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Deliberate Flaw Retcon

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So your new film is coming out, and you're really proud of it. It's got interesting characters, an original storyline and unusual, stylized visuals. The only problem is, everyone hates it. Critics accuse the characters of being flat and one-dimensional, claim that the visuals are so heavily stylized that it's impossible to tell what's going on and that the pacing of the film is impossibly scattershot and all over the place. So what do you do?


You can acknowledge that the work had its flaws that really could have used a bit of ironing out. Or, you can retroactively claim that the "flaws" in the work were entirely deliberate: they were, in fact, the Intended Audience Reaction. The characters aren't really one-dimensional: they just seem that way because the audience is viewing events from the protagonist's POV. The heavily stylized visuals aren't done for their own sake; they're a way to visually represent that the protagonist is colour-blind (even though this colour-blindness is never actually mentioned in the film itself). And the pacing issues aren't unintentional, they're a way to show how boring and monotonous it was to grow up poor (and colour-blind) in 1950s Yorkshire.

Naturally, some will believe you, and some won't.

Essentially, this is any work which, once consumer or critical reaction came back negative, had its failings handwaved by claims that these failings were intentional. These claims can be executed by the creators of the work or by fans of it, as the case may be. The motivation for the supposedly intentional flaws can vary a great deal: some writers will claim that their work was intended as a parody or satire (for that, see Parody Retcon), others that it was meant as a homage to an earlier work. For bizarre and incomprehensible works, some writers will claim that the audience being confused and alienated was the entire point (for whatever reason). There is no end to the variety of excuses a dedicated creator can invent.


This frequently happens in American superhero comics thanks to the fact that many of them have run for a very long time and thus have had many different writers, all of them with their own interpretation of previous material. Thus, mistakes in the runs of previous writers or bits of Early Installment Weirdness frequently get reworked to be a genuine part of the story. The results range from well-done and interesting additions to the mythos (the grey and green Hulk aren't a coloring issue, they're split personalities), to weird nitpicks (this is why Magneto really included the word "evil" in his team's name a couple times decades ago), to "the previous writer did something I don't like" (Dr. Doom didn't do that it was Actually a Doombot!).

Compare Stylistic Suck (which is what people employing this trope often claim to be doing) and Intended Audience Reaction (in this case, the creators intended one reaction but retroactively claim to have had a different one in mind when creating the work). In software and video games, compare Ascended Glitch (which is when an unintended glitch is made a deliberate feature in a later instalment). Parody Retcon is a subtrope (specifically, the claim that the work was meant to be understood as a parody or satire, even though it wasn't). A relative of I Meant to Do That and "Just Joking" Justification. See also Poe's Law, Author's Saving Throw and Irony. Can be related to Indecisive Parody, and sometimes to It's Not Supposed to Win Oscars (which is when artists or fans defend the flaws in a work by accusing the audience of having unreasonably high expectations). Contrast Springtime for Hitler.



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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Most of Tommy Wiseau's excuses for the poor quality of The Room fall under Parody Retcon. However, when asked about the character of Denny, he claimed that Denny's strange, abnormal behavior was deliberately written in order to indicate that Denny was "retarded, a little bit" (even though none of the characters in the film seem to find his behavior particularly out of the ordinary) but he failed to tell the actor this, so the performance was confused and instead comes off as an Ambiguous Disorder.
  • Space Mutiny. Cisse Cameron tried to claim it was intentional Stylistic Suck, but nobody's buying it.
  • This article argues that M. Night Shyamalan's decidedly poorly-received film The Happening is a work of genius, the "flaws" being deliberately worked in to subvert the tropes of the B-Movie horror genre.
  • A sort-of in-universe example from Star Wars: A New Hope had it postulated that the Death Star's thermal exhaust port was just that, an architectural flaw. Rogue One then retconned it into this trope, courtesy of Reluctant Mad Scientist Galen Erso, who installed an obvious weak point in the hopes that someone would be able to take advantage of it and immediately destroy the whole thing.

  • Terry Pratchett claims with tongue in cheek that any plot holes or inconsistencies in the level of technology in the Discworld are the result of the History Monks messing with the timeline. (There aren't mistakes, only alternate pasts.)
  • Orson Scott Card, in his introduction to Ender's Shadow, says that any differences between that book and Ender's Game are "deliberate, to show the differences in the experiences of the two children." And then lampshades it by saying, "As my programmer friends would say, 'There are no bugs, only features.'"
  • J. R. R. Tolkien was fond of incorporating mistakes into his world. For example, according to Christopher Tolkien, the line on the Hobbit map should have read "Here of old was Thror- King under the Mountain." Because of early hesitation between the names Thror and Thrain, Thror, Thorin's grandfather, was replaced by Thrain, his father, in the quote. Fans pointed out after publication that Thorin's grandfather ruled before his father, and should have been in the quote instead. As a result, Tolkien created a genealogy of Kings under the Mountain, beginning with Thrain I. Thorin's father became Thrain II, and Tolkien added a note explaining this in the foreword.
  • The first few Halo books contained numerous errors in their first editions, notably Halo: The Fall of Reach, which was written in seven weeks from an almost totally cold start. A lot of the errors had to do with how many Spartans had been successfully created or were surviving. Curiously, after 343 Industries took over the Halo franchise, it was announced that these errors only seemed like errors and that "all would be explained in time". The fact that the people saying this had no influence on the errors in the first place has not won over many readers.
  • Pre-empted in Harry Potter. Hogwarts is established as a magical building where things like staircases and doors can move around and work differently depending on when you access them. Word of God says that this was deliberately done so that she had a built-in excuse when she inevitably messed up and moved a classroom to the wrong floor.
    • There's also a student who's still at Hogwarts a year after he should have graduated. Rowling's response was to the effect of "Either he was held back a year, or I messed up. I think I prefer that he made the mistake."

  • Alanis Morissette claims that the lack of actual examples of irony in her song "Ironic" was intentionally ironic. How satisfying you find this answer depends on how strict your definition of irony is.
  • "Spectacular" by Kiely Williams. The most charitable interpretation is that it's about a woman getting really drunk and enjoying unprotected sex with a random stranger, but it's easy to interpret it as being about her enjoying date rape instead. Williams later tried to claim the song is actually supposed to warn women about the dangers of binge drinking and unprotected sex, but since it doesn't exactly go out of its way to portray the negative consequences, and the protagonist concludes that the "spectacular" sex was Worth It and she'd do it again, plenty of people didn't buy it.

  • The original 2013 West End staging of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Sam Mendes, was a Scenery Porn spectacle with lavish, full-scale, stage-spanning sets — even sets within sets. The 2017 Broadway Retool directed by Jack O'Brien was... not, despite retaining the same set/costume designer as the West End version. The creative team claimed in interviews that the changes were to better emphasize the Central Theme of the power of imagination. As New Yorker critic Michael Schulman put it, "The edible landscape where Wonka sings 'Pure Imagination' is a smallish terrarium, and the chocolate river that engulfs Augustus Gloop isn’t even visible. The idea, I think, is for us to project our wildest dreams onto a blank slate — and to ward off the London production, which [New York Times critic] Ben Brantley compared to an overstuffed Toys R Us — but that’s not exactly how imagination works." commenters theorized the producers really wanted to save money and have a production that would be easier to put on tour.

    Video Games 
  • Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation sometimes does this on behalf of games he's particularly fond of, such as claiming that the awkward, Fake Difficulty-tastic combat in the Silent Hill series is deliberate, because the protagonists of each game are not combat-trained and because the game is scarier as a result.note 
  • When the ZX Spectrum game Jet Set Willy was released, fans quickly discovered that the game was Unwinnable by Mistake because, amongst other things, after The Attic was visited, some other rooms became instant death traps. The publisher initially claimed that this was deliberate, and the affected rooms had become filled with poison gas, but eventually issued POKEs to fix this and the other bugs.
  • "It's not a bug, it's a feature" could practically be Bethesda's motto when it comes to its two flagship series, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Contributing is Bethesda's attitude that bugs which are fun but do not break the game too much are allowed to remain.
  • Several of the more contentious elements of Far Cry 2 — weapons degrading to the point of uselessness within an hour or so, missions requiring a lot of tedious driving (with quick-travel only available via the small amount of widely-scattered bus stations) through checkpoints that constantly repopulate after passing far away enough from them, and the player character contracting malaria, requiring them to stop whatever they're currently doing to take medication for it and having to go out of their way to do another tedious mission to get more once they run out of their very limited supply — were later explained by the developers as designed deliberately to take away from the fun of being a badass mercenary who singlehandedly cuts a bloody swath through southern Africa, in an attempt to send a moral message. Nevertheless, most of these "deliberately unfun" mechanics were done away with in the jump to Far Cry 3.
  • The same sort of thing hit the original Metal Gear Solid. The controls for running and shooting at the same time are rather difficult, requiring pressing of both the crouch and fire buttons. The developers went on record stating that this was intentional, to emulate how difficult it is to accurately fire a gun while moving at any appreciable speed in real life - but later games in the series changed the controls around to make it easier regardless, the next game moving the "run while gun" function to an otherwise-almost-unused button on the other side of the controller, then the ones after that removing the requirement to hold a separate button to move while aiming and firing a gun, changing the "run while gun" button into a full lock-on button (MGS3) or switching the aim button over to it (MGS4 onward).
  • When told on Twitter that there was a bug in the Steam version of Revolution 60 that made the Final Boss Unwinnable by Mistake in keyboard mode, lead developer Brianna Wu said "It's not a bug, it's a puzzle!"
  • This was parodied in Discworld II, where Ponder Stibbons introduces Rincewind to the magical computer Hex, which is partially operated by a colony of ants. He explains that whenever somebody complains about all the bugs in the machine, he tells them that they're not bugs, they're creatures.


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