Wow that couch and second row are STACKED
Ever since Cosmo Wright beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a game that takes most people around 80 hours to complete, in twenty-two minutes in January 2013, more and more people are catching on to the phenomenon known as speedrunning. Speedrunners are video gamers who try to beat games as fast as possible, by breaking from the “path” that game developers intend for players to follow.
Most games are not made with the intention of being broken: game designers want the rules of their games to be followed. But speed runners break the rules. Runners plan “routes” from point to point in games, break sequences by skipping parts of storylines, and utilize glitches that a given game’s physics allow for.
Now, several reputable news sources are starting to make some noise about this practice, picking up on how technology has allowed the subculture to emerge; how the athletic, competitive, and physical nature of grueling two-hour-plus runs makes it a kind of sport, and how runners like Cosmo are garnering fame outside of the speed running community.
But ESPN reporters, computer nerds, and Reddit dwellers are all missing the really crazy thing that’s going on here: that although speed runners initially just wanted to beat games really fast, they have accidentally created a form of political resistance that challenges the definition of what it means to play a video game. These speedrunners are truth-speakers, many of whom are resisting the exploitative, high-tech set-pieces and graphics, but simplistic game-play direction that Microsoft and Sony have been following in the last decade.
They’re also not looking to turn their growing fanbase into a cash cow – the main event, the Speed Running Super Bowl, Awesome Games Done Quick, donates all of its proceeds to cancer research. What they are doing, by completely ignoring the intended path of a given game’s universe, is revealing the arbitrary nature of how artists intend for their work to be consumed and engaged with. And what’s so cool is that none of them are making some kind of ironic statement – this may be a historically idiosyncratic instance of a subculture where every single member of the community is participating purely out of love for the sport. These are just real-ass dudes who are doing it live. Or, as Wittgenstein put it, they’re kind of like “the runner who tackles the third basemen; he may do so, but if he does, he is no longer playing baseball.”
As senior editor of Metal Gear based website, I’m obviously a huge fan of Metal Gear as a casual gaming experience. But, despite my love for speedruns – and in particular the runs of CarlSagan, Tri-Hex, TheMexicanRunner, Cosmo, Blueglass, and YoshiFan – I’ve yet to really get into watching Metal Gear speedruns. Something about the normal intensity of the game is lost in the transfer when you add a second, externalized layer of clock intensity. As opposed to Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time, games where there is no clock and the pressure is firing on one focused cylinder.
What do YOU think. Am I crazy? Sound off in the comments section.