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A glitch is a short-lived fault in a system, such as a transient fault that corrects itself, making it difficult to troubleshoot. The term is particularly common in the computing and electronics industries, in circuit bending, as well as among players of video games. More generally, all types of systems including human organizations and nature experience glitches.


A glitch, which is slight and often temporary, differs from a more serious bug which is a genuine functionality-breaking problem. Alex Pieschel, writing for Arcade Review, said: "'bug' is often cast as the weightier and more blameworthy pejorative, while 'glitch' suggests something more mysterious and unknowable inflicted by surprise inputs or stuff outside the realm of code." [1]


Some reference books, including Random House's American Slang, claim that the term comes from the German word glitschen ("to slip") and the Yiddish word glitshn ("to slide", "to skid"). Either way, it is a relatively new term. It was first widely defined for the American people by Bennett Cerf on the June 20, 1965, episode of What's My Line as "a kink ... when anything goes wrong down there [Cape Kennedy], they say there's been a slight glitch." Astronaut John Glenn explained the term in his section of the book Into Orbit, writing that

Another term we adopted to describe some of our problems was "glitch." Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it. You have probably noticed a dimming of lights in your home when you turn a switch or start the dryer or the television set. Normally, these changes in voltage are protected by fuses. A glitch, however, is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against it. [2]

John Daily further defined the word on the July 4, 1965, episode of the same show, saying that it's a term used by the Air Force at Cape Kennedy, in the process of launching rockets, "it means something's gone wrong and you can't figure out what it is so you call it a 'glitch'." Later, on July 23, 1965, Time magazine felt it necessary to define it in an article: "Glitches—a spaceman's word for irritating disturbances." In relation to the reference by Time, the term has been believed to enter common usage during the American Space Race of the 1950s, where it was used to describe minor faults in the rocket hardware that were difficult to pinpoint. [3] [4]

According to a Wall Street Journal article written by Ben Zimmer, [5] Yale law librarian Fred Shapiro came up with the new earliest use of the word yet found: May 19, 1940. That was when the novelist Katharine Brush wrote about glitch in her column "Out of My Mind" (syndicated in The Washington Post , The Boston Globe , and other papers). Brush corroborated Tony Randall's radio recollection:

When the radio talkers make a little mistake in diction they call it a "fluff," and when they make a bad one they call it a "glitch," and I love it.

Other examples from the world of radio can be found in the 1940s. The April 11, 1943, issue of The Washington Post carried a review of Helen Sioussat's book about radio broadcasting, Mikes Don't Bite. The reviewer noted an error and wrote, "In the lingo of radio, has Miss Sioussat pulled a 'muff,' 'fluff,' 'bust,' or 'glitch'?" And in a 1948 book called The Advertising and Business Side of Radio, Ned Midgley explained how a radio station's "traffic department" was responsible for properly scheduling items in a broadcast. "Usually most 'glitches,' as on-the-air mistakes are called, can be traced to a mistake on the part of the traffic department", Midgley wrote.

Further digging reveals that in the 1950s, glitch made the transition from radio to television. In a 1953 ad in Broadcasting magazine, RCA boasted that their TV camera has "no more a-c power line 'glitches' (horizontal-bar interference)." And Bell Telephone ran an ad in a 1955 issue of Billboard showing two technicians monitoring the TV signals that were broadcast on Bell System lines: "When he talks of 'glitch' with a fellow technician, he means a low frequency interference which appears as a narrow horizontal bar moving vertically through the picture."

A 1959 article in Sponsor , a trade magazine for television and radio advertisers, gave another technical usage in an article about editing TV commercials by splicing tape. "'Glitch' is slang for the 'momentary jiggle' that occurs at the editing point if the sync pulses don't match exactly in the splice." It also provided one of the earliest etymologies of the word, noting that, "'Glitch' probably comes from a German or Yiddish word meaning a slide, a glide or a slip."[ citation needed ]

Electronics glitch

An electronics glitch or logic hazard is a transition that occurs on a signal before the signal settles to its intended value, particularly in a digital circuit. Generally, this implies an electrical pulse of short duration, often due to a race condition between two signals derived from a common source but with different delays. In some cases, such as a well-timed synchronous circuit, this could be a harmless and well-tolerated effect that occurs normally in a design. In other contexts, a glitch can represent an undesirable result of a fault or design error that can produce a malfunction. Some electronic components, such as flip-flops, are triggered by a pulse that must not be shorter than a specified minimum duration in order to function correctly; a pulse shorter than the specified minimum may be called a glitch. A related concept is the runt pulse, a pulse whose amplitude is smaller than the minimum level specified for correct operation, and a spike, a short pulse similar to a glitch but often caused by ringing or crosstalk.

Computer glitch

A computer glitch is the failure of a system, usually containing a computing device, to complete its functions or to perform them properly.

In public declarations, glitch is used to suggest a minor fault which will soon be rectified and is therefore used as a euphemism for a bug, which is a factual statement that a programming fault is to blame for a system failure.

It frequently refers to an error which is not detected at the time it occurs but shows up later in data errors or incorrect human decisions. Situations which are frequently called computer glitches are incorrectly written software (software bugs), incorrect instructions given by the operator (operator errors, and a failure to account for this possibility might also be considered a software bug), undetected invalid input data (this might also be considered a software bug), undetected communications errors, computer viruses, Trojan attacks and computer exploiting (sometimes called "hacking").

Such glitches could produce problems such as keyboard malfunction, number key failures, screen abnormalities (turned left, right or upside-down), random program malfunctions, and abnormal program registering.

Examples of computer glitches causing disruption include an unexpected shutdown of a water filtration plant in New Canaan, 2010, [6] failures in the Computer Aided Dispatch system used by the police in Austin, resulting in unresponded 911 calls, [7] and an unexpected bit flip causing the Cassini spacecraft to enter "safe mode" in November 2010. [8] Glitches can also be costly: in 2015, a bank was unable to raise interest rates for weeks resulting in losses of more than a million dollars per day. [9]

Video game glitches

The start-up screen of the Virtual Boy is affected by a visual glitch Virtual Boy glitch in right eyepiece.jpg
The start-up screen of the Virtual Boy is affected by a visual glitch

Glitches/bugs are software errors that can cause drastic problems within the code, and typically go unnoticed or unsolved during the production of said software. These errors can be game caused or otherwise exploited until a developer/development team repairs them with patches. Complex software is rarely bug-free or otherwise free from errors upon first release.

There are different kinds of glitches, which can affect different aspects of a game:

Glitches such as MissingNo. from the Pokémon games may include incorrectly displayed graphics, collision detection errors, game freezes/crashes, sound errors, and other issues. Graphical glitches are especially notorious in platforming games, where malformed textures can directly affect gameplay (for example, by displaying a ground texture where the code calls for an area that should damage the character, or by not displaying a wall texture where there should be one, resulting in an invisible wall). Some glitches are potentially dangerous to the game's stored data. [11]

"Glitching" is the practice of players exploiting faults in a video game's programming to achieve tasks that give them an unfair advantage in the game, over NPC's or other players, such as running through walls or defying the game's physics. Glitches can be deliberately induced in certain home video game consoles by manipulating the game medium, such as tilting a ROM cartridge to disconnect one or more connections along the edge connector and interrupt part of the flow of data between the cartridge and the console. [12] This can result in graphic, music, or gameplay errors. Doing this, however, carries the risk of crashing the game or even causing permanent damage to the game medium. [13]

Heavy use of glitches are often used in performing a speedrun of a video game. [14] One type of glitch often used for speedrunning is a stack overflow, which is referred to as "overflowing". Another type of speedrunning glitch, which is almost impossible to do by humans and is mostly made use of in tool assisted speedruns, is arbitrary code execution which will cause an object in a game to do something outside of its intended function. [15]

Part of the quality assurance process (as performed by game testers for video games) is locating and reproducing glitches, and then compiling reports on the glitches to be fed back to the programmers so that they can repair the bugs. Certain games have a cloud-type system for updates to the software that can be used to repair coding faults and other errors in the games. [11]

Some games purposely include effects that look like glitches as a means to break the fourth wall and either scare the player or put the player at unease, or otherwise as part of the game's narrative. [16] Games like Eternal Darkness and Batman: Arkham Asylum include segments with intentional glitches where it appears that the player's game system has failed. [17] The Animus interface in the Assassin's Creed series, which allows the player-character to experience the memories of an ancestor though their generic heritage, includes occasional glitches as to enforce the idea that the game is what the player-character is witnessing through a computer-aided system. [16] Five Nights at Freddys: Help Wanted for mobile has 'glitches' that you need to tap on to unlock a minigame.

Glitches can also be found in electronic toys. For example, in 2013, Hasbro released a game called Bop It Beats. [18] It was discovered by several players that the DJ Expert and Lights Only modes have a bug that will give players a fail sound upon reaching a pattern with six actions and completing them successfully. The more difficult DJ modes can be completed in the Party mode as long as there is a "Pass It" on the last few patterns. Hasbro was informed about this glitch but as it was discovered after manufacture, they can no longer update or upgrade existing units. Foreign versions of the game, however, were shipped with this glitch already patched.

Glitches in games should not be confused with exploits. Despite them both performing unintended actions, an exploit is not a programming error, but instead an oversight by the developers. (e.g. bunny hopping, repeatedly mashing a jump button to bypass movement limitations in the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog reboot or taking advantage of opponents during lag in online multiplayer games)

Television glitch

In broadcasting, a corrupted signal may glitch in the form of jagged lines on the screen, misplaced squares, static looking effects, freezing problems, or inverted colors. The glitches may affect the video and/or audio (usually audio dropout) or the transmission. These glitches may be caused by a variety of issues, interference from portable electronics or microwaves, damaged cables at the broadcasting center, or weather. [19]

Multiple works of popular culture deal with glitches; those with the word "glitch" or derivations thereof are detailed in Glitch (disambiguation).

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Software bug</span> Error, flaw, failure, or fault in a computer program or system

A software bug is an error, flaw or fault in the design, development, or operation of computer software that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result, or to behave in unintended ways. The process of finding and correcting bugs is termed "debugging" and often uses formal techniques or tools to pinpoint bugs. Since the 1950s some computer systems have been designed to deter, detect or auto-correct various computer bugs during operations.

Copy protection, also known as content protection, copy prevention and copy restriction, describes measures to enforce copyright by preventing the reproduction of software, films, music, and other media.

Glitch is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the 1990s. It is distinguished by the deliberate use of glitch-based audio media and other sonic artifacts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crash (computing)</span> When a computer program stops functioning properly and self-terminates

In computing, a crash, or system crash, occurs when a computer program such as a software application or an operating system stops functioning properly and exits. On some operating systems or individual applications, a crash reporting service will report the crash and any details relating to it, usually to the developer(s) of the application. If the program is a critical part of the operating system, the entire system may crash or hang, often resulting in a kernel panic or fatal system error.

A patch is a set of changes to a computer program or its supporting data designed to update, fix, or improve it. This includes fixing security vulnerabilities and other bugs, with such patches usually being called bugfixes or bug fixes. Patches are often written to improve the functionality, usability, or performance of a program. The majority of patches are provided by software vendors for operating system and application updates.

<i>Trespasser</i> (video game) 1998 action-adventure video game

Trespasser is a 1998 action-adventure video game developed by DreamWorks Interactive and published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows. The game serves as a sequel to the 1997 film The Lost World: Jurassic Park, taking place a year after the film's events. Players control Anne, the sole survivor of a plane crash that leaves her stranded on a remote island with genetically engineered dinosaurs. It features the voices of Minnie Driver as Anne and Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, reprising his role from the film series.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cheating in online games</span> Practice of subverting video game rules or mechanics to gain an unfair advantage

Cheating in online games is the subversion of the rules or mechanics of online video games to gain an unfair advantage over other players, generally with the use of third-party software. What constitutes cheating is dependent on the game in question, its rules, and consensus opinion as to whether a particular activity is considered to be cheating.

A tool-assisted speedrun, or tool-assisted superplay (TAS), is generally defined as speedrunning an emulated game. During development of the speedrun, the framerate is slowed down to allow precise inputs to be done with ease. Splicing, the action of adding inputs from other speedruns is also used. The goal of a TAS is to create a theoretically perfect playthrough. A TAS is created by a person who can use tools to perform impressive feats in a video game. The person creating such a run uses what they know about the game, what they learned from others, and what they discovered themselves to make their tool-assisted speedrun.

Emergent gameplay refers to complex situations in video games, board games, or table top role-playing games that emerge from the interaction of relatively simple game mechanics.

Homebrew, when applied to video games, refers to games produced by hobbyists for proprietary video game consoles which are not intended to be user-programmable. The official documentation is often only available to licensed developers, and these systems may use storage formats that make distribution difficult, such as ROM cartridges or encrypted CD-ROMs. Many consoles have hardware restrictions to prevent unauthorized development. A non-professional developer for a system intended to be user-programmable, like the Commodore 64, is simply called a hobbyist.

Glitching is an activity in which a person finds and exploits flaws or glitches in video games to achieve something that was not intended by the game designers. Players who engage in this practice are known as glitchers. Some glitches can be easily achieved, while others are either very difficult or unperformable by humans and can only be achieved with tool-assisted input. Glitches can vary greatly in the level of game manipulation, from setting a flag to writing and executing custom code from within the game.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Integer overflow</span> When representing an arithmetic result requires more digits than are available

In computer programming, an integer overflow occurs when an arithmetic operation attempts to create a numeric value that is outside of the range that can be represented with a given number of digits – either higher than the maximum or lower than the minimum representable value.

A hardware bug is a defect in the design, manufacture, or operation of computer hardware that causes incorrect operation. It is the counterpart of software bugs which refer to flaws in the code which operates computers, and is the original context in which "bug" was used to refer to such flaws. Intermediate between hardware and software are microcode and firmware which may also have such defects. In common usage, a bug is subtly different from a "glitch" which may be more transient than fundamental, and somewhat different from a "quirk" which may be considered useful or intrinsic. Errata may be published by the manufacturer to reflect such unintended operation, and "errata" is sometimes used as a term for the flaws themselves.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minus World</span> Glitched level in Super Mario Bros.

The Minus World is a glitched level found in the 1985 video game Super Mario Bros. It can be encountered by maneuvering the protagonist, Mario, in a particular way to trick the game into sending him to the wrong area. Players who enter this area are greeted with an endless, looping water level in the original Famicom/NES cartridge versions, while the version released for the Famicom Disk System sends them to a sequence of three different levels; this difference is due to the former being on a cartridge and the latter being on a disk, which arrange data in different ways. It gained exposure in part thanks to the magazine Nintendo Power discussing how the glitch is encountered. Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto denied that the addition of the Minus World was intentional, though he later commented that the fact that it does not crash the game could make it count as a game feature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MissingNo.</span> Pokémon species caused by a programming error

MissingNo., short for "Missing Number" and sometimes spelled without the period, is an unofficial Pokémon species found in the video games Pokémon Red and Blue. Due to the programming of certain in-game events, players can encounter MissingNo. via a glitch. It is noted as one of the most famous video game glitches of all time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glitch art</span> Practice of using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes

Glitch art is the practice of using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes by either corrupting digital data or physically manipulating electronic devices. Glitches appear in visual art such as the film A Colour Box (1935) by Len Lye, the video sculpture TV Magnet (1965) by Nam June Paik and more contemporary work such as Panasonic TH-42PWD8UK Plasma Screen Burn (2007) by Cory Arcangel.

This list includes terms used in video games and the video game industry, as well as slang used by players.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">SethBling</span> American video game commentator and live streamer

SethBling is an American video game commentator and Twitch video game live streamer known for YouTube videos focused around the 1990 side-scrolling platform video game Super Mario World and the 2011 sandbox video game Minecraft. He created original and derivative video games, devices and phenomena in Minecraft, without using Minecraft mods. He created an interpreter for the programming language BASIC and an emulator for the 1977 home video game console Atari 2600 in Minecraft. In addition to Minecraft builds that run without mods, he created plugins for the game.

In engineering, a bug is a defect in the design, manufacture or operation of machinery, circuitry, electronics, hardware, or software that produces undesired results or impedes operation. It is contrasted with a glitch which may only be transient. Sometimes what might be seen as unintended or defective operation can be seen as a feature.


  1. Pieschel, Alex (December 8, 2014). "Glitches: A Kind of History". Arcade Review. Archived from the original on August 12, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  2. quoted in Ben Zimmer, "The Hidden History of Glitch", "The Hidden History of "Glitch"" . Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  3. "" . Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  4. "Online Etymology Dictionary" . Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  5. Zimmer, Ben (November 2, 2013). "Yiddish Meets High Tech in 'Glitch'". Wall Street Journal. ISSN   0099-9660 . Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  6. "Water filtration plant temporarily shut down due to computer glitch". December 6, 2010. Archived from the original on August 9, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  7. "911 computer glitch led to police delay". Austin News November 15, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  8. "NASA revives Saturn probe, three weeks after glitch". NBC News. November 24, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  9. "Interest rate computer glitch costs Westpac over $1m a day". July 29, 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2015.
  10. "Bethesda Criticised over buggy releases".[ full citation needed ]
  11. 1 2 Ofoe, Emmanuel-Yvan; William Pare (March 6–12, 2008). "Testing, testing, testing". Montreal Mirror. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  12. "It's Not A Glitch. It's A Feature. It's Art. It's Beautiful". August 10, 2012.
  13. Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine : "Killing a Sega Genesis Cartridge (YouTube Video of a cartridge becoming permanently broken during the process of cartridge tilting)". YouTube .
  14. "Why Speedrunners Use Glitches" . Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  15. "Games Done Quick Makes 'Pokemon' Play Twitch". January 5, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  16. 1 2 Evans-Thirlwell, Edwin (March 24, 2021). "Meet the developers making bugs and glitches on purpose". PC Gamer . Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  17. Conway, Steven (July 22, 2009). "A Circular Wall? Reformulating the Fourth Wall for Video Games". Gamasutra . Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  18. Cox, Clarie Justine. "Bop it Bests Review". Claire Justine.{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  19. "Signal Strength Variables" . Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  20. Bibb, Porter (1976). CB Bible. New York: Doubleday and Company. p. 94.
  21. Doto, Bob (November 7, 2008). "NY Horror Film Fest Night 4: The Shorts" . Retrieved March 3, 2011.