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

In Real Life data follows what's known as a "protocol"[1]. 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 to[2]). 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.

Examples of Corrupted Data include:


  • In one of the Thursday Next books, there is a "mispeling virus", which causes misspellings to manifest wherever it shows up.

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.

Tabletop RPG

  • 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.
  • 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.

Video Games

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mass Effect 1 uses this in the character creation sequence in order to justify you selecting your Shepard's family and psychological background.


  • 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.

Web Original


  1. While a lot of people have heard the word in quite a few contexts, not many people know its actual definition; "A pre-agreed set of standards for communication."
  2. Always eject your drives before unplugging them, kiddies.
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