The craft that goes into video games can seem endless. The teams have hundreds of people, and the budgets can stretch into the hundreds of millions.
Even so, the virtual worlds always arrive imperfectly. Sometimes, the bugs contained reach sublime heights, hinting at ideas bordering on the philosophical.
Below, meet some of the most spectacular game glitches in history.
1. “The Minus World” – Super Mario Bros. (1985)
The original Super Mario Bros. contains a phantom level called the “Minus World” that has earned its own unique home in gaming lore. The underwater stage, a clone of the level World 7-2, can only be reached by destroying a few bricks, hobbling over a wall, and plunging down a pipe. Upon emerging in the Minus World—the name comes from the intended number before the minus symbol glitching out—Mario can swim through an otherwise average level, but the exit pipe will only take him back to the beginning, “Hotel California”-style.
2. “Corrupted Blood Incident” – World of Warcraft (2004)
The “Corrupted Blood Incident” in World of Warcraft has eerie parallels to human pandemics. Back in 2005, the event kicked off when a debuff spell called “Corrupted Blood,” cast by the monster Hakkar the Soulflayer and meant to drain players' health in battle, just kept spreading and ravaging.
Intended as a temporary spell only impacting a particular raiding area, the disease broke the confines of its quarantine, carried by pets and minions into the broader game world. Once outside, Corrupted Blood began to transmit exponentially among players, NPCs, and entire cities, turning hubs into ghost towns littered with virtual corpses. The epidemic subsided only when Blizzard reset the server, making it one of the most notorious game glitches ever.
3. “The Pac-Man Kill Screen” – Pac-Man (1980)
One of the first game glitches on record, the 1980 arcade classic Pac-Man has a glitch—the “Pac-Man Kill Screen“—from the game's 8-bit integer limit. The issue appears at level 256, when the screen becomes half-playable, with the unplayable half a jumble of text and other characters. Due to the technical limitations of the era, the game's counter cannot process the 256th level properly, leading to memory overflow and corrupted data.
4. “The Blue Hell” – Various Grand Theft Auto Games
Beneath the maps in all the 3D Grand Theft Auto games lies an abyss that changes color from day to night. Since the polygons in a game world do not usually fill the available space, 3D games often have some dead zones. Typically, these hidden areas only get modeled and textured on the outside, making the experience of visiting them a bit like wandering backstage at the theater. “The Blue Hell,” which exists underneath many maps, players can explore these game glitches with a jetpack in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
5. “Creepy Watson” – Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis (2007)
No one should find it surprising that Dr. Watson likes to stick close to his buddy, Sherlock Holmes. This seems like the point of a sidekick. What fans of the game Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis find unsettling has more to do with Watson's method of travel: teleportation. Since the character lacks any walking animation, he pops up whenever Holmes turns around, earning him the nickname “Creepy Watson.”
6. “Wario Stadium Jump” – Mario Kart 64 (1996)
The “Wario Stadium Jump” in Mario Kart 64 lets players skip a portion of the race track by jumping over a wall after one of the rolling rises in the course topography. The difficult-to-execute jump, considered a physics exploit, may seem a cheat to some but an expert move to others.
7. “Flying Mammoths” – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Just like it sounds, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim glitch “Flying Mammoths” gets its name from these wooly creatures' unintended journeys through the sky. While the source of the glitch has never received full confirmation from the developers, inconsistencies in the game's physics engine seem the likely cause. When the mammoths spawn, they sometimes hover, which the physics engine then corrects by dropping them. However, if the engine overshoots the mark, it can trigger this amusing catapulting effect. Who says game glitches aren't fun?
8. “Ghost People” – Assassin's Creed Unity (2014)
The “Ghost People” glitch in Assassin's Creed Unity stands out among the creepiest game glitches in gaming history. Character models lose most facial textures, leaving only floating eyes and teeth with gums—a bit like something out of The Invisible Man. Set during the French Revolution, the game's hyper-detailed historical environs can take on a haunted quality with these fleshless apparitions. The glitch only appears occasionally, stemming from failures in the rendering engine's ability to load.
9. “Jesus Spot” – Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)
The zombies in Left 4 Dead 2 can run fast, bite, and claw even faster. Luckily, certain spots in the game world fall under the protection of accidental force fields—otherwise known as “Jesus Spots“—where the undead cannot follow. Head to one of those glitchy oases and watch the pursuers writhe outside in comical splendor.
10. “Swingset Glitch” – GTA IV (2008)
Grand Theft Auto IV features one of the most celebrated game glitches in the entire series, the “Swingset Glitch,” also known as the “Car Cannon,” which transforms a seemingly innocuous child's playtoy into a catapult that can send both vehicle and driver many miles away. To access the Car Cannon, the player must drive into one of a handful of Liberty City swing sets, including the ones in Firefly Projects Park, and then just enjoy the ride.
11. “Donkey Lady” – Red Dead Redemption (2010)
As one of the most unfortunate creatures to ever populate a virtual world, Red Dead Redemption's “Donkey Lady” at least deserves more fame. Due to a bug in the spawning system, the glitch infects a random non-playable character (NPC) who wanders the Old West. She has the body of a donkey and the distorted face of a woman, and she can speak; somewhat pitiably, the player can also ride her around the map.
12. “Demon Babies” – The Sims 3 (2009)
In a glitch so grotesque one might struggle to believe it wasn't intentional, The Sims 3 presents gamers with “Demon Babies,” a monstrous character model of an infant in this otherwise milquetoast game. The creature has elongated limbs and crawls around the floor on its knees, sowing revulsion wherever it goes. Perhaps had the infant in David Lynch's Eraserhead lived into its teenage years, it would have become the Demon Baby.