• 08.20.10

Glitches Turn Video Games Into Sublime Art

Dutch photographer Robert Overweg’s beautiful mistakes

Glitches Turn Video Games Into Sublime Art

Most people throw their controllers when a glitch ruins a perfectly good game of Half Life or Grand Theft Auto. Robert Overweg loves it; he turns it into art.


Overweg is a self-proclaimed “photographer in the virtual world.” In his “Glitches” series, he captures whacked-out characters and snafued buildings in screenshots that look like what René Magritte might’ve produced had he been a big ol? gaming nerd. These are absurd apocalyptic landscapes rendered even more absurd by shooters suspended in mid-air, as if leaping off a trampoline, while a skyscraper burns ominously in the distance, or, our favorite, by two characters fleeing the zombies of Left 4 Dead 2 and pausing for a homoerotic embrace (top).

How Overweg does it: It’s “a combination of forcing glitches and finding them,” he tells us in an email. So in Left 4 Dead 2, an A.I. companion is programmed to follow you within certain bounds, but step outside the bounds, and the characters go a tad haywire. Thus Glitch-hug and Glitch up in the air (below)

Here in Grand Theft Auto IV, Overweg used an invisible gap in the wall to effectively slip beneath the game.


Not all the photographs are glitches in the technical sense. Overweg found this facade hacking around Left 4 Dead 2. “I was told to go in a certain direction and I decided to go in the opposite only to find this beautiful building,” he says. “From a distance and a certain perspective this would be a normal building.” Facades and buildings from Half Life 2:

Aestheticizing glitches is nothing new, and in recent years, an entire industry has sprouted up around glitch art, complete with a glitch-art symposium and a glitch-art book. Most of the work looks like a mistake. Overweg’s photos are awesome and creepy because, like Magritte’s bowler-hatted men and day-lit evening streets, they’re deceptively normal.

You could read all sorts of meaning into these — they’re a political statement about finding beauty in crossing boundaries; they’re questioning the notion of artistic authorship (Overweg’s photos are unedited screenshots); and so on — but we like them because they look cool. We’ll leave all that other stuff to the glitch-art theorists.

[Images via Robert Overweg]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.