What is a Glitch? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

Only being able to play video games and having an extensive knowledge of the best titles on the market doesn’t make of you a real gamer. What makes of you a real gamer is also being an expert on gaming technical vocabulary, understanding the gaming mechanicals, and knowing how to take full advantage of them both in order to live the best virtual experience ever. So, if your objective is to become a skilled player with a great understanding of gaming, you are in the right place to take another step towards perfection!

This time, let’s spend some time to clarify the meaning of a word mostly known by experienced gamers; that is glitch. We can define “glitch” as those software errors that can cause problems within the code, and typically go unnoticed or unsolved during the production of the software. There are different types of glitches and they are so common in video games that the word “glitching” was invented to address the practice of players exploiting faults in a video game’s programming to achieve tasks that can give them an unfair advantage in the game. Also, sometimes glitches are so insignificant, or interesting, that programmers can decide to leave them on purpose in the hope players won’t notice or will go crazy by trying to overcome them.

In general, this is how a glitch is defined, but let’s try to examine what a glitch is and how it is received by the public more specifically.

The Motley World of Glitches

First of all, it is important to know that there isn’t just a single type of software error. Glitches can cover many kinds of unintended behaviors or results the programmer wasn’t expecting when designing the game. Indeed, glitches can be errors of textures, models, sound, graphics, and so on. When a glitch affects the textures or specific models (which can also be parts of a location and characters), the result is that they look distorted or come out in a different way than one meant. Otherwise, for the errors regarding audio, sounds come out strangely, out of tune, or don’t play at all. Still, if a glitch is graphical, it could result into more serious problems that can affect the game in a more evident way. For example, not displaying a wall where there should be one. Finally, other kind of glitches could be the presence of strange entities, such as objects and characters not meant to be there or not intended to be moving, or even special moves a character wasn’t planned to be able to perform.

The effect of glitches can be really weird, hilarious, or scary. In Sherlock Holmes’ Crimes and Punishments, for example, Watson was programmed to be following the character of Sherlock Holmes everywhere he went, but unfortunately, against all expectations, the result was a teleporting Watson which continued to magically appear in front of Sherlock, suddenly. Another odd, and actually kind of creepy glitch, can be also found in the popular franchise video game The Sims. In The Sims, a glitch made certain babies look like demons capable of unnatural abilities, such as levitation, or having grotesque features, like distended limbs and bulging eyes. However, the best example of glitch ever can be found in…

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

  • Developer: Game Arts
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: Mar. 9, 2008
  • Platform: WII

This game doesn’t have a complex plot, but it is highly recognized by the gamer’s community for featuring the most famous and weirder glitch in the history of video games. It starts with Mario and Kirby facing each other on a stadium located in the Smash Bros. world where fighters are turn into trophies when defeated. Suddenly, the Battleship Halberd flies over the two and releases a stream of bugs that transform into the soldiers of the Subspace Army. The Ancient Minister, general of the Subspace Army, arrives and detonates a bomb, which transports the stadium into an alternate dimension where the Subspace Army resides. To stop the advance of the Ancient Minister, the heroes decides to team up.

For the ones who don’t know, let’s specify that in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it is possible to change out characters’ default movesets. That means that you can substitute a character’s basic moves with the one of a different character present in the game. The problem is that when you select the new moveset for a character, moves are not the only thing that changes. Indeed, a character’s appearance is altered too, resulting into monstrous deformations, such as growing stretched or distorted limbs. The most famous – and quite scary – deformation is Pikachu’s when its moveset is replaced by Ganondorf’s. The result is, indeed, a terrible, giant freak well-known as Pikaman!

Super Smash Bros. Brawl Nintendo Wii Trailer - E3 Trailer


Glitch or Bug? That is the Question!

Now, many of you might be thinking that glitches are nothing more than bugs, and you might also be right. The word “glitch” can, in fact, be used as a synonymous of “bug” in the gaming jargon, but there is actually a slight difference between the two words. First of all, let’s say that glitches can be temporary or sudden errors which can eventually correct themselves without causing any huge trouble to the gaming experience. On the contrary, bugs can’t be solved that easily since they are anything that causes the code not to behave as expected. They are human flaws made while planning and writing the code or the system itself, which causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result. In brief, we could say that a glitch is a slight, temporary defect affecting audio, graphics, appearance of a model, or mechanisms that resulted from an error found at the level of the development of the game and that can only be solved manually, namely a bug.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

  • Developer: GREZZO, Nintendo
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: Oct. 25, 2000
  • Platform: N64, 3DS

All gamers certainly remember of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Playable on Nintendo 64. This game – as many others of the same series – has actually become an immortal legend to the point that there is no real gamer who hasn’t played Link’s role at least once in their life. Majora’s Mask takes place in a world different from the usual Hyrule, as Link finds himself in the land of Termina. Here, a mysterious mask known as Majora's Mask has been stolen by a mischievous imp called the Skull Kid, and is being used to summon the Moon in order to destroy the world of Termina. Link will have three days to stop the destruction.

Besides its great plot and playability, Majora’s Mask has become incredibly successful for a long list of glitches so famous that they have also been named. In particular, there is a glitch called the Fourth Day that represents one of the best examples of errors which can correct themselves--different from bugs. The Fourth Day glitch allowed Link to stay alive instead of going to the Game Over scene even though the game was meant to end on the beginning of fourth day. Indeed, the game is a quest consisting in a 3-day cycle after which the moon will fall. The player is supposed to solve the quest before running out of time. However, if Link goes to the Bomber's Hideout during the final six hours of the third day, looks through the telescope and exits when 00:00:02 or less time remains, the moon won’t fall and the game will continue normally. The glitch is removed when you play the Song of Time. Otherwise, Link will stay alive, but the player won’t be able to access to the item menu or pause the game.

Nintendo 3DS - The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D - Announcement Trailer


Mistakes or Features?

Are glitches really a list of failures made by a careless programmer, or are they brilliant casual results of something a programmer could have never thought about on his/her own? After all, without glitches’ existences, some games might have never been able to earn the great popularity they are blessed with today. In fact, some glitches are absolutely epic and were the cause for a number of games for having acquired certain incredible features which were even able to change the history of video games forever. Indeed, glitches are not only the cause for a game to be remembered as special or original, but even the reason for some entire genres to be existing. We must therefore thank the laziness of certain programmers who didn’t consider the idea of quashing errors for gaming innovations such as the one brought by Street Fighter II.

Street Fighter II

  • Developer: Creative Materials, Capcom, Sun L, Tec Toy, Tiertex Design Studios
  • Publisher: U.S. Gold, Capcom, Bootleg, Kixx, Nintendo, Hi-Tech, Tec Toy
  • Release Date: 1991
  • Platform: CPS, C64, SMS, GBS, NES, AMI, MOBI, PC, ZX, ST, ARC

Street Fighter II has a very essential plot. Colonel William Guile, that is the antagonist, leads an army of soldiers into the country of Shadaloo to find traces to lead him to General Bison, who has captured many people including three missing soldiers. On the other hand, there is Chun-Li, a reporter who seeks revenge against Bison for the death of her father. Still, there are two small time hustlers named Ryu and Ken, who get arrested for dealing of illegal weapons. Guile recruits them all in order to find Bison's base. They have three days before Bison murders the hostages and takes over the world.

Have you ever heard about animation cancelling? Let’s briefly try to explain what it is. Whenever you attack or use a spell, your character needs a fast or slow animation to pull the spell off. However, after the magic is sent away or you have stricken an enemy, there could be a short or longer backswing where your character is performing an unnecessary animation. In a contest like that, animation cancelling is to right click away after your spell is on its way, so you won’t need to wait any longer and can continue moving. What introduced cancelling animation concept was a glitch in Street Fighter II a result of a major bug in the game design. This bug allowed to interrupt certain animation frames by performing another attack. As a consequence, a player could chain together multiple attacks so quickly that the opponent could do nothing to stop them. Basically, an error in Street Fighter II led to that combo system which is part of the fighting game genre and without which a fighting game is impossible to think about!

Ultra Street Fighter II Announce Trailer

Final Thoughts


Glitches can be disturbing, annoying, or irritating sometimes, but there are also some people who think they should be considered special features of a game, parts of its unicity. Erring is human and a work made by a man can’t be perfect, so glitches should be lived as part of a gaming experience exactly like the rest of the adventure.
What is your favorite glitch? Let us know with a comment!

Dareka Nobody

Writer

Author: Dareka Nobody

I’m an Italian dirty little girl obsessed with Japanese language, culture, literature, anime, manga, games, but also with writing, reading, and travelling, in general. I lived in Japan and I’m about to be moving there forever. When I’m not working, I translate yaoi light novels for a hobby. I’ve recently started a partnership with the website Novelleleggere.org where I publish my works. I run a page on Facebook about my translation and I’m also a blogger who likes to write about her experiences in Japan. Akiba addicted and enthusiastic Honeyfeed’s writer!

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