One could say that Speedrunning is simply the act of attempting to complete a video game as fast as possible, but for many people it is much more than that. Speedrunning has a lot of characteristics that make it a way-of-life, or rather, a way to waste your life.
Speedrunning is the ultimate life-consuming hobby, and it is not hard to see why. One of the key aspects for speedrunning is accessibility.
Economically, all you need is a single console, a single game, and the proper screen to play it. In return, you can have years worth of playtime. For a small investment you can embark on an endless quest for a better completion time.
But skillswise, speedrunning is incredibly accessible as well. If you suddenly want to get an Olympic record, odds are you are already out of luck, you are too old to start. On the other hand, becoming the best in the world in a particular category of a speed game is a matter of simply finding a game with a small community and finding the next game breaking glitch. There are games small enough where simply copying what people are already doing but executing better wouldn’t be a very hard endeavor, or maybe you just have to grind for RNG where others have not done so yet.
Sure, there are highly-optimized games with incredible people that hold unbelievable skill. These talented people give some gravitas to speedrunning. Because of them, some think that simply by grinding meaningless records on meaningless games, they are on the same level as the literal gods of speedgaming. They see themselves as pretty much equivalent with those who have paved the path for people being able to generate profit from speedrunning. Sadly, these greats of speedrunning are used as an excuse for people to fool themselves into feeling that their purposeless grind matters.
Besides accessibility, Speedrunning offers the illusion of self-improvement. You are constantly lowering your personal record, you are probably slowly getting better at something (never mind that your particular area of expertise is likely worthless). Not only do you get to waste most of your day and ignore the hardships of real-life, you also get to feel good about it. The misguided sense of purpose offered by speedrunning becomes incredibly attractive to people who have lost their way, but that’s not the only thing speedrunning does to bait people into its life-wasting trap.
One of the biggest issues with having grindy time-wasting hobbies that don’t require human interaction is that humans are social by nature, and isolating yourself from the outside world for long enough will probably lead you through a dark path. You could become obsessed enough to the point you forget how sunlight feels like, maybe you won’t do your dishes in months and end up sucked into something weird like the truth contest.
While speedrunning could definitely get you there, it has a big mitigating factor and that is its strong sense of community. You might be bunkered up, staring at a screen on a dark room alone for 12 hours at the time, but you aren’t completely alone. There are plenty of people doing exactly the same, all over the world. Communities build around games where you can discuss all of the latest strategies, you can take a break from your grind to “socialize” with people you can relate to. More importantly, the capacity to beat not only your time, but everyone else’s really heightens your sense of accomplishment.
Then there’s Twitch, the ultimate degeneracy enabler. Twitch and similar services allow you to broadcast your speedrunning journey, it allows you to tell a story, and to create real value on what is otherwise just a life-losing hobby. Plenty of people have found success and thousands of followers, but the thing is that they haven’t done so by virtue of just getting a “good” time on an irrelevant game. The people that give proper meaning to speedrunning are those who have injected their personalities into their games, those who have delivered a product that is truly enjoyable to watch. Whether it is the story that leads to Ocarina of Time being declared dead at 18:10, the August 2012 grind that took Mario 64 120 stars and the whole of speedrunning to new heights, or an incredible individual moment like Streets 1:12. Outstanding people have proved that creating speedruns can have actual value.
But as we’ve explained earlier, not all speedruns are made equal, and more importantly not all speedrunners can provide this value. You can fool yourself thinking that your run matters because you can pull 20 viewers and a couple of guys on the internet say nice things about you. You can believe that you can simply point a webcam to your screen, record your run on terrible quality and have it be some sort of relevant achievement, but that’s simply not the case (Go buy a capture card already).
Speedrunning can be an art form, an incredible competitive environment, and a valuable consumer product. It has a rich history, and when executed correctly, enormous appeal. On the flipside, it can also be nothing more than a life-wasting hobby. The role speedrunning has in your life is simply up to you. Just because some people have managed to turn speedrunning into a worthwhile venture, does not mean that all speedrunning is. Just because some people can generate income and justify their time-investment does not mean that you wasting 60 hours a week getting a meaningless record on 240p quality is not an exceedingly degenerate act.
So why would anyone speedrun?
To make a living…
to waste their lives,
or anything in between.