Opinion: Why Awesome Games Done Quick and speed runs are so fascinating

Games Done Quick is holding their biannual charity celebration for speed runners. So just what is it about the world of speed runs that's so fascinating to watch? Let's examine some of the reasons.

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For those that haven't followed Twitch for the past couple of days, the fine folks at Games Done Quick have kicked off their biannual Awesome Games Done Quick event in Herndon, Virginia. The week-long event, happening right now, sees some of the world's best speed runners blaze through a number of games from the past and present, raising money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation along the way. It's a wonderful cause that highlights one of the most fascinating corners of the gaming world.

The question that I'd like to examine today is just what makes speed runs such an interesting thing to watch. For many people, gaming is all about exploring the individual facets of each individual game and cherishing the experience. What exactly makes rushing through to the end not just a worthwhile goal, but also one that draws in admirers from across the globe?

The nostalgia factor

One of the primary draws of a speed run for spectators is a chance to see games they haven't played in many years. These games can often be found in remote corners of Twitch, but Awesome Games Done Quick bring these old-school gems out of the woodwork.

In just the first day, speed runners dusted off games like Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo-Kazooie, and Tomb Raider: Anniversary. These are games that were beloved in their time, but have long since taken a back seat to the next generation. But there's still a certain joy to be had in watching some of your favorite games of the past played to completion and in impressively fast time.

At some point in the past, we all fancied ourselves experts at certain games. In my younger days, I certainly thought I was an expert at NES-era platformers. Speed runners show exactly why these delusions of grandeur are laughable. Their playthroughs offer these new favorites in an entirely new perspective, through the eyes of an expert that the average user can never hope to become.

A learning experience

By watching classic games through the eyes of a speed runner, one can find these streams to be informative. Some people have played through 8 and 16-bit classics hundreds of times over, but few have found every secret. Speed runners can not only reach every in-game secret, but many of them also know some of the lesser-known glitches and exploits that allow them to shave off several minutes (sometimes, even hours) from their playthrough. They're the types of secrets that few people knew about before the speed runners began chronicling their record attempts on Twitch.

Want some examples? Would anyone have ever guessed to try and avoid hitting anything in the 'Sewer Surfin' stage of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, because it would only add to the end-stage countdown? Or that grabbing the flagpole in New Super Mario Bros. U in certain ways can save frames, reducing your run by a few seconds? What about the many ways to save time by avoiding the airboat in Half-Life 2? These are some of the most informative aspects of these speed runs and fun facts that some users may not otherwise know about.

In fact, new exploits continue to be found each day, making the speed running world that much more competitive. Speed runs for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, in particular, continue to remain contentious, with a new record being set as recently as last Friday.

This doesn't just apply to older classics. Speed runners are also tackling more recent releases, with 2014's Transistor among the games on the slate this past Sunday. Even those that have left the past behind can find some useful information by watching speed runs. Perhaps even more so, since speed runners are still learning new tactics for these more recent games and have to adjust for patches and balance tweaks as they go along.

The ultimate challenge

There are many games out there with objectives centered around beating the clock. These are among the most stressful challenges in gaming. Not only do you have to survive, but you have to complete your mission before time runs out. There's often tense, percussion-heavy music in the background. You have to go fast and you have to make every move count. To many, that's stressful. To speed runners, that's a challenge that must be embraced and one that they must impose upon themselves to become the best.

This means every action must be planned out to the millisecond. There is no room for improvisation. Whether it's a platformer, a racing game, or a first-person shooter, precision counts for everything. Being off by the slightest margin makes the difference between an impressive speed run and a world record. That may sound like an exaggeration, but look at the aforementioned Ocarina of Time record. Speed runner Cosmo put in some truly intense effort to reach what appeared to be an untouchable record, only for Joden to beat him by three seconds.

For speed runners, every second counts. It is a challenge that they readily accept, because the reward is immortality.

The charity

In the case of Awesome Games Done Quick, speed runners put aside their quest for immortality for the greater reward of charity. In fact, the event gets to be downright novel, sometimes pitting two or more speed runners against one another to see who completes a game first. It's among the most fascinating gaming events of the year and one that continues to see its audience grow.

For those that would like to contribute to the Prevent Cancer Foundation, visit the Games Done Quick website. Also, be sure to check out the Humble Awesome Games Done Quick 2015 Bundle to contribute and purchase a handful of the games being played during this week's event.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 6, 2015 12:00 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Opinion: Why Awesome Games Done Quick and speed runs are so fascinating

    • reply
      January 6, 2015 12:27 PM

      The AGDQ streams mainly make me wish that I was more Nintendo-nostalgic. :-)

      I do enjoy some of their FPS sessions. Half-Life, HL2, and Dishonored were pretty great last time.

      As with spectating anything, you get a lot of mileage from being familiar enough with the activity to put yourself in the player's shoes. Whenever they make some decision or reaction you either get the feeling of "yup that's what I would have done!" or "holy cow I would never have done that!"

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      January 6, 2015 12:47 PM

      Why is speedrunning so unpopular the other 351 days of the year?

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      January 6, 2015 1:09 PM

      I'm pretty sure they're not fascinating

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        January 6, 2015 1:16 PM

        While I don't care for them, the viewership alone seems to indicate otherwise. I don't much care for watching others play games, but there's no denying the talent that goes into non-assisted speedruns.

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        January 6, 2015 1:19 PM

        There's over 134,000 people watching live right now. Someone finds it fascinating...

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          January 6, 2015 1:24 PM

          More than 134,000 people enjoy the musical stylings of Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj. More than 134,000 people saw Divergent and liked it.

          People are morons.