What is Speedrunning?


In honor of AGDQ 2015 (to be explained shortly), I thought I’d do a short post on speedrunning. I assume most of my readers are entirely unaware of this concept. Speedrunning is the act of beating a video game as quickly as possible.

The first surprising thing I’d like to get across is: if you have a favorite video game, then there is probably a whole community of people who have dedicated hundreds of hours (many, many more for some games) to figuring out how to beat it as quickly as possible.

When people decide to start “running” a game, it will usually look like someone who is familiar with the game doing it as fast as possible. As people explore glitches and route possibilities, the game will look less and less like you remember. To give you a feel for how impressive the times have become, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time usually takes on the order of 30-40 hours to beat. The world record is now 18 minutes and 10 seconds. If you spent every waking moment of the next month learning to do this, you still wouldn’t come close.

What makes this interesting? I think there are at least two fascinating aspects. The first is the thrill of wondering what is possible and then seeing someone achieve it. This is similar to when people wondered if a four-minute mile was possible. It seemed like maybe it was, but no one was quite sure. Then Roger Bannister dedicated his life to doing it and finally achieved it.

The other interesting aspect is the beauty of seeing a perfect performance. This is similar to gymnastics. Sure the tricks are amazing, but let’s face it, there are tons of people who can do really cool tricks that aren’t in the Olympics. At the top level, the distinguishing feature is that they can execute the routine to near perfection.

This is also what distinguishes top speedrunners. Some speedruns might take a new person a few days to learn, some might take a few months, but without serious dedication for many, many months (often years) you will come nowhere near the times the top runners get. This is because you must develop consistency at executing everything to perfection.

I’ll just list some resources now, because a whole book could be devoted to this topic.

The main place where the records (along with video) can be found is speedrun.com. If you want to check out speedruns as they are done live, see Speed Runs Live. This is a page to organize people’s live streams of their speedrun attempts. The reddit community is a pretty friendly place to ask questions (for example, “I’m interested in where to learn how to do such and such glitch I saw in such and such speedrun, can anyone help?”).

Right now AGDQ 2015 (Awesome Games Done Quick) is happening. AGDQ is a yearly fundraiser for a charity. For a week, some of the top speedrunners will perform games live 24 hours/day for about a week. People call in and donate money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Last year they raised over a million dollars for the organization. Go check it out if this sounds interesting!

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