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Life Lessons from Glitch the Game

Janice & Jim in the 20 Minute Garden, Glitch-style

Janice & Jim in the 20 Minute Garden, Glitch-style

Just about a year ago, Glitch, that weird and wonderful online game, closed down for good. It’s a testament to both how good the game was — and a bit to how messed up I was at the time — but I quite literally wept when I heard the news.

I had only played it for a few months, but Glitch had worked its way into my daily routine. I had been on the waitlist for Glitch, and as soon as I entered the world, I sent an invitation to my partner, who joined me there. Sometimes my little bright pink-skinned avatar crossed paths with his little green one, and we roamed the world together. A little trip to Ur became a regular opportunity to play, to discover, and to create that was restful, fun, and highly amusing.

What do we expect from games? Amusement, sure, escape. But I had the sensation that Glitch was making me into a slightly better version of myself. Real-life useful traits like generosity, patience, and playfulness were rewarded in the game. Playing the game always felt like winning, which was a refreshing sensation; many games are designed around making the player feel rushed, either in trying to beat the clock or another player. In other games, we fail repeatedly in a completing task, dying but earning endless do-overs. Again, Glitch was different; dying was possible, but it took concerted effort and purposeful neglect to make your character experience death.

After the game closed, we searched around for a few months, looking for “the new Glitch”, but we didn’t find it. We grieved and moved on.

Recently the ultra-cool folks at TinySpeck, the company that created Glitch, released many of the digital assets of the game to the Public Domain. We were also a HUGE fans of the music, some of which is also available now. The distinct images and sounds that created that world are a trigger for a lot of memories, which prompted me to reflect on half a dozen life lessons I learned from playing Glitch.

Projects require money, but also imagination
In Glitch, a player had multiple streams of power. Some video games have two “costs”, like energy and experience, for players to purchase or do something. Glitch added a third stream– imagination. A player needed imagination to build a structure or perform a task; conversely, a glitchen (the correct noun for your on-screen player) gained imagination from resting, completing a project, or playing a game within the game, of which there were many.

The same is true in real life. You can have the time and money needed to remodel your kitchen or take that painting class, but without imagination, you can’t hope to do those projects. Imagination is a resource we both spend and earn, and we really need it.

Why the heck ISN’T there something like “All Spice?”
The odd and unexpected behaviors of creatures and substances in Glitch was great fun. For example, a player needed Allspice, which could be harvested from a spice tree to make recipes. With a spice grinder, said Allspice could be transformed into other spices, which were ingredients for other recipes, things like ginger, cinnamon, and pepper.

Now that you think about it, doesn’t that make sense?

Waiting for abilities is probably important
Waiting is generally an underrated practice. Waiting for stuff to come in the mail can be cool– full of hope and mystery and expectation. Some on-line sex therapist once said you should never have sex on the first date, if for no other reason than it cuts short all that exciting anticipation. We’ve been married and monogamous for over three decades, but there’s something true and remembered about that assertion. Waiting… can be kind of cool.

There was always something to do in Glitch, but we were always also waiting for what was to come, what skills or places were yet to be discovered. Leveling up in Glitch took time but it didn’t feel like a “grind” (we’re talking to you, WOW). While being able to do everything possible from the start seems like a good idea, learning what to do and how to do it are valuable too. Waiting can lead to unexpected rewards.

Cute doesn’t necessarily mean dumb
In many games, your avatar is the best looking human you’ll ever meet or be, for that matter. You are buff and tough and definitely not real. Glitch characters were cute. A player could personalize his or her character in a multitude of ways, changing obvious things like clothes, but also altering attributes like hair, eye shape, placement and color.

Glitch avatars were smart, wiley and coordinated. Glitchen could run and jump, climb trees and ladders, move with purpose and grace. Some of the most moving tributes I read at the close of the game were from people with mobility issues who had experienced joy and freedom in having their little character jump and play in ways they hadn’t in years, if ever. We were cute, but we were mighty.

Relaxation as play and meditation
Interesting enough, I’d recently began incorporating meditation into my life around the same time that I started playing Glitch, an imaginary world where meditation was also a powerful activity. It made complete sense to me that my Glitch character would also be renewed and ready to go following a meditation exercise. Like me, my character got better at meditation over time.

The game, or at least parts of it, were also meditative and relaxing for the human playing. The world was a welcoming, hospitable and safe place to be.

Beautiful things that are temporary are still valuable
Many years ago, I was with a group of people departing from an extended time together. As we said our goodbyes, I told one of the instructors that I was sorry I hadn’t had a chance to get to know her better. She replied, “I’m happy we met at all.”

This was the final lesson of Glitch, maybe the one most worth holding on to in the end. All things pass away, and all things do come to an end, but Glitch is also full of good memories. Those who were there had a chance to play together, to help each other, to laugh, to plan and build, to visit, and to share knowledge and experiences. Glitch was just a game, but it was magical and meaningful and darn fun. I miss it, but I’m happy to have been there and learned a few lessons that make this world a better place.

Glitch links:

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2 Responses

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  1. philipp says

    There’s a lot of ex-Glitchens in Manyland, as we did the early phase with the Glitch community on Facebook. It’s an open, shared universe we invent together… every pixel, every song, every quest is created by all of us within the world. You’re invited to join us, and please ping me at for a tour!

  2. Frannyo says

    Couldn’t agree more. I have the sounds of Glitch as ringer, etc for my phone, because I’m kinda hoping that someone will recognize them and then we can hug and skip around together for a bit. That was a great game, and it brought me to a great site! So maybe there’s one more lesson – good things are often just around the corner, if you’re willing to invest in looking for them, and recognize them for what the are.