The Brutal Art of Speedrunning

This is a special week. America celebrated its Independence Day, sure, but that’s not all: Games Done Quick is currently running its summer marathon for charity.

Games Done Quick, whose current marathon supports Doctors Without Borders, is an event celebrating the art of speedrunning. A speedrun is an attempt to complete a video game as quickly as possible. There are endless variations upon this concept, but they all have one thing in common—they are ridiculously fast.

The video above is a brief feature on a young man nicknamed Darbian, who held (and still holds, I think) the world record for speedrunning the original Super Mario Bros. He beat the game in under five minutes. The entire game. That’s bonkers.

I don’t really follow Games Done Quick or other speedrunning projects, but I’m fascinated by the metagame they create around existing games. They add rules, objectives, and strategies never intended by the games’ developers, building new games upon the old ones. It’s neat.

It’s also pretty brutal—a tiny mistake can derail an entire speedrun. A successful speedrun requires near-perfect timing, comprehensive knowledge of the game, tons of practice, endless patience, and perhaps just a touch of insanity.

I only ever tried speedrunning one game; coincidentally, it was Super Mario Bros. When I was in college, I spent a week or two playing and replaying the game, whittling away the seconds, until I managed to finish it in under ten minutes. I felt quite accomplished. Now, knowing that speedrunners like Darbian can beat the game in less than half that time, I feel… less accomplished.

Ah, well. I suppose what matters is having fun!

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