On Speedrunning

Gotta go fast.

We’re currently in the middle of Summer Games Done Quick, and I’m bummed that this might be the first GDQ event I’ve had to miss since first learning about it some years ago through Ray Narvaez Jr. while he was still working at Achievement Hunter. GDQ is a 24/7 speedrunning event (24 hours a day for seven days) aimed at raising money for charity. Those who know me know that I am a huge proponent of video gaming as an art form and as a culture, and GDQ tickles my fancy by raising money to that extent as well.

That’s great and all, but that kind of raises questions about speedrunning as a whole. The topic is surprisingly divisive – more so than I would have thought until a few days ago when discussing it with another friend. Speedrunning is exactly as it sounds: finishing a game as fast as you can. There are certain categories that are each interesting in their own right: Any% means just reaching the endgame state, Glitchless means completing the game within the game’s intentions, or certain game-specific criteria (like maybe playing through Call of Duty knife-only). As you can probably tell, speedrunners are a very niche category of gamers.

Which is where the dispute comes up. One argument is that speedrunners aren’t gamers at all because they try to exploit the game in ways that the developers never intended. Breaking boundaries, using exploits, etc. – it’s not how you gain that experience of being part of an adventure. And I understand that; that argument is not without merit. However, I’m of the mind that the speedrunner is the ultimate gamer. Video games are unique because they can be pushed; one cannot really do much with a movie or book apart from analyzing each frame or each word. But video games, in their intrinsic interactivity, has to have limits for a gamer to push and break. In that sense, the speedrunner becomes the master of the game – finding ways to cut corners, or finding weaknesses in the code, or just being damned skilled at what he does. The speedrunner community, I argue, knows the game the best, because they have to consider every single possibility – and then some – just to shave seconds off their times.

Would I ever do speedrunning? Maybe, with a heavy lean towards No. It’s a fascinating subject, but I find myself watching speedruns to be a little on the boring side, and I don’t want to take the time to learn how to do so. On the other hand, GDQ is an event – almost like a sporting event (for me). I love watching the runs of my favorite games, and just reacting live. Super Smash Bros. Melee during this year’s AGDQ was extremely impressive, and seeing some of the perfectly landed Jigglypuff Rests were the cause of many a “WHAT” from me and my friend. I’m a little sad I won’t be able to catch much of SGDQ 2017, but if you’re interested I highly recommend you swing by and take a look. There can’t be anything wrong with playing video games for charity, right?