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.
A glitch is a type of noise, both in the positive and negative sense. In terms of the negative, a glitch is something powerful and alarming. (Menkman 340) However, these negative qualities also can have positive consequences. It redefines the meaning of normal and what is thought of as good. (ibid) This is seen in a number of video game glitches. Such glitches are almost always unintentional and are frequently immersion breaking. While not all glitches are welcome (especially the game breaking kind), it is not uncommon for gamers to react to them in a positive way.
An example of one such positively received glitch was found in the initial release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. While Skyrim has a number of noteworthy glitches, the one referred to by the community as the Skyrim Space Program is particularly noteworthy. When players were fighting one of the game’s giants, a certain attack from the giant would send them flying into the air. At first glance this would seem like an immersion breaking bug that needed to be fixed. Bethesda did not design Skyrim to appeal to the same audience as Goat Simulator. Recognizing it as a disruption to the type of gameplay Skyrim players expected, Bethesda put out a patch removing this glitch. However, community backlash at the removal of the feature led Bethesda to add it back in a following patch. Despite disrupting the typical, more realistic gameplay that makes up most of Skyrim, the Skyrim Space Program glitch is a feature many players enjoy for a number of reasons. Some feel it adds to the game’s immersion by showing how strong the giants are, while others enjoy the humorous visual of their character rag dolling hundreds of miles into the air. There are also those that utilize it as part of gameplay, luring enemies to giants who send them flying far away from the player. While it is undoubtedly an alarming visual, the positive consequences of this glitch have surprised the negative in such a way that it has been embraced by the game’s community and developers as a feature.