Harry Gowland on the cultural genre of speedrunning, from video games to calculators to TV shows.
Nintendo recently released a downloadable calculator for the Switch console, for those who need to do complex multiplication problems in between visits to Animal Crossing. If your first question on hearing this news isn’t “what is the world record for counting to one thousand on a Switch calculator?”, then you arguably had a normal reaction to this rather boring news.
But then you aren’t SmallAnt, a Twitch streamer, who managed the feat in under thirty seconds.
There is a huge online community for speedrunning, which is attempting to beat video games as fast as possible: websites like speedrun.com host huge databases of entries from people vying to take the #1 spot for fastest completion of basically every game going. But it doesn’t really even have to be a game: If you add a layer of interactivity to almost any program, someone will try and speedrun it.
Some bizarre speedruns exist to lampoon internet trends. There’s this YouTube video of someone completing an entire overdramatic and insincere YouTube apology video, complete with fake tears and heavy sigh, in 29.19 seconds.
Others serve as a weird kind of commentary. There are plenty of speedrun videos of people getting banned from YandereDev’s Discord server as fast as possible (Yandere being the controversial lead developer behind the seemingly interminably delayed title Yandere Simulator.)
Still others are just, well, totally weird.
You can see a man attempt to sharpen ten pencils to the absolute limit using a pneumatic drill as fast as possible, for some reason. For what it’s worth, he managed it in a respectable 4:23.92. YouTube hosts someone who created Family Guy character Peter Griffin on the Nintendo Wii’s Mii channel in a little under 25 seconds; and this isn’t to forget the person who speedran making a McDonalds Big Mac, posting a time of 43.458 seconds.
Then we get to the problem of speedrunning things that aren’t really interactive.
The quintessential non-interactive speedrun category is on American Dad, the famously not-a-video-game cartoon show that originally went out on Fox. The premise of this category is that people produce glitchy video edits of the show’s intro and then pass it off as though they’ve completed the “game” really quickly. Expect complex terms like ‘frame skip’ and ‘glitch’ and ‘JoeSwap%’ to be used with reckless abandon, satirizing speedrun culture.
The fastest ‘completion’ of American Dad’s Any% category – that is, you just beat the game however you want as fast as possible – is a tie between users tbano and Vaxerino, who share the top spot, posting times of just 0.0001 of a second.
People speedrun for a variety of different reasons. Some do it to add replay value to games that otherwise might not get revisited. Others, because they have a competitive streak and want to set a world record. Still others, as American Dad demonstrates, do it as a creative outlet. Purpose aside, though, it’s clear that speedrunning is a cultural genre that’s here to stay. — By Harry Gowland