If you ask your average gamer to name a community within our hobby, odds are good they will answer with a game. Fortnite is of course the dominant beast, with people from all walks of life playing by the millions. Minecraft has legions of fans dating back years, rabidly devoted to the game of block-building. Perhaps they will answer “e-sports”, a catch-all for competitive gaming that has made stars of its players and millions of dollars for sponsors and organizers.
One community you may not hear about, though, is the one whose members intentionally break the boundaries of games in order to achieve ridiculous speeds in completing them. Some players run games with no glitches, using only sheer talent and memorization of a game’s patterns to achieve their results. This pursuit is known collectively as speedrunning and has quietly developed a large following among both hardcore gamers and casual observers.
Speedrunning may lack the star power and glamour of the big games and e-sports leagues, but there are engaging personalities to be found. A personal favorite of mine is a runner who only plays Bloodborne, as he is both entertaining and incredibly skilled. The audience on YouTube has grown far and wide, with some of the most popular videos getting millions of views. And many of the most popular Twitch channels show games being run every day.
Most directly, however, the community’s sense of inclusion and ability to drive charitable giving make it one of the most important forces anywhere in gaming today.
Like many things, speedrunning can trace its origins to the early days of the internet, and a seminal title in gaming history, 1993’s Doom. Using the now-primitive technology of the day, players would track their times and rank them based on speed.
Fast forward to 2010, where the incredible advances in technology, most specifically streaming video, changed the game completely. Into this environment was born the entity that has come to be the public face of the movement, Games Done Quick (GDQ). While it doesn’t receive the publicity of other events like e-sports championships, Madden tournaments, or Fortnite-anything, GDQ should be held up as a shining example of what a gaming community can be and can accomplish when it comes together.
Once Humble, Now Prolific
2010 was the first year of the Games Done Quick phenomenon, designed as a series of speedrun marathon events with the idea of raising money for charitable organizations. GDQ was first divided into two marathons, the first called Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ), which took place early each year, and Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ), done mid-year.
The first year’s iterations took place in the homes of community members and raised modest sums of money. It wasn’t very long before both marathons had grown and spread to take over significant portions of hotels in their host cities, with runners flying in from all over to take part in the festivities. 2013 was the year of the big jump, with AGDQ raising nearly $450,000, and SGDQ raising over $250,00.
Since then, the numbers and crowds at these marathons have continued to grow exponentially, with eye-popping numbers becoming the norm. To get an idea of the growth, the first AGDQ had 68 games showcased, over a 2–1/2 day timespan. AGDQ 2020, which took place in January, went for 7 full days, with 141 games played, and raised more than $3.2 million for Prevent Cancer Foundation. The most recent iteration of SGDQ, in the summer of 2019, raised just over $3 million for Doctors Without Borders.
GDQ marathons have even been held to assist with specific crises around the world. As far back as 2011, when a special session was held to raise money for victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, speedrunners have stepped up when needed. Our current pandemic has proved no different, with GDQ hosting an online-only special marathon for COVID-19 relief, raising over $400,000 in less than 3 days.
Deserved or not, gaming and gamers sometimes get a bad rap.
Games Done Quick, however, should be hailed as an example of all that is good about gaming, and the people who play them.
Inclusion as Rule, Not Exception
The other defining feature of the speedrunning community, inclusion of all people, becomes more important every day. It doesn’t take much effort to see that gaming at every level crosses boundaries of ethnicity, gender, and nationality. Checking Twitch at any given time reveals an astounding mix of personalities showing what they can do. And why shouldn’t gaming reflect the demographics of the world it inhabits?
At its base level, this hobby requires little in the way of special skills, has casual titles that anyone can pick up without experience, and grows more accessible every day. Sadly, there are still examples every day of bigotry, hatred and misogyny through in-game chat, discord servers and the like. Perhaps this is why the speedrunning community is so refreshing in its inclusion and spirit of teamwork, not adversity.
Pull up any speedrun video and it won’t take you long to see and hear what is special about this whole thing. Runs are streamed in a split screen, with the game screen on one side and the crowd at the actual event on the other side. You are likely to see male, female, black, and every ethnic stripe among the runners. The “couch”, a runner’s team that imparts information about the run while supporting the player, often shows the same mix.
The announcers who describe the donations as they are sent in are quite often female, as are members of the panel discussions held between games. And GDQ streams have been one of the first to include a runner’s chosen pronouns displayed next to their names.
In addition, you’re likely to hear a runner give thanks to the people who have helped them along the way in learning their skills. Each game has its own subset of people who specialize in that title, and it is very common to find them all helping each other. Whether it is a new strategy, glitch, or easter egg that can shave seconds off a run, information is shared freely with the hope that all can utilize it.
I encourage everyone to take a bit of time and enjoy a speedrun video. There is likely to be something for all tastes, as games good and bad, short and long are routinely featured. Do you want to see Mike Tyson’s Punch Out completed by a blindfolded person? Or perhaps a run of NES classic A Boy and His Blob, beaten in just over two minutes using a peculiarity of the game’s architecture? You can find it all, and it may even inspire you to pick up the hobby too.
While you’re there, think about donating to one of the causes this great community supports. You’ll feel good about yourself, and we all need more of that these days.
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