches have become a great way of expanding the lifespan of a title. You may have completed a game's objectives, but it is possible there could still more to uncover within its code. This could be a way to clip through an area, avoid a cut scene, or even leap an invisible wall. Each new discovery reveals more about the designer or programmer that crafted it.

Some designers have even started to embrace their mistakes. For example, Goat Simulator, by Coffee Stain Studios, kept many of its glitches for players to experiment with upon release, whilst the studio Double Fine produced a video for their YouTube channel where they provided commentary over a speed run of their game Psychonauts. These two events showcase a newfound acceptance by developers, who are beginning to realize glitches can also influence unintentional gameplay possibilities

In addition to the above, there are also references to glitches in videogame lore. A Pixel Story, an indie title released in 2015, is based around a glitch in a game that makes your character a sentient pixel. This character can manipulate the game in many ways, such as warping from one place to another, and by transforming its appearance.

However, it goes without saying that glitches aren't always beneficial to a game. In fact, they can ruin a person's experience, either by destroying the game's aesthetic or by hindering progress in a certain area. These glitches are usually ones that are unavoidable or easy to perform accidentally that should have been removed during quality assurance.

Since that moment as a child in my front room, I've discovered hundreds of different glitches and bugs whilst playing video games; some have been fun to test out, others have been frustrating. Yet glitches remain an important part of the gaming experience, not just for me. They provide an unintended and often hilarious diversion from the central aim. One person's mistake is another person's treasure.