We lacked a campfire, but that didn't stop us from telling tall tales about the incredible—but completely true, I swear!—things that happened to us while we played our favorite games. Forget about title recommendations, or stories of overcoming difficult challenges. That impressed nobody at recess. The gold was in glitches, and we panned endlessly for it.
Boy, the things we made up. Secret levels. Vast riches. Forbidden abilities. Every story explained the bizarre occurrence and the specific conditions necessary to trigger it. They were often ridiculous, too—I remember waiting for hours outside of a cave in Pokemon once because that was how this super awesome legendary Pokemon was supposed to show up. He never did! Still, every day, we'd go home with the hope that this time, maybe this time, something awesome would happen to us in our games.
If only I'd known that ridiculous, amazing results were only a tilt of the cartridge away! This method of glitching is where you disrupt the data flow from the game by pulling it out a tad—but not completely. Games will typically respond with corrupted or fractured audio and graphics.
One of the most famous examples of cartridge tilting resulted in the geddan meme. Engrish for "get down", it refers to the spastic movements that characters in GoldenEye: 007 underwent after cartridge tilting. While amusing in its own right, the glitch didn't stay confined to GoldenEye: people were emulating it not only with other games, but in personal dance videos as well.
In any case, I didn't hold the deceptions against my friends. Nobody was innocent; everyone turned out to be a liar. If we humored each other so often it was because that was how much we wanted to believe.
That fascination with glitches hasn't left me. I absolutely love glitches. Sometimes I like glitches more than the actual games. Skyrim? I found it boring if not a bit soulless. But I played the heck out of it just in the search for these moments that seemed to lie outside the realm of possibility. Moments that literally defy all logic and rules in a neat, heavily scripted world.
Frankly, in a sea of perfectly orchestrated, intensely focus-tested games it's refreshing to see something slip through the cracks and give me a taste of what wasn't meant to be. It's like a small act of defiance.
You could say that I was undergoing a sort of pilgrimage in Tamriel—because what are glitches except the closest thing to a digital miracle? Put this way, it's no surprise that as children my friends and I wanted, above all, to have faith.
Or perhaps it's less of a religious type experience than it is a magical one. There's no other way to describe the places I visited in Gears of War 2, where a glitch allowed me to roll through the map and into a dream-like world. Inside there were half finished maps off in the distance, as if they were sky islands. I'd walk into eerie distorted cathedrals where completely bizarre things lay hidden, like giant waterfalls of lava.
I wasn't supposed to be there. That's part of what makes it appealing, the taboo nature. And yet there was nowhere else I wanted to be.
There's so much that wasn't meant to be when it comes to glitches, too—and so many stories arise from it. I fondly recall the whisperings of some of the terrifying things that lay within the dark corners of Red Dead Redemption. Watching these stories infiltrate the public consciousness, and change the perception of what the game really is was fascinating.
Seeing the stories evolve and become more incredulous was exciting and reminded me of my playground stories. Deep down, we don't care that the stories might not be real. We'll check anyway. We want them to be real, damnit. So games like Super Meat Boy indulge in this hunger by including levels that emulate glitches.
There's a certain aesthetic pleasure to glitches, too. Like a special type of art that can only exist digitally. Like catching a glimpse of the special ways a machine perceives the world.
I'd play this. I'd play this so hard, and I don't even like racers. But I'd play this just to experience this visual phantasmagoria. It's ridiculous and it's absurd and it's utterly, utterly beautiful.
Less romantically, some of the glitches in Skyrim seemed less like faults and more like features. Vaulting straight up into the air after a giant smacked you wasn't "supposed" to happen, but damn if it didn't feel amazing when it did. "Glitch" in this case is a misnomer, eh?
I think, to some extent, part of what makes glitches so good is that the most unexpected moments make for the most memorable ones, too. My most treasured memories with my friends are all tied with glitches: a Mario Party game that went horribly, horribly wrong
or getting spiked by an errant block in Green Greens when playing Super Smash Brothers (Glitchy in Melee, and thankfully, thankfully! Just as glitchy in Brawl. I'm glad you didn't fix that, Nintendo! The stage is all the more hilarious for it.)
We live in an age where so much of everything is knowable, quantifiable, within reach. We've decoded DNA. We've landed on Mars. We can turn mice into jellyfish. It seems, at times, as if wonder is an ever fleeting, ever receding thing.
The things that can command wonder, now, are things that lie outside of ordinary experience. For this reason the supernatural will always captivate the public's imagination.
I can't say I've experienced anything that's too out there. Glitches are my one opportunity to experience something almost supernatural. Because when it comes down to it? Every glitch is a ghost story.