*This is a freelance piece written by Cameron Mohr
Gaming. When you think of gaming a specific image may form in your mind. You might be the type who remembers waking up on a Saturday morning to play your Nintendo 64 or your Playstation 2. You might forgo a console and stick with your PC since a keyboard and mouse feels more natural to you. Or you may prefer to play games on a phone or tablet. Whatever the case, games are enjoyed by a wide variety of people and in an astounding number of ways.
There are multiplayer arenas for players to test their skills against others, there are story driven games, and everything in between. Some people are achievement hunters and others may play as a way to kill some free time. Then there are those who try to take gaming a step further and place certain restrictions on themselves. For example someone may try to beat a Legend of Zelda game with only the three hearts given to them at the beginning of the game. A popular, rising hobby among gamers seeking a greater challenge is something called speed running. This is the act of attempting to beat a video game as fast as possible using whatever glitches, tricks, or exploits they know of. Certain rules may apply to different games but the main goal is the same: go fast or die trying.
Speedrunning is not a new hobby. It has actually been around for about ten years but only recently has it come to the attention of the gaming public. The advent of the internet and streaming have been huge catalysts for the hobby. There are even marathons broadcasted on Twitch.tv year round. The largest and most well known of these would be the Games Done Quick charity events. There are two of these week long marathons each year: Awesome Games Done Quick in January and Summer Games Done Quick which is usually in June or July. Each of these raises money for different charity organizations (AGDQ has raised money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation and SGDQ for Doctors Without Borders). These marathons started in 2011 and have since raised funds in the millions. I have been lucky enough to participate in a couple of these events but more on that later. First I’d like to discuss how I got into the hobby and why I think it is the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
I have been following speedrunning since early 2013. I first heard about the idea through the articles I saw covering the first Games Done Quick events and then finally saw them for myself during AGDQ and SGDQ 2013. After those marathons I was hooked. I watched every run from those events that I missed on YouTube and sought out streams on Twitch. It started with Super Metroid and Yoshi’s Island, two of my favorite runs to watch. Both are considered to be among the more prestigious speed games. These games are regarded so highly for a number of reasons: nostalgia, amount of work put into the games, and the fact that they are incredibly difficult to execute. But I digress. I was extremely excited for AGDQ 2014 and was telling anyone who would listen to watch it. I honestly wanted to get involved with this hobby but I had a couple of hurdles to jump. First I would need to choose a game, and second I needed the time to play it as I was finishing my education. In June of 2014 two amazing things happened. SGDQ 2014 was the last week of June and the indie hit Shovel Knight launched that same week. I am still not sure if I was inspired more by the marathon going on before me or the incredible gameplay in Shovel Knight but after that week I had made up my mind. Shovel Knight was my game and I set out to be the best I could at it.
There are a few reasons I chose Shovel Knight as my first speed game. The music and graphical style appealed to me tremendously, which is no surprise as I grew up playing the NES and Genesis. What truly hooked me on Shovel Knight was that the more I played it the more I saw things in the game that seemed to be made with speedrunning in mind. For example, enemy placement in one room could allow you to bounce off of them to reach a platform in the next room quickly and avoid some small sections of the game. There are also certain items that give the character more movement options such as punching through blocks and enemies. This item, known as the Dust Knuckles, actually pulls you slightly toward whatever you are punching. This allows you to move straight through obstacles and on occasion pull yourself onto otherwise unreachable platforms. Both of those of course save small amounts of time throughout the course of the game. I learned as much as I could and a year later I fulfilled a dream: I ran Shovel Knight at SGDQ 2015 and then again at AGDQ 2016. Words can not describe the joy I felt.
Speedrunning means the world to me at present time. The main reason for that is that it replaced performing music in my life. I was a music major in college. I played bass in the orchestra and also played electric bass for fun. I had intended to become a performer as a profession but unfortunately it was not meant to be. Due to an injury brought on through a combination of poor posture, improper playing technique and carrying too much around during my college years I was left unable to play bass any longer. I injured my spine and did nerve damage to the left side of my body. Luckily it was not anything too serious. I loved performing though, and being on stage doing what I did best was what I loved to do. When that was taken away from me I was rather distraught. Video games saved me however. Speedrunning is incredibly similar to learning an instrument and playing my games in marathons is the closest I will ever get to “the big time” stages I was shooting for. But I would not have it any other way. I honestly love speedrunning and am eternally thankful that I started. It gave me a second lease on life and gave me the self confidence I needed to pursue other dreams. It is a wonderful hobby and I would encourage any fan of video games to give running their favorite game a shot. It does not need to be perfect or world record pace. Simply learning about games and going fast is fun.
In closing, video games are a wonderful form of art and entertainment. So many different types of communities within gaming exist and I feel truly lucky to be part of the speedrun community. I have made eternal friends and happy memories. There are so many facets to this hobby to discuss, but I will save those for another time. Thanks for reading.