Video game glitches partake in a highly complex technocultural process that involves a plurality of social actors with diverging projects. Game designers along with playtesters invest significant amount of labour to detect and correct infamous bugs. Cheaters exploited programming oversights to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents. Speedrunners master design flaws to shortcut through games. Dedicated glitch hunters are engaged in a collective scavenger hunt to discover, document, and reproduce systemic failures treated as Easter eggs. Griefers hijack simulation contingencies in their endeavour to prank other players and share their reactions on YouTube. Journalists make it their duty to notify players and designers of errors that lead to system crash, abuses, emergent strategies, or just funny moments to be savoured. Game artists tinker with glitch aesthetic to question and criticize game(play) materiality. Scholars strive to conceptualize the forms, meanings, and cultural values of glitches to understand their nature and associated phenomena. This overview situates glitches as a unique prism through which examine the interplay between various forms of game appropriation and exploitation such as creating and patching design imperfections, dominating other players, breaking game structures, exploring system limits, jamming the flow of gameplay, redirecting semiotic experiences and studying the artifacts and plasticity of game(play).
While there there is a growing body of research on video game glitches from a theoretical perspective, it is a different story from a game design standpoint. In the game design community, discourse about glitches aims mostly at developing techniques to get rid of them efficiently. For instance, Lewis, Whitehead, and Wardrip-Fruin (2010) have created a typology and a method to assist designers and playtesters in finding bugs. Several conferences from the Game Developers Conference focus on tools and techniques to optimize the management of bugs and preserve player immersion (Anguelov & Sunshine-Hill 2013, Saint-Pierre 2013, Robertson & Santoro 2014, Provinciano 2015, Philips 2018). Many articles and blog posts on Gamasutra discussed glitches either to reflect on their mysterious effects (Lavigne 2013, Deco 2018, Kidwell 2018) or address their technical conditions to track their causes and rectify them (Baggett 2013, Perez 2015).
One has to look at artists and indie game developers to get in touch with a positive design attitude toward the creative potential of glitches. Glitch artists such as Sabato Visconti, the duo Jodi, Tom Betts, Brody Condon, and Robert Overweg are major figures of the game art movement that have explored the non-mimetic quality of glitches to subvert and open game mediation to critical examination. Following a similar thread inside the realm of fiction, we see a burgeoning set of indie games where glitch aesthetic and behaviours play a key role in the experience. To name a few notable examples, one can think of : The Magic Circle (Question, 2015), Memory of a Broken Dimension (Hanson-White, 2015) Rememoried (Hangonit, 2015), Glitchspace (Spacebudgie, 2016), Bedlam (RedBedlam, 2015), The Stanley Parable (Wreden, 2011), ROM CHECK FAIL (Farbs, 2008), Calendula (Blooming Buds Studio 2016), Pony Island (Daniel Mullins Games, 2016), Glitch Dungeon (jakeonaut, 2014), Quirkaglitch (Xavier Belanche, 2015), Escape from Castle Galichi (Jon Gao, 2014), Airborne Glitch Rot (wednesday scones, 2016), and Glitchlab (nazywam, 2014).
Despite its destructive nature, glitch is also highly constructive. It challenges designer vision. It affects modes of thinking and playing. It stimulates interpretations and debates through social discourse. It informs production and consumption practices. It drives the transformative nature of games and gameplay. Therefore, conceptualizing glitches as a research-creation object potentiates a highly singular understanding of games as a technocultural process driven by contingencies. Glitch offers a way to conceptualize game design as a space in which human and nonhuman errors interact in a dialogical manner to shape ideation, prototyping, decision-making, problem-solving, and design iterations. To play with Juul's book title The Art of Failure (2013), we can then conceive the art of making games as an “art of making failure,” meaning a creative gesture where faux pas pushes us to learn, explore, discover, evolve, reinvent, etc. Such an approach can help us rethink and expand the types of concepts, approaches, and practices from which we communicate meaning and propose experiences through game design.
On an experiential level, studying the gameness of failures is one avenue for designers to dissect the ins and outs of glitching as a unique form of “counterplay” — a concept developed by Meades in his book Understanding Counterplay in Video Game to encapsulate
play that is understood as oppositional, anti-social, and even criminal by its players and observers. Counterplay can therefore be regarded as being counter to the general expectation of compliant conventional play and instead contains a dynamic that works against rules, against other players, seeks alternate ways of playing and potentially different pleasures (2015: 1).
As Meades specifies: "glitching is certainly a counterplay activity – it works against game rules, contexts, and expectations of the player, is antagonistic towards the intended lusory means and prelusory goals, and roles of authorship and consumption" (2015: 113). Clearer understanding of the design structures that stimulate or neutralize this transgressive shift in playstyle contains invaluable knowledge about how players are triggered to interact subversively with games, meanings, and "procedural rhetoric" (Bogost 2007). Conducting a research-creation project dedicated to glitches and glitching therefore settle new areas of inquiry to reflect on the complex and nuance interplay between game design processes, the roughness of videoludic materiality, and transgressive nature of counterplay.
From the Italian Futurist to Dadaists, to Cage's indeterminate music and Fluxus performative anti-art, all the way down to punk and glitch music passing by experimental cinema, video art, and glitch art, noise has always played a revolutionary role in art history. It is a primary tool with which avant-garde movements have pushed back and redefine the limits of art. One is then inclined to ask the same for videoludic noise. What do glitches and glitching have to contribute aesthetically and rhetorically to transform the art of making and playing games? How can we constructively unleash the chaos of noise to rethink the limits of the video game art form instead of trying to repress and domesticate its destructive energy in favour of order, normality, and conventions? It is my hypothesis that glitch can be used as a design instrument functioning like an epistemic and pragmatic noise gate. I believe that with the right hardcore tuning, the noise of glitches can help bend game(play) materiality radically enough to distort the way we conceive the boundaries of its configurative nature. To go in that direction, we have to counterbalance the dominant negative discourse about glitches with an articulated positive discourse about this unavoidable class of artifacts. Bug Hunter is a research-creation project that undertakes this task. To do so, it explores the poetical and ludopolitical potential of glitches understood as design elements able to shape interactions and communicate meaning. More precisely, it investigates the possibility of making room for errors to induce a critical and transgressive attitude toward game creation and gameplay. To explore these assumptions, the object of study has everything to gain from being theorized as noise.
In his famous model called the Schematic diagram of a general communication system (1948: 381; Fig. 1), information theorist Shannon introduces the concept of noise as an ontological element of any communication system.
In their book The Mathematical Theory of Communication ( 1964), Shannon and Weaver flesh out this revolutionary theory. In the introduction written by Weaver, noise is defined as follows:
In the process of being transmitted, it is unfortunately characteristic that certain things are added to the signal which were not intended by the information source. These unwanted additions may be distortions of sound (in telephony, for example) or static (in radio), or distortions in shape or shading of picture (television), or errors in transmission (telegraphy or facsimile), etc. All of these changes in the transmitted signal are called noise (7-8).
In the quantitative and non-semantic conceptualization of information of Shannon and Weaver, noises from external sources are an enemy. The insertion of unwanted information in the signal threatens the integrity of the message by adding uncertainty. However, noise from internal mechanisms or systemic entropy can play a positive role. For instance, redundancy in spoken language, encryption processes, and compression algorithms are examples of nondestructive noise added to a signal to secure and optimize information transmission or to restore a noisy message to its best plausible origin. The idea of fighting external noise with entropic noise points toward a dual potential.
In the context of the Second World War, the main goal of communication theory followed by cybernetic was the management of errors to ensure system security, stability, and efficiency. In the case of Weiner’s cybernetic, systems behaviours were administered by feedback loops between information, sensors and automated regulatory mechanisms. Cybernetic systems thus exhibit degrees of self-reflexivity where the information-to-noise ratio serves as a unit of measurement to calibrate the tendencies of the system toward the achievement of programmed objectives. The canonical example is the air-conditioning system which adjusts autonomously according to variations in the ambient temperature. Media theorist Nunes mentioned in his book chapter “Error, Noise, and Potential: The Outside of Purpose” that “order for Wiener is tied to a purpose-driven prediction of results, in which error provides corrective feedback. […] Error, as captured, predictable deviation serves order through feedback and systematic control” (2011: 12). In the heritage of communication theory and cybernetic, noise informs corrective functions. To reuse Parikka’s words from What is Media Archaeology?, these two fields were “science[s] of noise” (2012: 98).
While noise may be a tool to ensure control over information, meaning, and systemic behaviours, it is also a means of subversion and intervention. Media and art theorists have devoted a lot of attention to the work of artists and media activists appropriating noise to criticize hegemonic power and ideology. Dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp, Hugo Ball, Hannah Höch, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and Max Ernst were all reconceptualizing mass media and mass consumption materials in a noisy and illogical fashion to destroy bourgeois art, dominant discourse, and capitalist society that had led to the First World War. Fluxus artists like John Cage, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Ben Vautier, and Alison Knowles were opposing Fine Art elitism and its free market with a noisy, absurdist and participatory anti-art that refuses commodification and insists on the artistic quality of everyday life. Materialist filmmakers were challenging the illusionism of mainstream capitalist cinema with films that expose their materiality to question the nature of representations and reflect on the ways in which the medium shapes how we perceive, experience, and interpret the world. Glitch artists like Ann Scott, Rosa Menkman, Sabato Visconti, Mathieu Saint-Pierre, and Cory Archangel all tinker with technological imperfections to make us think critically about the underlying principles of digital culture. For them, glitches are means of expression to reflect on key subjects like our everyday reliance on flawed machines, the commodified nostalgia in front of the failure of memory, and the disastrous ecological consequences of media obsolescence in the age of unlimited technological progress. In the realm of media activists and hacktivists, introducing noise in the flow of corporate media is a way to fracture the seamless experience of the commodified media landscape to reveal power mechanisms that operate underneath the surface.
Through the lens of media theory, noise is a liminal notion that oscillates between the social resistance of multiple collectives and the consolidation of the military, economic, and ideological power of the ruling capitalist class. As Nunes puts it:
If Wiener’s cybernetics foregrounds purposive behavior as a key feature in feedback systems, then the spurious information of noise—from the pops and glitches of transmission error to the hacks and jams of counter-agents—functions as a kind of information that exceeds programmatic control by widening the gap between the actual and the possible, rather than narrowing the deviation between the intended and the actual. Control provides a system for guiding communication from intention to intention. In contrast, the error of noise marks a potential to throw off systems of control by deferring the actual (message received) and sustaining the virtuality of equivocation (2011: 13; my emphasis).
Acknowledging this tension, Nunes defends the necessity of a “poetic of noise” (2011: 4) while Parikka argues for a “politic of noise” (2012: 110). Accordingly, studying noise is one way “to decipher a range of crucial issues concerning politics, aesthetics and cultural processes of media” (2012: 110). Hill’s conclusions in his chapter “Revealing Errors” confirm this expressive value of mishaps from a media studies perspective:
[E]rrors represent a point where invisible technology [becomes] visible to users. These errors can reveal several important features of technologies connected to the power that it, and its designers, have over users. [This] can speak to the power of technological affordance constraints, technologies that act as intermediaries, and the technology that uses “black boxes” in explicit attempts to hide the technology in question. In all three cases, errors can also reveal the values of the technologies’ designers. As such, [errors] can be treated as the tip of an iceberg (2011: 40; my emphasis).
First and foremost, conceptualizing glitches as noise allows us to think of them as ontological elements of the design process and the gaming experience. This theoretical move directly resonates with the conclusion of media historian Krapp in his chapter “Game Glitch”:
One might conclude, however provisionally, that gaming glitches are part of the art form in the same way that brushstrokes are part of painting. Game developers may be tempted to regret this comparison as little consolation to a user who just had a program crash or indeed to a programmer who is trying to debug the system. However, the glitch may be that hairline fissure that can widen on to new vistas in gameplay and game studies–and thus on to better mistakes (2016: 216; my emphasis).
Apprehended as a research-creation object of study, glitches can forge new ways of thinking about the aesthetical and rhetorical potential of video games. This project is devoted to map this potential to understand how glitches can open game design and gameplay to radical experimentations and critics. As a discursive target, Bug Hunter is preoccupied with the capacity of the glitch to reveal the political economy of game design that is encapsulated in rules, affordance constraints, information filtering and media transparency. As suggested above, this subject of analysis faces one major problem: the subjectivity and instability of noise as a category.
As pointed out by media studies, glitches hold a strong creative and critical potential. Nevertheless, the actualization of this latent force depends on the person who interprets and manipulates a system that is failing. In his book Glitch Art in Theory and Practice: Critical Failures and Post-Digital Aesthetics (2017), Betancourt explains how glitches function as an "inflection point" (46) between two interpretive postures polarized on the same spectrum: non-critical and critical. When confronted with an error, observers face a choice. Either they strive to ignore or exploit the error to uphold the system. Otherwise, they may decide to investigate the system’s material conditions to explore and redirect the production of meaning. These two interpretive and interactional attitudes speak of the semiotic contingencies of glitches as signs able to convey specific ideas, meaning, and value. In the context of this research-creation, this ambiguity defines a ludopolitical problem that motivates the whole project.
In the case of non-criticality, an error is omitted and the materiality of the artwork remains hidden behind what Betancourt calls the "aura of the digital" (2017). This concept defines the idealist tendency to think of the digital as immaterial, non-physical, and self-actualized. The aura of the digital is the illusion that digital representations are existing in an intangible realm waiting to be instantiated on demand. That favours digital capitalism since the removal of material considerations from observers’ consciousness helps perpetuate the fantasy of a production without expenditure, a denial of entropy, the false belief that we can indefinitely profit from a finite amount of resources without catastrophic endpoints.
Aura of the digital also comes into play when glitches are reported as annoyance or as emergent features. The repurposing of errors to improve systemic control renders the glitch "unglitch" (2017: 125) as it is recoded as corrections and innovations. As digital representations are updated to their newer versions, thanks to users’ free labour that have exposed failures to authority, it solidifies the impression that they are intangible and therefore infinite and limitless. Following Lyotard’s (1979: 98-99) distinction between "innovation" and "paralogy" established in La condition postmoderne. Rapport sur le savoir [The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge], Betancourt indicates that non-critical relationship with glitches falls under the category of innovation since the abnormality maintains or improves the semiotic and cybernetic logic of the system. In the end, the error leads to more of the same.
Although the aura of the digital shadows the material, human, and economic conditions of the digital, glitches have the capacity to bring these conditions at the forefront of the experience. When an interruption triggers a critical engagement toward digital materiality, the aura of the digital is disrupted and glitches "make the political economy that produced the work that is failing to become apparent" (2017: 130). As users decide to invest technical failures to look beyond the illusion of immateriality, they open a paralogical playground where it becomes possible to experiment and tinker with representations, meaning, and (dys)functions in radically new ways. This playful space of exploration is where noises, mishaps, paradoxes, destabilization, and irregularities are appropriated to perform a transgressive move in the pragmatic of knowledge. The rupture of signification is seized as a tactical means to operate a "redirection of meaning" (2017: 130) and hijack the normal flow of communication and interaction in a system. Acting as intellectual nomads, participants get to digress from the system teleological agenda to search for alternative meaning, interpretation, and action. Like media archaeologists, they get to see under the hood of the hardware and software machinery to excavate conditions of possibilities, forgotten knowledge, lost genealogies, and dormant potentialities. Like hackers, they poke at the system to sabotage, test, retro-engineer, exploit, and redesign their inner mechanisms. In all these instances of paralogical subjectivity, glitches act as epistemic portals and pragmatic tools to empower oneself from systemic control. They allow users to become the creators of their own experiences by reconfiguring the planned signification and the pre-scripted set of actions.
As highlighted by Betancourt, this inflection problem is a political one. On the non-critical and innovation side, glitches serve capitalism as they produce a neoliberal mindset where digital materiality and economy are ignored or worst regarded as a self-regulated free market shaped by entrepreneurial freedom and individualistic consumption. The omission of glitches or their repurposing as patches thicken the aura of the digital and solidify cybernetic control, private ownership, commodification, capitalist accumulation, and economic exploitation of free immaterial labour. In gaming culture, this frame of thought and behaviour is made explicit in the unethical exploitation of glitches as cheats. The error sculpts a neoliberal egocentric subjectivity used to dominate other players, optimized individual performance, get an unfair advantage in the virtual market, and climb up the socioludic ladder. Another relevant example is the industrial tendency to ship flawed games with the intention to patch bugs later, meaning after players and glitchers have discovered them. In this last exploitative scenario, game publishers knowingly choose to cut short on playtesting to maximize profit while also pressuring the labour force with unrealistic deadlines and abusive crunches that are essential to optimize the extraction of surplus-value. Consequently, consumers and especially glitchers are treated as unpaid playtesters. To put it cynically, we can refer to the words of a journalist nicknamed Scorpia from Computer Gaming World by saying that players pay to test unfinished games, therefore taking the role of "pay-tester" (1994: 58). Bug Hunter proposes a gamification of this exploitative dimension of glitching with the intention of raising players’ awareness about the (conscious or unconscious) exploitation of their labour in the context of this political economy. Few more concepts need to be articulated to clarify this creative motivation.
Under digital capitalism, the counterplay activities of glitchers have mutated into a distinct form of labour that is unique to the game industry. In his article "Precarious Playbour: Modders in the Digital Games Industry," Kücklich (2005) proposes the concept of "playbour" (a portmanteau of "play" and "labour") to name the fusion of playing and working in the context of the digital game production. Through their in-game and online practices, glitchers produce a flow of monitored data, feedback, knowledge, and user-generated content reused by developers to highlight design problems, produce game iterations, solve arguments, implement new features, improve the system with patches, promote their games, etc. In the framework of this political economy, the act of playing video games is simultaneously an act of producing video games. In numerous cases, the domesticated playful energy of glitching becomes an exploited playbour force from which surplus-value is extracted by capitalists. This is a clear case of error caught up in a process of non-critical innovation, economic exploitation, and biopolitical production. To lay out a political understanding of that collaboration between error and capital, I refer to the notion of "Empire" develop by Hardt & Negri in their book Empire:
Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command (2000: xii).
In this all-encompassing new regime of biopower driven by global capitalism, institutional agencies, multinational corporations, neoliberal states, and privately owned machines formed a worldwide network of interests and apparatuses that governed all aspects of social life (wealth creation, economic, political, juridical, military, art, cultural, biology, etc.). This is why Hardt & Negri argue that Empire is an ahistorical "spatial totality" without territorial and temporal boundaries (no exterior, no alternative, and no end) that "rule over human nature" (2000: xiv-xv).
In their book Games of Empire. Global Capitalism and Video Games (2009), Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter have adapted the notion of Empire to the realm of video games. They claimed that "video games are a paradigmatic media of Empire— planetary, militarized hypercapitalism— and of some of the forces presently challenging it." (2009: xv). The notion of "games of Empire" is put forward to defend this argument (2009: xxix-xxx). Key examples of such games are Second Life (Linden Lab, 2003), America’s Army [series] (United States Army, 2002-2013), Full Spectrum Warrior (Pandemic Studios, 2004), World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004) and Grand Theft Auto [series] (Rockstar, 1997-2013). On a historical level, games align with Empire because they stem from the U.S. military-industrial complex and feed back into it through the military-entertainment complex. On a production level, their fabrication relies on the exploitation of workers and players' immaterial (play)labour which is by definition ludic, communicational, cognitive and affective. On an economic level, the game industry consolidates a global free market where expansive commodities circulate and a massive sum of capital is generated. On a subjective and corporeal level, game machines ensure the biopolitical reproduction of a trained workforce by educating new generations to the psychophysiological and sociotechnical use of digital technologies and networks of communication. This extends to an ideological level since commercial games acculturate players to the neoliberal project of Empire by inviting them to embody different ludopolitical subjectivities such as "citizen-soldiers, free-agent workers, cyborg adventurers, and corporate criminals" (2009: xxix). In doing so, games of Empire normalize key dogmas of Empire into players’ minds and bodies: trivialization-magnification of war, perpetuation of toxic masculinity, apathetic pacification of individuals through interactive spectacles, expansion of a commodity culture, consumerist fascination with the accumulation of wealth, construction of a neoliberal social subject accustomed to the free market, fortification of intellectual property, integration of modes of governance, and biopower forms of cybernetic control.
When glitches support the material conditions and the political economy of games of Empire (as with cheating, playbour exploitation, commodification of glitching innovations or simply the omission of glitches in favour of the aura of the digital), I identify them as "glitches of Empire". In such instances, glitching aligns with the pervasive neoliberal ideology and biopower of Empire that have infiltrated every sector of life itself all the way down to the subjectivity of the player. Innovative counterplay therefore qualifies a counterplay paradigm where the transgressive exploitation of the system is orchestrated to optimize efficiency and obtain capital gain in games of Empire.
When Hardt & Negri discussed an alternative to Empire, they speak of the "multitude" (2000). The multitude designates a network of revolutionary and progressive forces fighting Empire from within. It defines a decentralized, heterogeneous and transnational set of social subjects interconnected by virtue of their interest in the common against global capital. Located halfway between centralized sovereignty and decentralized anarchism, this new form of distributed subjectivity acts as a dissident collective subject striving to build a new world. This political project is structured around key principles that Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter (2009: 188) summarized as follows:
1) Global citizenship
2) The right to a social wage and a guaranteed income for all
3) Free access to, and control over, knowledge, information, communication and affects
4) Control over the means of communication
Advocating for antimilitarism, ecological activism, cultural diversity, equitable redistribution of global resources, and a participatory global democracy, the multitude is seeking an exodus from the neoliberal capitalism of Empire. All its radical energy and sociotechnical know-how are mobilized for the protection of the common against "the total monetization of social relations and the primacy of profit" (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter 2009: 187-188).
The collectivization of the means of communication alongside the call for a more participatory democracy signifies that video games have something to contribute to the political revolt of the multitude. When Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter speak of the "game of multitude," they theorize six trajectories in which games foster the agenda of this form of counter-power:
counterplay, or acts of contestation within and against the ideologies of individual games of Empire; dissonant development, the emergence of critical content in a few mainstream games; tactical games designed by activists to disseminate radical social critique; polity simulators, associated with the educational and training projects of the "serious games" movement; the self-organized worlds of players producing game content independently of commercial studios, especially in MMOs; and finally software commons challenging restrictions on, and monopoly control over, game-related intellectual property (2009: 191).
By virtue of its critical and paralogical potential, the glitch resonates with games of multitude mainly on the basis of counterplay and software commons. In itself, glitching is a transgressive playful practice that refuses to comply with the ideal player and the indented experience. It directly digresses from imperial subjectivities and the ideological program encoded in games of Empire. Moreover, by focusing its activity on the material examination and exposition of system flaws, glitching damages the aura of the digital and reveals the political economy underpinning game creation and gaming (relations of production, economic exploitation, hierarchical relationship, ideological agenda, disciplinary mechanisms, power of intellectual property, behavioural alienation, etc.). This becomes obvious when the discovery of a glitch-based emergent strategy triggers debates among glitchers, regular players, and developers. The sociotechnical negotiation of the glitch, from its discovery to its correction or integration, shed light on power dynamics between unequal social actors. Expert glitchers fight for their right to play differently with all game elements at their disposal while conventional players defend the right to enjoy the "normal" experience. This conflict forces developers to intervene and clean up their mess. This situation inverts the designer-player hierarchy since authorial control is momentarily passed down to glitchers. When a bug eventually leads to a patch or becomes a new feature, it attests of the production forces of glitchers since their fan-based counterplay activities are commodified for profit. This glitch-based exercise of democracy is the site of a clash between 1) the intellectual property of game companies that seeks more control over their products and 2) the software commons ethos of the self-organized glitcher communities who resist the private ownership of technologies and the normalization of play behaviours.
In other cases, glitches find its place in the project of the multitude by playing a critical role as dissonant development. In Portal for instance, Chell is subjected to a series of tests supervised by a hostile AI named GLaDOS. When it becomes clear that she is threatened by the experiment, the protagonist rebels against her lab rat condition. She exploits the Portal Gun in a glitch-like manner to escape the main area of the military facility and destroy GLaDOS. Even if the end suggests the rebellion was part of the test, Portal is a good example of dissonant development where the glitching ethos nourishes a critical commentary about the ethic and dangers of AI militarization under the military-industrial complex. In the meta-FPS Bedlam, a digitized consciousness named Athena is imprisoned in a fictional FPS after being uploaded on a computer by a corporation named Neurosphere specialized in the preservation of digital identities. Looking for a way out, she transits between multiple game worlds through glitches represented as crackle glass encrusted in various parts of the game environment. As she transgresses diegetic thresholds between game worlds, she generates a phenomenon called "The Corruption." After dealing with a systemic authority trying to erase her, the protagonist escapes in a last glitch. The final destination remains a mystery suggesting that Athena has trespassed into the player world who just finished the game. Here, the glitch participates in a discourse of self-actualization and resistance against systemic alienation. Assisting Athena in her emancipation and liberation invites players to reflect on their own ontological conditions of existence in various systems.
I've called "glitches of multitude" those errors that align with "games of multitude" to work against the grain of Empire and its neoliberal capitalist framework. They potentiate an anarchistic mindset from which digital materiality and its underlying political economy are not only exposed, but also reconceptualized as areas of struggle. This is the type of glitches used to engage in what Flanagan calls "critical play" in her book Critical Play. Radical Game Design:
Critical play means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life. [...] Critical play is characterized by a careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces (2009: 6).
To be even more precise, glitching along the axis of the multitude is about datamoshing the media of Empire. It is a matter of carving out subversive technocultural spaces for artistic experimentations, radical design, critical play, cultural jamming, "semiotic disobedience" (Katyal 2012), and "counterprotocological practices" (Galloway & Thacker 2007: 97-101). This is the realm of above-mentioned critical subjectivities such as the glitch artist, the hacker, the anarcho-punk, the media activist of hacktivist, the media archaeologist or the carnivalesque griefer. These tactical identities breath the political project of the multitude in the gaming sphere. Not only do they take part in gift economies and reframe social connections and hierarchies in a more humane, horizontal, and democratic spirit. They also push key emancipatory principles like self-realization, critical thinking, autonomy, rebellion, free access to information, semiotic democracy, access to digital literacy, and the defense of the common over intellectual properties. Consequently, paralogical counterplay designates another paradigm of counterplay in which a rebellious appropriation of the system is deployed to engage in games of multitude.
Because a glitch in itself is "a-rational," "a-signifying," "a-subjective," and "a-communicative" (Cubitt 2017: 30-31), Empire and multitude are two potentialities that co-exist within it. Each error may very well lead to innovative counterplay or paralogical counterplay upon different material conditions. The uncertainty of this dual capacity signifies that contextual, semiotic, and subjective factors are paramount in determining if a systemic failure will consolidate an innovative, non-critical, and imperial play or otherwise inflect a paralogical, anarchistic, and multitudinal play. As these potential can sculpt political sensibilities from which players may eventually think and act in the gaming sphere and the world, glitches encapsulate a ludopolitical problem that deserves in-depth scrutiny.
From a research-creation perspective, the glitch poetical and ludopolitical slippery power raises an important question about its usefulness as a means of videoludic expression. Here we reach the core questions driving my project. How can designers and players tap into this dual capacity to open the political economy of game design and game(play) to critical examination? Under which semiotic and material conditions do glitches are more inclined to be used from the standpoint of Empire or multitude? What contributes to the emergence of a "glitch of Empire'' or a "glitch of multitude" in the player experience? How does this qualitative shift occur? What is the dialectical relationship between the two, meaning in what circumstances a glitch of Empire or a glitch of multitude might flip into its contrary? Studying these questions from a game design angle is the occasion to develop a new understanding of glitching both as neoliberal innovation and anarchistic paralogy. From there, we can further our comprehension of the ways in which the glitch itself forces designers and players to think, work, and play in accordance with the smooth hegemony of Empire or the granular diversity of the multitude. In his article "Glitch" (2017), Cubitt concludes with an enlightening statement that clarifies this idea:
[W]hile some glitches operate within existing regimes of signification, a-subjective, unintentional, accidental glitches are symbolic acts that work toward the common, that is, a renewed mode of mediation engaging human, natural, and technological processes in their differentiation. They take place in time and are performative, and their use is to restore difference to the indifferent exchange of the market. In all these senses, glitches should be understood not as mere accidents but as labor (2017: 31; my emphasis).
The whole purpose of my project is to shed light on the ambiguous laboriousness of gaming glitches. It is another of my hypotheses that thoughtful design of glitches can help raise the critical consciousness of both designers and players in order to orient the laborious process of glitching along the anti-capitalist axis of the multitude. Bug Hunter is conceived as a research-creation project to test that hypothesis and see how the noise of glitches can be tinkered to ignite and maintain this ludopolitical shift in the hearts, minds, and bodies of participants. As a by-product, maybe Bug Hunter might motivate members of the gaming community to partake in radical designs and paralogical counterplay themselves. That would be one strong proof of how video games can assist in crystallizing a new collective subject akin to resist the imperatives of the free market in favour of the common.
The theoretical framework of my game design research-creation project is an assemblage between game studies, media archaeology, and media studies. These three fields shape how I conceptualize and engage the game design process of Bug Hunter. Each of them offers a range of concepts that determines the set of intentions, questions and hypotheses that I will explore and put to test throughout my project.
Game studies cumulate invaluable analysis of glitches on a formal, cultural, and political level. Some research analyzes the aesthetic and conceptual aspects of glitches from a formalist and historical standpoint (Bainbridge & Bainbridge 2007, Goriunova & Shulgin 2008, Emerson 2014, Robert 2013, Apperley 2013). Others focus on social experiences with a pragmatic and situationist leaning (Consalvo 2007, Newman 2008, Švelch 2014, Meades 2015, Krapp 2016). On the political front, there are academic works addressing the idea of ontological resistance (Galloway 2006, Bainbridge & Bainbridge 2007, Krapp 2011, Demeilliez 2016, Cubitt 2017), consumer activism (Genvo 2008, Ashton & Newman 2011, Švelch 2015), and critiques of hegemonic power structures (Galloway & Thacker 2007, Snider et al. 2012, Betancourt 2017). As detailed in the previous section, I have myself contributed to this political debate in my Ph.D (Montembeault 2019). I have shown how glitches have the capacity to inflect two main political sensibilities depending on how players decided to counterplay with them: one neoliberal and the other anarchist. To develop this proposition, I have synthesized a unifying and politically oriented definition of glitches:
In video game culture, glitch designates an observable [human or nonhuman] behavioral slippage, of ornamental or functional nature, which is interpreted in a given context as a non-blocking form of noise emerging from [and reflecting on] videoludic materiality, and whose [effects is to produce] laborious shifts in meaning and usage that transform the margin of freedom available for paralogical or innovative counterplay (2019: 472; my translation).
This definition constitutes the conceptual basis of a theoretical space of reflection that I have created in my Ph.D to analyze the poetic and ludopolitics of glitches. The Glitch Ludopolitical Map (Fig. 2) structures key concepts that I reuse in my postdoctoral project to inform the design of Bug Hunter.
This model is designed to map glitch cases in specific sectors to illustrate and discuss their ludopolitical leaning according to their proximity to certain notions. On the usage axis at the top, we see a continuum polarizing (from left to right) the concept of redirection (adapt from Betancourt 2017) followed by Meades’ notions of exploration, renegotiation, and domination (2015: 101-102). These are the four main gameplay attitudes adopted by glitchers toward their artifacts. They range from the complete unruly reinvention of the planned experience for subversive and rhetorical purposes (redirection) to the materialist in-depth investigation of the simulation's inner (dys)functions (exploration), all the way down to the orchestration of honest alternative strategies to meet winning conditions (renegotiation) to the ruthless exploitation of system imperfections to crush your opponents (domination).
On the production axis at the bottom, there are four other concepts qualifying the producers' relation to glitches (from left to right): countergaming, exception, control, and recoding. Countergaming refers to Galloway’s category developed in Gaming. Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006: 107-126) to identify game creations that deconstruct and criticize the institutionalized tropes of conventional gaming (this is where Bug Hunter is anchored). Exception circumscribes a location of tolerance for cases where producers either ignore glitches or allow their uses without any regulation. Control is the site of social regulation and sanctions when glitching leads to account suspension or banning, expulsion from servers, warning notices, public denunciations, etc. Recoding designates the act of managing glitches by making actual changes in the game code such as patching a software error.
In the middle of the model, the produsage stratum is reserved for examples where glitching is simultaneously a gesture of production and usage. This is the case when glitchers reproduce glitches to create machinima or video tutorials that in return encourage other glitchers to reproduce glitches and find new one, so on and so forth. On that same stratum, I have represented a central continuum that polarizes the two main counterplay paradigms from which glitches are used. As mentioned in the "Problem" tab of this web page, paralogical counterplay is about the appropriation of glitches of multitude in favour of the common, while innovative counterplay is a matter of entrepreneurial exploitation of glitches of Empire for personal gain.
Bug Hunter’s ludic proposition offers an experience that allows participants to fluidly move across the Glitch Ludopolitical Map. The idea is to design a game that lets players choose in which counterplay paradigms and subsections they want to be or switch. To give this possibility, the game will incorporate conventional design elements (levelling system, time pressure, genre expectations, positive feedback, obvious engaging challenges, etc.) that encourage innovation, exploitation and glitches of Empire. Still, some aesthetic clues that require more efforts to be investigated suggest the existence of an alternative hard-to-reach path. With enough self-awareness and critical distance, players can trade their conventional hat of efficient gamer for a critical hat of glitch hunter. Win-focus gameplay can be traded with unruly toyplay where bending the simulation can uncover secret alternative routes and alter the end game results accordingly. Going down that rabbit hole will put the players in contact with paralogy, appropriation and glitches of multitude. My theoretical model is the conceptual underpinning of that design proposition. It is also the tool that will allow me to reflect critically on actual players experiences at the end of the project.
Media archaeology is a young discipline working in the heritage of thinkers like Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Aby Warburg, Friedrich Kittler, and Tom Gunning to name a few. Often described as "new historiography," "new historicism," and "new materialism," this field studies the "deep time" (Zielinski ( 2006) of media history. Its main goal is to carry out a "discourse of presence" (Sobchack 2011: 323) about the spectrality of the past that haunts the present time of contemporary media. This means scrutinizing "under the hood" (Parikka 2012: 83) of media materiality, technocultural practices, and knowledge in order to excavate material traces of the repressed alterity of media history. It is a matter of uncovering the "presence effect" (Sobchack 2011: 324) of those ghosts in the machines to historicize their forgotten genealogies, transgressive media practices, marginalized artifacts, lost utopias, etc. Through this discourse of presence, media archaeology goes "against the grain" (Huhtamo & Parikka 2011:10) of the linear and teleological regime of established media history. The alternative is a non-linear and multilayered anarcho-punk counter-history focusing on a transmedia and transhistorical network of "forking paths of possibility, i.e. as a determined plurality and a permanent virtuality" (Elsaesser 2004: 99). In her book chapter "Afterword: Media Archaeology and Re-presencing the Past," Sobchack clarifies the media archaeological endeavour in these terms:
This is not only re-cognition of some marginalized or unrealized technical device that ruptures the continuities and teleologies of media history but also re-cognition of the transhistorical and topical presence "all along" of, for example, […] what was previously dismissed as machinic "noise" or computer "artifact" (a startling term in this context) and once regarded as disruptive of media is actually a systemic element of it (2011: 324-325).
Two important notions characterize the theoretical foundations of media archaeology: archive and apparatus (dispositif in French). Media ecosystems are conceptualized as archives from two angles. On one side, they are archives because they consolidate a collection of texts, documents, testimonies, representations, artefacts, vestiges, etc. that was produced by a culture throughout its history. On the other side, media constitute an archive system in the sense proposed by Foucault in L’archéologie du savoir [The Archaeology of Knowledge] ( 2005) to designate a "general system of formation and transformation of statements" (171; my translation). Understand as such, a medium archival system structures an order of things that regulate the conditions of possibilities of knowledge not only about media, but also about human experience and history. Media therefore contribute to (trans)form the underlying "episteme" of an epoch (Foucault  2005: 250), meaning the belief system, worldview, regime of perception, and mode of thinking that determine what is true and false statements, what is acceptable and unacceptable discourse, what is good and bad way of using media, what must penetrate the collective memory or sink into oblivion, etc. Accordingly, media have a power over knowledge by shaping the conditions of production, distribution and reception of information.
The second theoretical cornerstone lies in the notion of apparatus. This conceptual ground extends the idea of power over knowledge to that of power over senses and bodies. In their article "Le dispositif n’existe pas !" [The apparatus does not exist!] (2004), Albera & Tortajada dissect Foucault’s definition of the apparatus:
[...] a resolutely heterogeneous whole, comprising discourses, institutions, architectural arrangements, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral, philanthropic proposals, in short: some said and unsaid, these are the elements of apparatus (Foucault cited in Albera & Tortajada 2004: 30).
The authors specify that Foucault's concept refers to two things. First, it refers to a device of vision and hearing like the Panopticon. From this perspective, the apparatus represents an architectural and administrative system made of rules and technical machines that regulate the relationships between space, subjects and representations (discursive and audiovisual). Consequently, an apparatus has the function of organizing, monitoring, and disciplining sensorial and corporeal activities. Second, Albera & Tortajada explain that Foucault’s notion contains the idea of an "episteme-apparatus." This second understanding intersects with the power of the archive system over knowledge. However, it specifies that this control over statements and discourses operate within the apparatus of vision and hearing itself. In the light of these two meanings, the media archaeological examination of apparatus involves a double gesture. It is a question of going under the hood of media apparatus’ machinery, ideological platform and normalized cultural practices. The objective is to demystify how media exercise power over the epistemic, sensorial, and social experiences of the world. Such an analysis is concerned not only with debunking media as an archive system, but also as surveillance operations, disciplinary mechanisms, protocols, control and normalization processes.
Media archaeology provides sharp theoretical tools to expose the complex relationship between media history, media materiality, and power over knowledge and bodies. Through that lens, mainstream video games can be framed as an apparatus conditioning how we perceive, think, and interact inside and outside video games. It fixes what is considered good and bad games, positive and negative design choices, appropriate and deviant gameplay, right and wrong interpretations, accurate or inaccurate statements, etc. This structuration of perception, discourse, and practice also operate on glitches as game companies try to neutralize their negative effects on the enjoyment of their product by the majority. Under the capitalist video game industry, the dominant discourse about glitches is that of "transgression as pathogen" (Meades 2015: 30-32). Every glitching activity that does not profit the industry is punished on the basis of toxicity (otherwise it is silently exploited). Designers and players are disciplined into thinking of glitches through that mindset. However, some glitchers confront the power of this normalizing gaze. As explained by Meades (2015), many of them rationalize their transgressive practice as a matter of mastery (domination over designer, game rules, and other players), identity (playstyle to belong to a group that distinguishes itself from other playstyle), carnival (ritual laughter from the chaos of counterplay), and resistance (opposing the rules and contesting power to create material changes). As a counter-apparatus resisting hegemony of mainstream video games, Bug Hunter celebrates the noise of glitches and invites transgressions. It directly challenges the pathogenic discourses that games of Empire spread about glitches and works toward decolonizing the neoliberal attitude toward glitching. Media archaeology informs the need to transform how we interpret, sense, speak, and interact with the object of study. Still, more precise tools are needed to actually identify how power operates within video games and under what forms resistance can occur.
Media studies can be really useful to describe the inner workings of how glitches can be at the same time reactionary (Empire) and revolutionary (multitude). Following Galloway & Thacker argument in The Exploit. A Theory of Networks (2007), we can argue that "protocol" is the new managing apparatus of Empire in the context of information society:
[T]he concept of "protocol" refers to all the technoscientific rules and standards that govern relationships within networks. Protocols abound in technoculture. They are rooted in the laws of nature, yet they sculpt the spheres of the social and the cultural. They are principles of networked interrelationality, yet they are also principles of political organization (28).
Protocological control is informatic, cybernetic, and systemic. It occurs through programming code, algorithms, computational procedures, feedback loops, software routines and other semiotic operations. It codifies the interconnection and the condition of interaction between human and nonhuman agents. The regulation of data flow in networks is how protocols ensure Empire hegemony. Galloway & Thacker (2007: 58-63) identify four political dimensions of this type of control: individuation, multiplicity, movement, and connectivity. Individuation designates the act of tagging and locating all types of data and systemic activity to identify, classify, monitor, and regulate them accordingly. Multiplicity refers to the plasticity of networks as they are constantly transformed and reconfigured by protocols to incorporate oppositions and contradictions (instead of excluding them). Movement specifies the "physico-kinetic" (2007: 169) quality of protocological control insofar as it governs by controlling access to information, data mobility, and the unequal conditions of navigation among individuated users. Finally, connectivity defines the liberal, horizontal, and distributed ethos of networks in which protocols are designed to maintain maximum connection between agents. Galloway & Thacker add that protocological control that operates inside the networks of Empire consolidates a form of biopower. Following Foucault’s reasoning in Histoire de la sexualité 1. La volonté de savoir (1976), the authors explain that protocols constantly monitor and collect sensitive data about human activities to inform "the development of techniques of organization and control over masses of individuals, species groups, and populations" (2007: 72). The aim of this form of governance is to administer life itself "to make it productive, to impel, enhance, and optimize the species-population as it exists within the contexts of work, leisure, consumerism, health care, entertainment, and a host of other social activities" (2007: 74).
Located at the junction of work, leisure, consumerism, and art, video game entertainment delimits a sphere of activity where players familiarize with protocological control (rules, procedures, feedback loops, restriction of access, conditions interactions, etc.) and biopower (mass surveillance, quantification, regulation of bodies, security measures, governance of communities and software recodification based on massive abstract data, etc.). In doing so, games of Empire shape the internalization of biopolitical modes of governmentality. Galloway & Thacker detail such effects caused by video games:
[F]orms of informatic play should be interrogated not as a liberation from the rigid constraints of systems of exchange and production but as the very pillars that prop those systems up. The more video games appear on the surface to emancipate the player, raising his or her status as an active participant in the aesthetic moment, the more they enfold the player into codified and routinized models of behavior. [… Games] are training tools for life inside the protocological network, where flexibility, systemic problem solving, quick reflexes, and indeed play itself are as highly valued and commodified as sitting still and hushing up were for the disciplinary societies of modernity (2007, p. 115).
In light of the pervasiveness of protocological control, Galloway & Thacker argue that political agitation in the context of informatic networks often takes the form of "tactical misuse of a protocol" (2007: 30). What the authors conceptualize as "counterprotocological practices" characterize a type of network struggle based on what hackers call exploits: "a resonant flaw designed to resist, threaten, and ultimately desert the dominant political diagram" (2007: 21). Through the appropriation of exploits, activists can widen the holes discovered in technologies to prefigure and even actualize transformations (new rules, softening of control, enrich condition of interactions, better access to information, improved mobility, etc.). Galloway & Thacker theorize four tactics of counterprotocological practices: non-identification, hypertrophy, network structure, and movement. In opposition to universal individuation, counterprotocological struggle advocates for non-existence and anonymity to resist being tagged, localized, and classified. Non-identification is about abandoning the military foundations of the body politic and reaching beyond representations to be a ghost in the machine and wander in the margins of Empire. Hypertrophy defines the action of pushing systems to their limits, nourishing anomalies, and overflowing protocols to their breaking point. Jamming and injuring networks in that way open up the possibility to dodge protocological control, discover new (dys)functionalities, and rethink network topography and kinesthetic properties. Counterprotocological practices also need to focus on reconfiguring network structures to transform the quality of interaction between agents. This means improving all forms of agencies capable of realizing the political project of the multitude inside the informatic spaces of Empire: free access to information, liberating network navigation, democratization of the means of communication, dismantling of intellectual property, enabling technological tinkering and defending software commons. The last tactics lies on an appropriation of movement parameters in networks to cause an influx of aberrant data beyond the threshold of its topological boundaries. This can be done through informational flooding, digital trespassing, and misdirection of data flow and users.
The dimensions of protocological control and those of counterprotocological practices are highly valuable notions to guide design choices throughout the creation of Bug Hunter. Individuation, multiplicity, movement restrictions, and connectivity are the theoretical foundations of the innovative counterplay paradigm of Bug Hunter while non-identification, hypertrophy, network structure, and movement liberation are the basis of the paralogical counterplay paradigm.
Bug Hunter harmonizes two methodological dimensions. On the one hand, I apply a creative methodology with a practical framework to artistically tinker with video game materiality, glitch history, and design process. On the other hand, I employ a method to map my trajectory in the game design space to reflect afterward on the actual materialization of the creation process in relation to the public reception of the final game.
Bug Hunter qualifies itself as a media-archaeological videoludic experimentation devoted to gaming glitches. The object of study is understood as neglected and repressed ontological parts of the video game art form. The goal is to proceed to the gamification of a materialist and historiographical investigation of the poetic and politic of glitches. In that context, glitchy aesthetic, mechanics, and gameplay become the engines that drive players to playfully engage with this research-creation through their senses, body, and intellect. To realize this intention, media archaeology has explored various creative methodologies well explained by Parikka in his book What is Media Archaeology? (2012). One iconic methodological technique of media-archaeological art is remediation. In their book Remediation: Understanding New Media (1999), Bolter & Grusin define remediation as "the representation of one medium in another" (45). Remediation implies mixing old and new media by repurposing or refashioning their formal properties for different motives (homage, improvement, absorption, competition, etc.). Every act of remediation takes place on a spectrum polarizing two representational regimes: immediacy and hypermediacy. The logic of immediacy seeks to render the remediation transparent and invisible to the user. In this case, "A transparent interface would be one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium" (1999: 24). Conversely, the logic of hypermediacy
acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as "windowed" itself—with windows that open to other representations or other media. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience (1999: 33-34).
Remediation plays a central role as a creative gesture for the design of Bug Hunter. I conceive my research-creation project as an "artistic practice informed by archival work and historical materials, a direct way of working like a historian but for artistic ends" (Parikka 2012: 140). My aim is to repurpose key traces from the poetical and political history of glitches for artistic, gaming, and educating motives. Following this method, Bug Hunter’s game structures are conceptualized as a site of tensions between conventional gaming and a virtual museum of the glitch. For instance, every level starts in an environment based on the logic of immediacy where remediation remains invisible. Using glitches to solve puzzles will force players to go under the hood of the matrix to encounter the glitched world (see the level design section of the game design document for more details). This is where the magic happens.
Inspired by media-archaeological creative methods, I conceived the glitched world as a curatorial playspace inviting players to explore, sense, and manipulate archival materials extracted from the deep time of glitch history. In this gamified museum, the act of remediation falls heavily into the logic of hypermediacy. Important transmedia and transhistorical material assemblages of glitch history will be strategically spatialized in a Mnemosyne atlas fashion: noise-sounds from the intonarumori of Italian Futurists, eclectic Dadaist photomontages, repurposing of Duchamp-like readymade 3d object, procedurally generate excerpts of Fluxus indeterminate music, Pop Art and punk collages, iconic self-reflexive signs of mediation from video art, glitch art digital photography, etc. To ensure contact, the gameplay challenges will require players to deliver nontrivial efforts to interact with these traces and they will be rewarded to do so. To play with Jenkins’ words stated in his chapter "Game Design as Narrative Architecture" (2004), I envision the design of Bug Hunter as a mutation of environmental storytelling into environmental history showing. Through this playful assemblage of the glitch collective memory, Bug Hunter performs a move from game design as narrative architecture to game design as archival museography.
Assembling such a time-machine through remediation is one way to travel back in the art history of the glitch while in the present moment of glitching. Time travelling to this deep time opens up the possibility to revisit "long-term relations that radically steps out of the short-term use value that is promoted by capitalist media industries" (2012: 147). Such nomadism invites players to rethink their often opportunistic and commodified relation with gaming glitches in the light of their artistic roots. This is an occasion to challenge the current neoliberal exploitation of glitches by reviving their profoundly critical, appropriative, and paralogical traditions. This meeting between the old and the new creates the material condition for a potential rewiring of our relationship with glitches, one that is less about Empire and more about multitude, one that is less about consuming a commodity and more about sharing the common. Remediating the ghosts of this history inside the contemporary videoludic machine does not only potentiate and advance future designs, research, and gaming possibilities. More importantly, the museum of the glitch can play a critical and social role in interrupting the organic crisis of Empire that deteriorates all aspects of human life (economical, political, cultural, biological, etc.). In his alarming analysis of the catastrophic consequences of unleashed technoscientific progress, Virilio formulates the following statement in his book The Original Accident:
In order to avoid shortly inhabiting the planetary dimensions of an integral accident, one capable of integrating a whole heap of incidents and disasters through chain reactions, we must start right now building, inhabiting and thinking through the laboratory of cataclysms, the museum of the accident of technical progress ( 2007: 24).
Creating a museum of the glitch represents one more step in this critical redirection against the grain of the toxic hegemony of neoliberal capitalism. In that light, travelling back potentiates a leap in the future.
My creation process is also media-archaeological on the basis that it digs "not only into the past, but also inside the machine and address[es] the present – but technically ‘archaeological’ – buried conditions of our media culture" (2012: 140). From the design perspective, my objective is to go under the hood of the Unity game engine to explore and bend its materiality. In order to engage this process, I will use Unity as a carnivalesque space of exploration to instigate a dialogical relationship between what the artist Menkman calls "hot glitch" and "cool glitch" in her book The Glitch Moment(um) (2011: 44-45). The hot glitch is intentional and instrumental. It is a commodified end-product that fulfills aesthetical requirements. On the contrary, the cool glitch is unintentional, accidental, and in stat of flux. It emerges from a co-creative dynamic between natural processes, technologies, and the work of the artist or the users. The design of Bug Hunter starts with the creation of four intentional "hot" glitches, one for each core mechanic of the game (see the mechanic section of the design document for more details). These hot glitches are developed to allow radical gameplay based on the anticipated datamoshing of the game’s physics and environment. They are conceived to stretch the game kinesthetic dimension and to push the engine’s protocols in a state of hypertrophy. By consciously reproducing glitches in software developed to prevent those errors from happening, "cool" unintentional glitches necessarily come to life as ontological parts of the art form. Instead of fighting them, I welcome them. I listen to what they have to say about Unity, the art of game design, and the videoludic medium. I document their emergence for future creative endeavours. I put them in interaction with the hot glitches to rethink the actual mechanics and puzzles of Bug Hunter. I let natural processes and the autonomy of technology partake in the design process of the game as it unfolds.
From the players' standpoint, I encourage users to do the same thing with their gameplay. I want them to step out of the game of Empire to join the game of multitude. I try to guide them (without forcing them) toward a paralogical and non-instrument exploration and redirection of the game materiality. I want them to resist how game design and technology sculpt their behaviours and normalize their perception of glitches as mere tools to master the game. On that front, my project seeks to highlight the biopolitics of glitching by investigating how "[gaming] technology takes part in governing bodies, affording perceptions and building platforms for social relations, work, entertainment and identity" (2012: 144). Bug Hunter experience is a matter of thinking critically, creatively, and subversively about the underlying processes, protocols, software and hardware that normalize not only the design and playability of Bug Hunter itself, but countless other games. Here resides an opportunity to raise consciousness about the sculpting powers of Unity as an apparatus that shapes the conditions of production and consumption of gaming culture. By coercively enforcing players to use hot glitches to reflect on the plasticity of videoludic materiality, unanticipated cool glitches have a strong potential to arise. Setting the conditions for such an epiphany where players might abruptly get in touch with their creative power and playbour forces set the stage for a transformative experience. This can be a profoundly empowering paralogical moment where users can feel how their "physically embodied actions [...] both perform play and construct game environments" (Apperley 2013: 150). Meanwhile, a crack is opened and a momentum is created. This may push players to establish a connection between their act of counterplaying, the art of everyday life, and media hegemony. Shifting toward this artistically minded position of self-reflexivity, participants can access a playful space of self-awareness and self-questioning. From there, they can start to reflect critically on the ways in which the video game medium, as a paradigmatic apparatus of Empire, shape their knowledge, worldview, everyday leisure, sensorial experience of the world, and by extension their political sensibilities. Through that lens, Bug Hunter catalyzes the "idea of media archaeology as educating us about technology and media, not only as critical consumers who can hermeneutically interpret complex media content but also as producers who can actively engage in various media practices" (Parikka 2012: 157). Bug Hunter tests this hypothetical politicization capacity of the gaming glitch as a potential trigger for such a shift in consciousness toward the multitude. If this emancipation is possible in the context of video games, that would mean glitches can play an educative and militant role in a capitalist world driven by private property, profit, social control, and human exploitation. Redirecting players’ playbour toward the critical examination of the ideological mechanisms and power relationships reproduced in the context of gaming, the glitch may help raise class consciousness to contribute to the consolidation of the new collective subject of the multitude that is needed to imagine and fight for a better world. To evaluate that possibility, it is necessary to combine this media-archaeological methodology with a creative method equipped to keep track of the trajectory going from the basic epistemic assumptions of the project to the design process all the way down to the experience of players.
This project is more about the process than the product. To study that process, it follows a methodology for game design research named the Method for Design Materialization and Analysis (MDMA) that has been developed by Khaled, Lessard and Barr in their conference paper "Documenting Trajectories in Design Space: a Methodology for Applied Game Design Research" (2018). According to a literature review of scientific game design research-creation methods, the authors raise the problem of the dominant paradigm stemming from the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) that advocate "[a] cognitivist mode where generalizable frameworks and rules are valued and controlled experimentation yields trustworthy results" (2018: 2). The authors point out three main blind spots to this approach. First, the separation from the cultural context of creation and experience. Second, the production of totalizing models based on quantified abstract data. Third, the focus on the effectiveness of the material argument encoded in the design object. The MDMA wants to complement this cognitivist, totalizing and object-oriented approach, with a process-oriented methodology anchored in situ and based on the analysis of balanced subjectivity. Inspired by virtual ethnography and grounded theory, the idea is for designers to map out their trajectory in the game design space during the whole creation process. This implies working with contextualized results generated in situ. It also means producing recoverable timestamped documentary evidence to realize individualized analyzes in vivo (in the hot immediacy of game design) and postmortem (in the cold aftermath of the process).
To engage the MDMA method, Khaled, Lessard, and Barr invite the researcher-creator to use public online versioning platforms such as GitHub or BitBucket. Such digital tools make it possible to create a directory consolidating a history of each of the playable versions of the game project issued on a fixed date during the development of the game. The methodology requires accompanying each version with a title, a date and a note of intent that justifies and explains the movement toward a new (or old) iteration of the work.
Otherwise, the maintenance of such versioning systems for game prototypes must be accompanied by a rigorous design journal that contextualizes and ensures the chronological traceability of each moment of commitment when significant technical advances are made. This design journal is intended to be deeply transmedial. It involves versions of the work's manifesto (research questions, artistic vision, arguments expressed, etc.), screenshots of the virtual work table, animated GIFs or gameplay videos of prototypes in action. It must also contain blog posts from creators where they publish self-reflexive in vivo analysis, inspirational elements, declarations of intent, correspondence with collaborators (colleagues, testers, experts consulted, etc.), comments on hesitations, choices or design problems, etc. Anything that plays a role in the game design process is of value for this journal.
Moreover, all this documentation is intended to be made public. Designers must use every platform at their disposal to map, archive, and share their trajectory in the design space. A personal website is ideal to write blog posts about the evolution of the project. It also has to list hyperlinks to platforms used in the project: GitHub to give people access to all prototype versions, Flickr or Imgur for significant screenshots, YouTube or Vimeo for video content, and a Twitter and Facebook account to communicate news, share ideas, and interact with interested parties. At the end of the project, the researcher must write a final essay in the form of a postmortem analysis through which he provides a self-reflexive feedback on the whole creation process and the trajectory taken in the design space. This involves concluding and interpreting the ins and outs of the process in a different way and entering into a dialogue with the previous prototypes and the documentation archived in the design journal.
My postdoctoral project subscribes to the MDMA method to track my creative interactions with glitches in the game design space. An important part of my research-creation involves not only the design of Bug Hunter but also the documentation of the design process. Following the auto-ethnographic and grounded theory ethos of MDMA, I have set up this website (thebughunter.ca) that is the project hub. The "Manifesto" section contains the in-depth conceptual underpinning of Bug Hunter such as the subject matter, research-creation problem, theoretical framework, methodology and the like. The "Design Document" page links to the living game design document where the ideation process of the game is documented. The "DevLog" section gathers all blog posts of the design journal where I publish discussion about the project development and various in vivo analyzes where I will reflect on Bug Hunter in the immediacy of the design process. The "Archive" is where I pin every visual material related to the design of the game. This includes graphical inspirations, glitched images, texture experimentations, photomontages, GIFs of weird game behaviours, iconographic tests, etc. Finally, there are the "Platforms" and "About Me" sections inviting users to follow the project on its web-based related platforms to get their hand on Bug Hunter various prototypes on GitHub and to engage with me on social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.). Social interactions and feedback will be documented with dedicated attention as integral parts of the design process. The same goes for the testing phase during which I will organize "behind closed door" game sessions with a small sample of colleagues followed by semi-structured interviews to gather first-hand impressions and adjust the game design accordingly.
After the final release of the game on itch.io, I will create a reception file regrouping four types of feedback. Firstly, I will gather basic analytics from Unity Analytics to keep track of specific actions and navigation choices made by players while playing Bug Hunter. Secondly, I will gather as many press articles, blog posts, and player comments as possible. Thirdly, participants will be invited to complete and send a small electronic questionnaire hosted on a dedicated page of The Bug Hunter website. Finally, I will gather a sample of voluntary participants willing to partake in the project final reception report. This engagement implied three interrelated steps: 1) a quick pre-interview to get information on the participant profile as a video game player (What console?; What genre?; What games?; What context of play?; etc.), 2) a playtest session with recorded gameplay, and 3) a follow-up semi-structured interview based on the participant's gameplay recording to discuss his or her thinking and doing while playing. All this data will serve as source materials to carry out my cold postmortem analysis in which I will undergo an in-depth cross examination between my project original manifesto, my documented trajectory in the game design space, and the reception report of the game.
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Airborne Glitch Rot (wednesday scones, 2016)
America’s Army [series] (United States Army, 2002-2013)
Bedlam (RedBedlam, 2015)
Calendula (Blooming Buds Studio 2016)
Escape from Castle Galichi (Jon Gao, 2014)
Full Spectrum Warrior (Pandemic Studios, 2004)
Glitchlab (nazywam, 2014).
Glitchspace (Spacebudgie, 2016)
Glitch Dungeon (jakeonaut, 2014)
Grand Theft Auto [series] (Rockstar, 1997-2013)
Memory of a Broken Dimension (Hanson-White, 2015)
Pony Island (Daniel Mullins Games, 2016)
Portal (Valve, 2007)
Quirkaglitch (Xavier Belanche, 2015)
Rememoried (Hangonit, 2015)
ROM CHECK FAIL (Farbs, 2008)
Second Life (Linden Lab, 2003)
The Magic Circle (Question, 2015)
The Stanley Parable (Wreden, 2011)
World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004)