pixel bleed

Have you ever noticed how much we use signal degradation as a shorthand for existential “wrongness”?

Like, in horror movies, an otherworldly voice may hiss like radio static, while a creepy monster may jerk and stutter from position to position like a video that’s dropping frames. The influence of a hostile, alien presence may be indicated by visual “tearing”, like the film is being played back from damaged media, or by deliberate audio/video desynchronisation.

Video games get in on the act, too. The use of simulated glitches to represent reality-warping effects in horror gaming is well documented, of course, but it goes beyond that. In the language of gaming, a portal to an alien realm may bleed stylised pixels and crackle like a PC speaker with the volume cranked too high, while the sound effects associated with “unnatural” magic might introduce digital distortion to an otherwise naturalistic soundscape.

I sometimes wonder what it says about our anxieties as a culture that the easiest way for media to freak us out is to confront us with manifestations of the artificiality of the medium.