Gotta Go Fast - What is a Speedrun?

44 minutes and 27 seconds. Last week I sat at my computer staring at the screen in awe as I watched a gamer, Glurmo, demolish Bioshock, beating a game that I spent easily over 8 hours beating. And they finished it in 44 minutes. The time blinked as they celebrated their new world record, having beaten the previous world record by a mere 14 seconds.

This is the world of speedrunning. Speedrunning, in the simplest definition, is beating games fast. The way you define beating the game depends on the category you run and the game you’re playing. In the case of Bioshock, Glurmo was running the any% category, where the timer stops when you defeat the final boss of the game. Players can use glitches, abuse physics and just play really well to get to the end, as long as they beat the final boss.

Speedrunning is insanely competitive. From people trying to find new paths through the levels to get seconds over the competition to finding a new glitch that saves minutes, sometimes even hours off of a game’s completion time, speedrunners are always experiments and trying new techniques. They hold live competitions, races in who can finish the game first, even bingo cards where players have to race to complete a set of objectives before the other player finishes their list.

And yet, the community is tiny. You could describe it as cozy really. But everybody who is involved in the community is in deep. They participate in finding new things, talk to one another constantly, play the games themselves and sometimes - just watch. The community is so involved that at their most watched event, the weeklong Awesome Games Done Quick 2015, they raised 1.5 million dollars for the Prevent Cancer Foundation, with approximately 30,000 people donating to the cause.

Speedruns are incredible feats of performance by the player, fast paced action and incredibly engaging. But if this is all true then why isn’t speedrunning more popular. The issue lies in the accessibility of understanding what is going on. The games move so fast, and most of the time the players are so used to what they’re doing they don’t bother explaining what’s happening if they stream on Twitch.

Without knowledge of what the tricks are or what the mechanics behind skips are, you’re doomed to get incredibly lost. That’s why the AGDQ (and the summer version SGDQ) is so successful. Because during the event, they have other players sit on a couch and explain what is happening during the run. They make jokes, tell people what’s going on, and sometimes even interview the developers about the process of making the game. It’s fun, engaging and best of all, accessible.

Would I say that Speedrunning has a future as an eSport? It’s exciting, it has a competitive community and constantly has new developments and is fun to watch if you know what’s going on. Have some well-informed hosts that can explain the tricks to viewers and provide commentary and you take a niche wonder and make it available to everybody.

A game designer, producer, production designer, writer and editor, Jason has dipped his toes into many creative fields, perhaps too many. He lives in Toronto, writing, making games and thinking about dogs. Follows Jason on Twitter at @jwestonwong.