As technology has become more a part of our everyday lives, people have become accustomed to it accurately simulating our humanness. At the dawn of the video game era visuals that were not anatomically accurate where to be expected. In the early 1980s if a sprite in an arcade game became visually distorted it would not have been that off-putting due to its already pixelated nature. However, if at that time there was a sprite that depicted highly accurately a human visage this would have been uncanny to users. That was in a pre-digital world, but as Ferreira and Ribas argue we are now living in a post-digital world. This post-digital world is one where we are surrounded by technologies that can accurately depict real world images. Because of this, when glitches occur that distort this intended realism they are especially off-putting.
This is the case with the invisible face glitch from Assassin’s Creed Unity. A fairly famous glitch that was present when the game first released, this glitch causes characters’ faces to be invisible except for their eyeballs, gums, and teeth. Players found this glitch to be unsettling and horrifying, though I believe for more nuanced reasons than its pure grisly image. By removing the digital features that covered the eyes and mouths, players are faced with features that they clearly identify as human parts. Like humans, Unity’s characters are made up of separate parts that combine to make a whole being. The invisible face glitch highlights these parts, which in turn remind players of their own body parts, which could technically be dissected if so desired. As players face the levitating eyeballs and gums of Arno, they are reminded of their own mortality by the image’s uncanny reflection of themselves. While this could have acted as an opportunity for reflection on human experience, it was not welcomed by many Unity players due to them not going into the game expecting an existential experience.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is available for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.
Ferreira, Pedro and Luisa Ribas. “Post-Digital Aesthetics in Contemporary Audiovisual Art.” xCoAx 2020. PDF.