#Pokémon20: Missingno the glitch and pop culture phenomenon

By John Michael Bennett

I have been playing Pokémon since 1998, and have watched as the phenomenon has ebbed and flowed in popularity since then. But in 1998, there was no doubt that Pokémon was in and if you were hip and “with it” at all, you were playing Pokémon Red and Blue. At the age of 8, I was not hip nor “with it,” but I learned something that a lot of my friends didn’t know at the time. Shortly after the game was released, players began to discover a way to multiply items, such as the only in-game Master Ball, through a glitch. However, Nintendo warned people away from it because it could “corrupt” your game. Well let me tell you, I had gumption—whatever that means my 8 year old self thought—and I did it. There, I faced some sort of pixelated version of your TV going fuzzy. And then I had unlimited master balls, and my friends were wowed with me. I was revered and I was popular. It was a great four hours until everyone else did it and no one remembered I showed them.

Fun anecdotes aside, glitching in video game culture is pretty common, but very few glitches attain the fame known as the MissingNo Glitch in Pokémon Red and Blue. Known by other names such as the rare candy or the master ball glitch, MissingNo became a pop culture phenomenon for being a non-Pokémon. MissingNo simply stands for Missing Number.


To put it simply without boring you with the complexities of the situation, it is said that the Pokémon Red and Blue was intended to have 190 Pokémon, although the final product introduced just 151. The programmers, however, left the code for the uncreated 39 Pokémon. Although since nothing was ever defined with these, it’s essentially a mass of glitches and taking information from wherever it can. However, while this 190 Pokémon theory has strong evidence, it has never been confirmed. It is also possible there are just 39 different versions of MissingNo left in from testing or debugging.

When you encounter MissingNo, the sixth item in your inventory goes up in number—by 128 according to most reports. If you catch MissingNo, it messes with your game in various (fun) ways, including glitching out you Elite Four Hall of Fame. However, most glitches are minor. It is believed that Nintendo tried to encourage players not to do the glitch, and made the repercussions seem worse than they ever were. Most of MissingNo’s effects are easily remedied without having to start a new file.

MissingNo has been known to take various forms and even evolve. It has been known to take on the form of Kangaskhan, and the fossils forms of Aerodactyl and Kabutops, just to name a couple.


Doing the same trick, you may encounter ‘M. It usually looks exactly like MissingNo, but has been said to be safer if you catch it—it will do less glitching to your game. While MissingNo and ‘M are different in terms of the game’s programming, there is little discernable difference between their effects.

MissingNo is more than just a glitch, though. It has become a pop culture phenomenon in ways that other glitches have not. Earlier I talked about an anecdote from my childhood, and I know that happened for so many other people. Not only did it change how players perceived these original titles, but it became a part of careers for some people. There have been full studies and theses done on the various elements of MissingNo, including one by a sociologist who studied it’s effect on players.

MissingNo, to this date, remains one of the most popular video game glitches. And now, as Pokémon turns 20 years old, Nintendo has re-released Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow on the 3DS virtual console for fans to relive it all—including its original glitches! Gotta catch ‘em all, and for some Pokéfans, that includes MissingNo!


1) You must have accessed Cinnabar Island, and have surf and fly.
2) Go to your item menu and place the item you wish to multiple in the sixth slot. You can switch around items by hitting “select.”
3) In Viridian City, talk to the old man who teaches you to catch Pokémon. After he’s done talking about coffee, say you have the time to listen how to catch Pokémon.
4) After the demonstration, fly immediately to Cinnabar island.
5) On the right of Cinnabar island, surf along the coast and water. Do not go further than where the coastline meets the water. Swim up and down.
6) If you encounter other Pokémon, run from them. Keep swimming up and down the coast.
7) Eventually you’ll encounter MissingNo or ‘M. The sixth item in your inventory will now go up drastically. You do not have to catch it for this multiplier to work.

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