“Awesome Games Done Quick” Is Really Awesome
One of my favorite parts of the gaming community is Awesome Games Done Quick, a series of charity video game marathons. All of the players involved are speedrunners, which means that their goal in playing any game is to finish it in the quickest possible time. They record themselves playing speedruns of different games at a giant AGDQ convention, which is all livestreamed on Twitch. Viewers are encouraged to donate money at any time during the viewing (all of which goes toward the partner charity du jour), but there are special incentives given for donating during certain times or for certain amounts.
Basically, AGDQ is a lot of fun to watch and (I assume) to play, and it raises a lot of money for great causes. This year, they raised over $1.5 million over just four days. It’s a pretty incredible event. It also raises a lot of really interesting questions about gaming in general. There are way too many questions to parse in a single post onAGDQ. Here, I’ll be talking specifically about the mechanics and goals of speedrunning(which is what happens during AGDQ).
Speedrunners are a uniquely interesting subset of the gaming community. Their only objective is to play through a game as quickly as possible. To achieve the fastest possible times, they engage in lots of manipulation of the game’s mechanics. “Sequence-breaking” is when speedrunners do things out of the “usual” order of the game, bypassing entire sections or skipping narrative-necessary but not endgame-necessary parts. Speedrunners also exploit “glitches,” which are basically faults in the game’s programming that allow you to do something the developers did not necessarily intend. For more information about speedrunners and their methods, click here.
Here’s a cool example of a speedrunner explaining his method in a speedrun of Ocarina of Time.
“This took years and years, over 10 years… like 13 years? To discover how to do.”
Speedrunning vs “Mainstream” Gamer Values
In larger gaming culture, gaming is often constructed as an art form, an adventure through a narrative, or a challenging activity to “win.” I acknowledge that these are broad strokes, but most gamers can identify with one or more of these reasons to play. However, speedrunners seem to be doing something that doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories.
Many gamers, whom I will refer to as “mainstream gamers” from here on out, would not want to access the glitches or participate in sequence-breaking because this takes away from both the narrative and the difficulty of the game. Mainstream gamers value narrative coherence as well as difficulty in their playthroughs.
Speedrunners, on the other hand, spend dozens of hours exploring the game for potential glitches to exploit. They practice runs for weeks or months before even attempting to record them, and even then they often restart if they miss something by one or two seconds. To speedrunners, the clock is the ultimate objective. Unlike mainstream gamers, speedrunners do not value narrative or diegetic difficulty. This is, of course, not to say that speedrunners don’t value these things in other aspects of their gaming lives, just not in their careers as speedrunners. This is an extremely interesting value shift that I have not seen in most other places in the gaming community.
How does this fit into the larger narrative of gaming and difficulty? Even though speedrunners are technically “breaking the game,” since they stray outside the boundaries of what developers intended players to do, is this considered outside of the game itself? Does the game exist within the entirety of the cartridge (pardon the outdated terminology), or only within the confines of what the developers define as story and environment?
Now, to complicate things further…..
I am going to give a very brief (and probably incomplete) rundown of tool-assisted speedruns here, but I encourage you to read more on Wikipedia or elsewhere.
Basically, a non-assisted speedrun would just be a player using her controller and the original console (or a faithful emulator, but that’s another story) to complete the game as quickly as possible, using only glitches that she can access in this manner. Tool assistance allows players to provide the computer with inputs that may not technically be possible for a human player to input, but are still theoretically possible within the limits of the game itself. It also allows speedrunners to go back frame by frame to change inputs and see how that affects their results.
Examples of this range from speedrunners trying out more difficult and precise motions, since they know they can rewind, to actually exploiting glitches that would not be possible without tool-assistance.
How does tool-assistance affect this question of value and diegetic vs. non-diegetic play? These manipulations that the players do are technically within the limits of the game, but what does it mean when they can’t be replicated by a regular human player?
As you can tell, I’m fascinated by speedrunning! I would love to hear any thoughts about people’s experiences either participating or watching it, or just reactions if you’ve never heard of it before!