Have you ever finished reading a book and enjoyed it so much that you read it over and over again? Or wished you could keep reading more the same characters and worlds? I definitely have. The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Redwall… I’ve re-read each of these books several times, and loved every second. Part of why I read them so much was that I would finish them so quickly, and need to really savor them. Sometimes I wondered how the book could have gone differently – where changes could be made to make the story even better! Part of loving these stories is examining, seeing things I didn’t before, and occasionally skipping the boring parts (Another song – really Tolkien? Stop torturing me with food Jacques!).
As I grew more interested in video games (Though books are still bae), I realized that enjoying them could be just as complex! And since video games are interactive, there are many different ways to experience the story you’re given. You can skip the boring parts (sometimes), or focus on a different facet of the story each time. And before long, I began watching speedruns of my favorite games.
What Are Speedruns?
As their name implies, a speedrun of a video game is simply beating the game as fast as possible. However, there are several different ways of doing this. For example, no matter how well developed a game is, there are almost always glitches of different sorts. And so there are “glitchless” speedruns vs glitched, where one could take advantage of (for example) a glitch that allows a player to walk through walls. Then there are any% vs 100% speedruns: Maybe you want to see how fast you can collect everything in the game, or you just want to see if you can beat the final boss as fast as possible. As with any activity that takes time and skill to complete, video games can be enjoyed peacefully as you experience them to their fullest, or they can be taken on with single-minded ferocity.
Why? Just… Why?
It’s a little weird to me still, but there are tons of reasons to play a video game speedrun!
1. Nostalgia – I have a deep love for the Legend Of Zelda series, and when I recently came across a speedrun of Majora’s Mask (perhaps my favorite entry), I was enthralled. There is something so fascinating about seeing a game I played so slowly and deliberately be broken down into sections and blazed through within a quarter of the time it took me to beat. It made me see the game in a different way.
2. To Prove Skill – If you look up how long it takes to beat the original Super Mario Bros., You would find estimates of about 2-3 hours, depending on how much you do. The current Speedrun world record for that game is 4 minutes 56 seconds 878 milliseconds, and the second best is only 300~ ms behind it. Oh yes – and that World record was set 4 months ago. These runs often come down to the split second, and involve precision you would expect from an Olympian – not someone playing a 20+ year old video game.
3. The Community – Speedrunners and those that follow their activities love these games. You don’t play a game more than 50 times if you don’t deeply enjoy something about that game. And you don’t often watch somebody play a video game unless you truly love the game yourself.
4. The Renown – How many people can say they hold a world record?
5. The Money!!!! – This is mostly a joke, but realistically, if a person is really good and personable/enjoyable to watch, they can make money off of Twitch subscribes/views/donations, and can make reach the point where they could make a reasonable $1~$1.5k a month. Especially if the streamer gets a world record, many viewers will donate $5-$10 as a congratulations, which adds up quickly if you have 1000+ subscribers
And as a corollary to that last point, Good Games Done Quick is a series of charity video game events in which groups of speedrunners pit against each other. These events can bring in as much as 1.5 milliondollars! These proceeds have gone to charities like Doctors Without Borders and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. I think it’s amazing how much good can be done, just from people enjoying their favorite games.
I’ve loved video games for a long time, and speedrunning is a great way to build upon that love of video games. And whether you’re doing the speedruns, finding new paths or glitches, or just finding new ways to enjoy the games, I believe that they are a great way to building on the engagement potential of one of the youngest (but perhaps greatest) media formats.