The word “glitch,” meaning a small voltage variance that can short out a circuit, entered the English language through radio hobbyists and was popularized by astronauts, for whom a glitch could mean the difference between life and death. But while the word “glitch” is often still used to connote catastrophic failure, videogamers have come to view glitches opportunistically, as chances to intervene in game texts in ways unforeseen (and often unforeseeable) by their developers. The results range from the ability to walk through walls, to new strategies for survival in unfavorable conditions, all the way to the discovery of entirely new navigable spaces outside the game’s imposed boundaries.
My presentation draws on a variety of game glitches and the alternate modes of textual navigation they enable to demonstrate how the glitch forces us to rethink even such basic concepts as plot, character, temporality, and point of view, ultimately showing how the resulting “narrative of malfunction” blends and reshapes digital studies, narratology, and queer/disability theory to establish brokenness, error, and failure as baseline states within which narrative “function” is at best temporary and often actively to be avoided. All texts are thus potentially glitched, and much can be learned and accomplished within them by reading for the glitches.
Andrew Ferguson is a visiting assistant professor of digital studies in the Department of English at UMD. He works at the intersection of media-textual studies, cultural theory, and popular culture, which results in him doing things like willingly signing up to write an article that will require watching The Star Wars Holiday Special several times. Other ongoing projects include a study on editorial labor and style in science fiction, essays on born-digital horror and the writings of Dr. Chuck Tingle, and the manuscript on glitches and narrative theory from which this talk is taken.