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Corrupted Data

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A sub-trope of Lost in Transmission, where crucial information is corrupted, whether by a Computer Virus or other means.

In Real Life data follows what's known as a "protocol"note . In order to be read by a computer, data must be recorded in a specific way, thus as much as one bit in the wrong place can make a file unreadable. Of course it's obviously possible to salvage the uncorrupted parts with a bit of patience....

While many of the things shown to corrupt data in fiction are capable of doing so (viruses might be designed to corrupt a file or may do so by accident while copying themselves into one, damage to storage media obviously risks damaging the data on it, etc) most corruption tends to be the result of a computer malfunction (such as the write head of a Hard Drive miswriting the data to its disc, or a poor Internet connection causing data to be wrongly transmitted) or user error (such as yanking out a USB drive while it's being written tonote ). Many data storage devices are designed to prevent this sort of thing through a number of techniques. Read more about it on The Other Wiki.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Garakowa: Restore The World: This is the true identity of the 'computer viruses'. They are the fragmented information of deleted backup data. Since Mother considered them flawed, she had them deleted and then flagged their remnants for the Wisdom Box's antivirus software.
  • Sword Art Online: Depending on how you look at it, how Kirito lost nearly all of his Aincrad items or how he kept his stats and one particularly important item when he started ALO. Also, why he happened to meet Leafa, of all people, when starting ALO.

    Audio Play 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: In "I.D.", the Scandroids have been infected with this and when they interact with each other they too become corrupt.

    Comic Books 
  • Eternals (2021): A document explaining "The Age of the Patriarchs" uses the Corrupted Data option and throws an "[ERROR: SECTION DELETED]" message when it reaches "the Matriarchs' influence in this period and the Eternal concept of gender in dynasties".
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
    • In one issue, Shadow retrieves a disk that contains files from Gerald Robotnik about his true purpose. However, the disk is damaged by a Badnik attack and the thing was already 50 years old, so it was starting to decay badly. NICOLE is able to rebuild it enough for Shadow to get his answers, though.
    • In an earlier issue, #165, the robot ISAAC was revealed to have corrupted data from centuries of wear (though not all of it was corrupted). It also reveals that the person he was protecting for centuries since the Xorda attack, Dr. Robotnkik's ancestor Ivan Kintorbor, is dead.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye has an illness known as "information creep", where a Transformer's brain module (particularly those of exceptionally old cases) unconsciously or subconsciously rewrites past memories, resulting in a distorted view of what really happened. This handily explains why few remember Cybertron's distant past, despite several characters in the present day having lived through it.

  • In the climax of the British detective dramedy The House In Nightmare Park (1973), the hero, detective Foster, is confronted by Not Quite Dead Verity pointing a gun at him. She demands the diamonds and he unwraps the package, throwing the covering paper into the fire. However, the document inside reveals the covering paper was actually the map to the diamonds hidden in the estate, by the time they realize the map is already burned away. The film ends with a camera shot moving away from Foster as he starts to dig in the large grounds outside the house to find the diamonds.

  • Star Trek The Light Fantastic: Moriarty's "world" suffers this twice. First when the Enterprise-D crashes on Veridian III and then again during the events of Immortal Coil. Both times he says it was akin to being folded in half and expecting the universe to simply cease to exist, followed by chaos.
  • In one of the Thursday Next books, there is a "mispeling virus", which causes misspellings to manifest wherever it shows up, turning a parrot into a carrot, the floor into flour and other unpleasant consequences. This sounds more amusing than dangerous until you realize it can turn your bones into boons, your nose into a noose or your hands into hats, depending on the severity of the infection. In short, if your body is infected, you are most likely going to die unless you get help really quickly. It can only be contained by dictionaries.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Given lip service on Bones where even though it's stated to be corrupted Angela will regularly reconstruct data and it will be good as new.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In Season 4, Voyager is able to make use of a Lost Technology communication network to briefly make contact with Earth. The network is destroyed, but they're able to receive a communication package containing mail from home and a lengthy encrypted message from Starfleet, which unfortunately has become damaged due to being relayed over thousands of light years, so they can't decode it until they get the help of an alien translation expert. He reveals it's directions to a Starfleet experimental vessel that's been sent to them on autopilot. Janeway however suspects this is Too Good to Be True, and is able to use the translator's work to decode the message herself. Turns out the Starfleet message is just an Info Dump of maps and other data on the Delta Quadrant, and the alien is luring them into a trap.

  • Zoviet France evokes this trope heavily in their music, they rely heavily on the decomposition of both their instruments and even their recording devises, claiming it aids in the intangibility of the music. Digilouge evokes this to a T, from the random clippings and chirpings to the art work dipicting a Matrix-like corruption of a computer system.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Iron Crown Enterprise's Cyberspace. The Worm virus goes through other files and "eats" them, leaving a string of random characters.
  • It's mentioned in Eclipse Phase that something like this can theoretically happen to saved backups. It gets a lot more corrupt when the Exsurgent virus gets involved.
  • Paranoia: If data hasn't been censored beyond all hope of reliability, it's corrupted, and if it's not corrupted, it's straightforwardly wrong.
  • Shadowrun
    • Supplement Virtual Realities
      • The Hog virus takes over the memory used by other files, causing them to crash.
      • Scramble IC will corrupt the file it's protecting to prevent it from being copied.
      • Short story "Virtual Realities". The "Matrix Born Project" file which was the source of the story was corrupted. An attempt is made to reconstruct it but was only 61% successful.
    • Several supplements mention that a computer file was corrupted by some kind of software attack, usually a virus or IC (defense program).
      • Corporate Shadowfiles. Aztechnology got into Shadowland and planted a virus that edited their entry in the title work.
      • Tir Tairngire. On five different occasions someone working for the title country got into Shadowland and corrupted or deleted files about it.
      • Threats. The Alamos 20,000 file was corrupted by a heavy viral attack before Shadowland received it.
  • Traveller - The New Era: One of the side effects of infestation by the Virus was a corruption of information transmission, such as Traveller News Service bulletins in Traveller products being replaced by random characters. One of the signs that the Virus had been defeated was Traveller News Service bulletins becoming partially and then fully readable again.

    Video Games 
  • All over the place in Alien: Isolation, as the Sevastopol station has been thoroughly damaged ever since the Xenomorph started running amok, causing most of its computer and maintenance systems' files to be corrupted. Also, Amanda's goal in the game, her mother Ellen's flight recorder, has corrupted data that must be restored before Amanda can learn what happened to her.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: Ann finds her brother's ROM heavily damaged that shows him searching for N540 before the other half of the data is obscured by missing data.
  • In Batman: Arkham Origins, the opening level has Batman finding a smashed surveillance drone. He retrieves the memory chip from the wreckage, but finds that it's badly damaged. He takes it back to the Batcave to restore it, when allows him to find out about the 50 million dollar bounty and the eight assassins coming after him.
  • Several items in The Binding of Isaac look like they have glitched textures, some of them looking like Glitch Entities. Many of these items have very random effects. Killing Delirium as Tainted Eden unlocks the "Corrupted Data" achievement, which makes Secret Room sometimes spawn a "glitched" itemnote , which have garbled textures and text. Picking up TMTRAINER basically "corrupts" the game, making every future item a randomly generated "glitched" item, and Challenge #45 is an improperly Dummied Out challenge that makes you start with TMTRAINER and randomizes the tileset and music.
  • Corrupted data is used to mess with the player in Doki Doki Literature Club!. Monika is a Fourth-Wall Observer who had Medium Awareness... and also happens to be insane and in love with the player (not the Player Character; the person playing the game). As such, Love Interests may end up deleted, corrupt or defunct images may pop up at random, and frequent broken strings of characters appear to highlight everything going way off the rails.
  • In the .hack video games, the protagonist is playing a MMORPG Game Within A Game and has to defeat in-game bosses whose data is corrupted and whose names are shown containing random characters.
  • Five Nights At Freddys VR Help Wanted: The game revolves around the fact that the Freddy Fazbear Virtual Experience game has been corrupted by malicious data.
  • Mass Effect uses this in the character creation sequence in order to justify you selecting your Shepard's family and psychological background, as well as his or her class and face.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Any and all Remnant data archives, thanks to the Scourge, but it is massively frustrating. Ryder doesn't find any coherent information until one location well towards the end of the game (and even then).
  • In The Spectrum Retreat, one of Worrall's logs mentions that following some sort of scandal, all of Spectrum's logs have been corrupted or wiped out, meaning the company has no idea who's in their retreats.
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Several cases. One is where sabotage on the part of an angry wife leaves her philandering husband stranded in the Tatooine desert. Your call as to whether or not you fix his droids or "fix" his droids. The other notable case is when using T3-M4 to stage the breakout. The Sith droid tries a memory wipe and T3-M4 uses the opening to corrupt the other droid's data.
  • In Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, a random event in the great plains will cause the game to pretend to glitch out, starting with upside-down buffalo, possibly leading to giant upside-down buffalo, and culminating in a fight against a mass of random sprites against a background similar to TV static. Upon defeating the glitch, the game will pretend to reboot, and you will unlock a glitched wagon.
  • Transistor: Subject data on Breach()'s source is filled with missing info due to corruption, as his Background info says:
    Error: Subject background data corrupted during integration. Reason: Unknown.
  • TRON 2.0: This trope is encountered all over the place. Virus-infected Z-Lots will have garbled names. Attacking with a certain weapon will cause the Program to convulse and stammer error messages. If a virus infects Jet's Profiler subroutine, then the input for enemy names and stats are garbled. Considering the universe we're dealing with, all of it is perfectly Justified.

  • Galaxion has two major organisations that work in space, using different encryption protocols. So when out TerSA heroes find an IP crashsite, there's no way to read the logs.
  • Homestuck. Partway through act 5, the Homestuck game disc gets a nasty scratch, so the next several pages are marred by visual glitches and corrupted text. Eventually it causes the story to freeze just before a climactic fight, so the reader takes the disc to Doc Scratch to fix it.
    • In Act 6 Act 6, when the story switches from discs to console cartridges, the cartridge in question is jammed with special stardust and candy corn, producing similar effects.

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