You see these articles pop up all the time; “Man finishes Super Mario Bros in under five minutes”. Then in the comments section are tons of varying opinions and questions. “Great Job!”, “Did he cheat?”, “What a no life”, and “want gud sexx click here 4 gud tim”. Oh, scam bots, you won’t stop ’til you get enough. Speedrunning is simultaneously the easiest and yet most difficult community to join. Want to know the secret handshake and understand the darker secrets? I’ve got you covered.
What is Speedrunning?
Speedrunning, in its purest form, is getting from the title screen to the credits as fast as possible. The run then becomes much more complex with the seemingly simple question, how? The fake comments section above hints that most of the time, moving from the left of the screen to the right is not always fastest. Each game has different movement techniques that aid in pushing past a game’s limits.
Almost all speedruns are broken into categories. Tags like ‘any%,’ ‘100%,’ ‘any% glitchless,’ ‘TAS,’ or some other specific goal accompanies the title. This tells you how the person intends to play the game. Are they collecting and doing everything…100%. Doing the bare minimum, any% or low%. I won’t focus on tool-assisted speedruns, or TAS, for this article, as my aim is to explain the human skill and not theoretical fastest times. TAS attempts to show the theoretical limits of a game using programs to perform it at its perfect optimal level. Many of these human-achieved fastest times exploit glitches within the game in order to make the goal achievable. Without getting caught up in the minutia, let’s address some other frequent questions.
Why do people Speedrun?
This question elicits as many answers as there are speedrunners. All of them boil down to the simple answer; because it’s fun. One of the best answers came during my podcast days from Spikevegeta. When he was younger, his gaming time was limited and the goal was “getting to complete it in one sitting.” No matter the motivation, like completionists, speedrunners are just wired in a way that speed gaming derives satisfaction from their gaming time.
Often, speedrunning is a hobby supplementing the rest of their life. 360Chrism during one of his live streams described the hobby as an alternative to sitting around and watching TV. Many people get home from work and read, or watch a show, or play games. Some of those gamers practice speedrunning in their free time. Several of these runners chase world record times like the five-minute Mario run by darbian referenced above. Many don’t. Some even just briefly speedrun because the game has an ‘unlockable,’ like Resident Evil’s infinite rocket launcher reward for beating the game in under three hours.
Is it cheating?
This is where a lot of people lose the concept. Some categories exploit bugs or glitches in the game to pull off tricks that let them skip portions of the game. Countless times people type, “yeah but he couldn’t do it for real,” after a trick. This is a mental block on the part of the viewer. For every player that picks up a game, there are as many ways to achieve the goal within the game. That’s the beauty in watching speedruns and gaming in general, you get to see how someone else tackles challenges.
Each speedrun community sets rules for each category. In Super Mario Bros 3, using the wrong warp in a glitchless category is cheating, but doing it in a glitched category is allowed. Rather than operating by the rules the game defines, speedrunners have applied their own. Doing it in the game with the tools the game provides is generally not cheating, but anything external is. ‘Murk’ exists even in this definition. Save manipulation across game files and console resetting clouds the judgment. Check the specific category’s rules to understand what is and is not cheating.
Speedrunning isn’t just a solo activity
One common criticism of speedrunning is that it is a single person alone in the room resetting a game repeatedly. Many incorrectly typecast speedrunners as anti-social or awkward. Typing “speedrun cringe” into Youtube returns hundreds of results. This is a result of confirmation bias. A person expecting a group of people to behave a certain way and seeing someone behave that way reinforces their pre-existing paradigm.
The fact is, speedrunners are people. Like all groups of people, the speedrunning community comprises men, women, wallflowers, social butterflies, heroes, and assholes. Massive events like Games Done Quick exemplify this human aspect. Yes, “cringe” moments happen, but that comes with any group which is together for over 150 straight broadcast hours. Realistically, for each of those moments, dozens of moments of triumph and camaraderie occur. Lost on those looking for confirmation bias is that speedrunners, like all gaming broadcasters, are just people letting the world see them have fun.
Speedrunning gone mainstream
What started as a personal challenge or hobby, has become a staple of gaming. Groundbreaking inclusions of speed gaming started with time trials in racing games and grew to in-game achievements and unlockables in games like Final Fantasy IX’s Excalibur 2 and Resident Evil’s infinite rocket launcher. Many games now include leaderboards for speed gaming like Ori and the Blind Forest and Super Meat Boy. Charity events like Games Done Quick earn millions of dollars and spinoffs pop up frequently.
The hobby is growing, bringing in new faces every day. The fan base grows exponentially as well, with many speedrunners showcased on the front page of Twitch. The 2015 Nintendo World Championship, among other competitors, featured NarcissaWright, Essentia, Sinister1, Trihex, and TheMexicanRunner, who just recently completed a personal challenge to stream his completion of all 714 NTSC Nintendo Entertainment System games. This televised event exposed millions to the faces responsible for many great videos.
How do I get involved in speedrunning?
‘Pick up a controller and start playing fast’ is the simplest answer. Most speedrunners play for personal satisfaction instead of world records. Pressure comes from within with no external factors this way. If you want to play even faster, there are communities you can join to cultivate your personal times and refine them. Most speed games have a Discord channel where the community can come together to share their tips for how to pull off specific tricks or the optimal way to approach a specific challenge. Seeing how your time stacks up is as simple as searching for your game on Speedrun.com and choosing the appropriate category.
Don’t forget, speedrunners are people, even if to you they seem like celebrities. Most are on twitter and many are willing to answer any questions you have as long as you present them in a respectful manner. Whatever you do, do it for you and do it for fun. Don’t try to get “rich” or “famous” from speedrunning. This advice isn’t in a “don’t sell out” mindset, but more an “enjoy what you do and if success follows, awesome.”
Additionally, following many of the Games Done Quick events, site Speedrunslive hosts the ‘Get Yourself Speedrunning’ competition. It’s open to all skill levels and gives a flavor in several different games of what speed gaming can be. The site also hosts daily races of many games. Join in with any of the plethora of options available. As with anything, just remember not to be a dick.
A very special thanks to Spikevegeta, darbian, 360Chrism, and TheMexicanRunner for their support in this article. Click on their names within the article to view their specific channels.