What the Hell is Speedrunning? An Introduction for the Rest of Us.

It’s Saturday night in the summer and I’m staying in.

What is speedrunning?

Let’s start with the basics.

Why is it fun to watch?

Whether watching professional sports or appreciating masterpieces at a museum, a certain degree of fluency — that is, familiarity with a field’s rules and expectations — provides viewers with an added sense of satisfaction when they watch. And just as the perfect tilt of an actor’s head might satisfy an amateur thespian or the perfect hail-Mary pass in the Super Bowl might light up a backyard quarterback, so too do I gasp when I watch a speedrunner dash their avatar across a narrow stone bridge over a spike-lined chasm, avoiding swinging blades and oncoming fireballs as they go, leaping at precisely the right time and colliding with the exact pixel to execute a glitch that sends his character hurtling through a wall clean into a secret, unrendered, ghostly space beneath the ‘real’ parts of the game.

Where’s the fun in skipping everything?

Isn’t the point to play the game?

1. People love solutions, the big “Aha!”

As it happens, my girlfriend is a professional carpenter. I am not. I am afraid of saws.

2. Speedrunners give viewers new ways of looking at their favorite games.

Speedrunners aren’t interested in playing by the normal rules. They are interested in going fast and they are willing to spend months pouring over the raw code of a game just to find new rules to break in order to shave a few seconds off their time.

3. Speedrunning is as much about community and collaboration as it is about going fast.

The development of a speedrunning route is a rigorous undertaking. Beyond the hours of practice, it often requires an encyclopedic knowledge of a game’s mechanics as well as exhaustive testing to find new viable strategies. Runners share notes about what works and what doesn’t. This communication has led to the formation of tight-knit online communities devoted to unpacking the potential of their favorite games — not over the course of a single playthrough, but through decades of collaborative iteration, exploration, and discovery.

Comedian, Poet, Performer. Projects.nathansavoy.com

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