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GDQ proves that glitches can be a great part of games

Simulations are best when you confuse them

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Games Done Quick, the marathon that raises millions of dollars for charity twice per year, and speedrunning more generally, owes its existence to glitches. Though runners show off their skill and dedication, almost all of them rely on the game behaving in unintended ways, doing things that people playing casually would never experience.

Despite this, runners often make off-hand comments about the games being “broken,” or worse, the developers being “lazy.” The latter is obviously generally untrue and unfair. But spare a thought for the humble glitch itself, and how they make this whole wonderful endeavour possible.

Playing something casually and running into game breaking bugs is clearly not ideal. And there are all sorts of smaller frustrations that might get in the way of what a game is trying to achieve. But glitches can open a new world of exploration and experimentation for players who want to try new things, and none moreso than speedrunners.

This is evident throughout GDQ, but especially in the specific glitch exhibitions. These showcases are designed to demonstrate some of the wonderful weirdness that might not get seen in a regular run. And they’re popular. Usually they’re provided as donation incentives that require viewers to give a certain amount of money to unlock them. People like seeing what happens when others have pushed the game so far that they know exactly what shiny surprises are hiding in the seams.

At SGDQ this week, there’s been one for Prey and one for Dark Souls. The Prey showcase by runner Lifel1ke spoke often about the game being “broken.” It has a moment of excellent comedic timing as it bypasses the need for a key card by breaking through the floor of an escape pod:

But it was runner Catalystz’s Dark Souls exhibition that felt more celebratory of the fact that games can be things other than experiences to go through once, casually. They can be science labs where you cook up chaos, bringing a whole other layer of engagement for both experimenter and audience. Even if you’re technically using the cracks and flaws to do so, that’s something far more interesting than simply finding where the game is “broken.”

Catalystz starts by gleefully getting some giant arrows attached to the protagonist’s hands. (Also, they’re virtually naked, skinny, and weirdly angular-smooth like a kind of clay approximation of a man. It’s great.) Later, a bright blue version of this poor soul gets his head set on fire, and electricity coursing through their body at all times. Catalyst runs up and jumps down a small set of stairs while swigging healing potions, over and over again, in an attempt to trick the game into turning him into a chaotic, firey version of Sonic.

“This just shows you that this is not an easy glitch to do,” he says of his many repetitions. This isn’t a bug that would bother casual players, it’s the result of a community pouring thousands of hours into pushing the strangest edge cases they can find.

These showcases are something that would only be possible in games. Maybe their closest cousin is the blooper reel on movies and TV; something not intended but part of the entertainment. Those are included on DVDs and boxsets as silly, harmless fun, and no one chews out the actors involved. Maybe developers should start including glitch exhibitions with their games.

A fantastic, tiny bit of Catalyst’s showcase that’s barely commented on is the menu, which just reads “?Dialog?” as though the game is asking what exactly it’s supposed to do in response to what’s happening. But it’s fine for the game to not be providing dialogue in that situation. We don’t need it; we have chaos Sonic.

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Who am I?

Jay Castello

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Jay writes about video games, falls down endless internet rabbit holes, and takes a lot of pictures of flowers.

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