How Speedrunning Has Shaped The Internet We Know Today
Speedrunning has been a crucial part of developing the internet to fit our individual needs and interests.
Video Game speedruns have been around for decades. Ever since the unexpected popularity of classic 1980’s video games such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda there have been people with a constant strive for perfection. Even after some reaching what was believed to be a ‘perfect run’, there have been others who have conquered those times by mere seconds, and in many cases even milliseconds. What is often not talked about, however is the cultural impact that speedrunning has, and how it has effectively shaped the media we consume and the internet that we know and love today.
What Is Speedrunning?
Speedrunning is the fast completion of a video game, usually through the use of exploits and glitches. Speedrunning is broken up into multiple categories depending on the game, in which most games involve an any% category (which does not require the player to collect any items or complete a certain percentage of the game) and a 100% category (which requires the full completion of the game). Perhaps one of the craziest games to run the any% or 100% category is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In this game, the any% route is extremely precise and fast, and the 100% route is nearly 24 hours long — a very different change of pace between the two. Speedrunning modernly usually involves livestreaming their speedruns, or at the very least uploading them to YouTube and submitting them to websites such as Speedrun.com and Speed Demos Archive, however, it was not always that simple.
The Early Days Of Speedruns
Keeping track of speedrun times only became popular through the use of the internet. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, speedrunning gained more traction within the gaming community, and even then there were only niche audiences as many still did not have in-home access to computers or the internet. Forums such as Speed Demos Archive recorded/stored all of the relevant times for each game’s category, and as the internet became more prevalent, so did speedrunning. Clips today still exist of very old speedruns of games such as Metroid, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, though a lot of old footage has since been lost due to site updates and backups of this footage not existing anymore.
When YouTube was conceived, the speedrunning community was able to use the platform to their advantage. While they did not start uploading purely to YouTube, it was a way for more general audiences to become familiarized with speedrunning, myself included. In 2007 I remember very distinctly watching Tool Assisted Speedruns (TAS) of Super Mario 64, and one day hoping to become that skilled in the game. During this golden age of YouTube, a few games were more popular than others in terms of speedrunning: Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Donkey Kong 64. Of course there were other games that gained popularity through the streaming platform, but these emerged as the top leaders for a while, and these games arguably have the most surviving footage all these years later.
Around the 2007–2011 period of YouTube content, there were many speedrunners who uploaded their runs to YouTube; with media content and the internet widely accessible, it was no surprise that thousands of speedrunners wanted to show off their strategies and introduce a very broad audience to what they do. Not only did YouTube become widely popular around this time, but making money off YouTube was also becoming a reality. Monetized content started becoming commonplace, however, many speedrunners did not upload solely for this reason — there was passion within their work, and they genuinely enjoyed playing games for the sake of playing games. After speedrunners became reliant on YouTube, but their videos and work was being demonetized, the majority of speedrunners moved their operations onto Twitch — a site where users can livestream video games and obtain donations through their audience, and now the streaming site has become notorious for hosting many speedrunners and speedrunning events.
The Cultural Impact Of Speedruns — Shaping The Internet
Not only has speedrunning worked its way into the lives of individuals, but there have been cultural and charitable actions performed from the upbringing of this once niche community. Events such as Games Done Quick (GDQ) have made a name for themselves by bringing together speedrunners from all over the world and having them play games for charity. These events have garnered millions of dollars collectively to assist cancer research and continue funding organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, however while they are arguably the most notable, they are not the only organized event for speedrunning. Other events include: PACE, NoResetMarathon (DreamHack), Calithon, NASA Marathon, and hundreds more, with some even purely online. These events bring unlikely groups together, and create an interconnected community advocating for the same changes, while enjoying the mutual fondness of watching speedrunners do what they do best.
With speedrunning becoming increasingly popular, it only makes sense for it to create some sort of impact on our lives. In this case, the speedrunning community made its case when it seemingly shaped our consumption and exchange of certain types of media, more specifically, videos. Web forums and chat-rooms may seem far in the past, but realistically, it was only 20 years ago when these were the primary source of exchanging media across the internet. As aforementioned, video game speedruns were predominately and almost exclusively shared on websites such as Speed Demos Archive, since there were holistically no other options. Due to the desire for a broader way to share these sorts of videos, video sharing / streaming services appeared, however, some of the options were very difficult and not user-friendly, so forums stayed the main hub of video content for these communities.
In the plateau of content sharing, YouTube had emerged for a more user-friendly approach to video sharing, and brought speedrunning to more and more people out in the world; anybody from curious teenagers to avid gamers were able to share and discuss the newest feats achieved in the community. Websites such as Speed Demos Archive and Speedrun.com are very much still active today, but are used mainly to discuss strategies, world records, and the game, rather than be the main hub for video content on those speedruns.
Becoming introduced to speedruns can be intimidating since most speedrunners usually have a designated channel where they post their personal best (PB) runs or world records, it’s hard for newcomers to grasp what exactly they are watching, especially with all of the tricks and strats used but not explained. Once Twitch gained a bit more traction, it was a no-brainer for speedrunners to livestream their runs and reach even more people. This was also a great introduction for curious fans into the world of speedrunning; you could join a livestream and ask questions about the run, and more than likely either someone in the chat would answer you, or the speedrunners themselves would answer you. It is a great way to get personalized with the game, the speedrunners, and speedruns in general.
Maybe this is just me being optimistic, but without the speedrunning community, the internet would not have evolved in the ways it did; jumping from forum posts to being able to watch high-definition commentary videos, to even being able to watch livestreams of the games you know and enjoy. Speedrunners have single-handedly raised millions of dollars for charity, assisted with the upbringing of media-sharing websites and live-streaming websites, and created positive associations with the gaming community as a whole. Without speedrunners, we may not be enjoying the same content that we are today.