April 15, 2024

The Politics of Speedrunning



Published May 12, 2023, 4:08 p.m. by Naomi Charles


In a world where everyone is trying to get ahead, speedrunning has become more than just a way to play video games. It's become a political statement.

In the past, speedrunning was something that only the most hardcore gamers did. They would find ways to beat games as fast as possible, and then share their strategies with the world. But now, speedrunning has gone mainstream.

There are speedrunning competitions with huge cash prizes. There are speedrunning records that are broadcasted on Twitch and YouTube. There are even speedrunning documentaries.

With all this attention, it's no surprise that speedrunning has become political.

There are debates about which games should be allowed in speedrunning competitions. There are arguments about whether or not speedrunners should be allowed to use cheats and exploits. And there are even discussions about whether or not speedrunning is a sport.

All of these debates are important, and they show just how political speedrunning has become.

But at the end of the day, speedrunning is still about playing video games. And that's something that everyone can enjoy.

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whether intended or not one of the most

consequential results of the internet

was the development of micro communities

and fandoms people once isolated were

now no more than a few clicks away from

the like-minded people who shared their

interests resulting in countless groups

for virtually any topic this includes

people interested in speedrunning what

began as a largely solitary Journey has

become increasingly Community focused as

they've become more developed these

communities have begun to resemble the

real world with governing bodies

creating rules for everyone to follow

and just like the real world different

communities approach governing more

fairly or more tyrannically than others

resulting in wildly different structures

this is the politics of speedrunning

[Music]

the beginning of speedrunning is not too

dissimilar from how Society began in

political philosophy the state of nature

is how people lived before they were

organized into societies without rules

to govern individuals would be free to

act as self-righteously or immoral as

they pleased since there were no laws in

place to dissuade this behavior in many

ways the earliest days of speedrunning

existed in this state of Anarchy the

first example comes from the 1980 Atari

2600 game dragster while hardly more

than a simple drag racing game its

Origins as a speedrun come from

Activision itself the game's manual asks

players to send in a picture of any time

under six seconds while the back of the

box States the world record is 5.61

seconds if you break that it will make

news with incentive lacking

accountability only one outcome was ever

possible a man by the name of Todd

Rogers would claim a time of 5.51

seconds in 1982 and for the next 36

years people just believed him to Mark

30 years since the record had been set

Guinness World Records would honor him

for the longest standard video game

record on only for the time to be proven

impossible six years later the absence

of structure to speedrunning would

continue into the 90s except becoming

even more apparent Nintendo Power was a

video game magazine published by

Nintendo of America and running from

1988 to 2012. among the news and

strategies readers could find a section

on high scores much like how Activision

ran its dragster Club Nintendo Power

asked true video Wizards to send in a

picture of their scores for them to be

published in the next issue while the

challenges were usually high score

related speedruns frequently made their

way in and the very first issue of the

magazine times would be listed for

excitebike a 1984 NES title designed by

Shigeru Miyamoto the fastest time would

be a 54.43 second time credited to Tom

Williams congrats Tom excitebike would

be featured again the next three issues

with the time going as low as 50.05

seconds now the biggest issue with this

Aero speedrunning is that it's

impossible to know if any of these times

are real the prevalence of cheaters

mixed with a lack of proof leads to even

the most plausible time still being

questionable

as the decade progressed though things

began to change and Society began to

emerge a small decision made by the

developers of Doom single-handedly

pushed speedrunning further than

anything before gameplay demos are a

recording of every input a player makes

during a segment this lets the game play

back exactly what a player did allowing

for a way to verify a claim time without

the need for video proof a detailed that

may seem insignificant at first but was

truly essential is the size of the file

in an age of dial up internet speeds

were pretty miserable a full video could

take hours to download making it too

impractical to be standard the small

size of demos allowed them to be easily

uploaded to the Internet so that others

could download the file and play back

the segment on their computer now with

the ability to connect and share

communities began to form around Doom

speed runs the earliest sight for this

was complete n which was dedicated to

challenge runs of Doom with Runners

being ranked based on the speed they

completed it if Doom began to lay the

foundation for society Quake expanded

that beyond what was previously

conceived at the base level Quake was

not too different from Doom having been

developed by the same Studios Quake

would also include gameplay demos and an

in-game timer allowing for continued

verifiable competition it was the

community that formed around Quake

though which pushed speedrunning past

its previous bounds a runner by the name

of Radix would create

nightmarespeedruns.com a website

dedicated solely to speedruns of Quake

on the nightmare difficulty perhaps the

most important thing to come out of this

website was Quake Done Quick clocking in

at 1949 Quake Done Quick was

revolutionary prior to this point

speedrunning was largely isolated to

beating a single level Quake Done Quick

would beat the entire game The Run was

segmented by Radix and three other

Runners this run would go on to leave a

lasting impact on the speedrunning

community as a whole with the charity

Marathon Games Done Quick paying homage

to it nightmare speed demos would

eventually merge with other Quake speed

running websites to form speed demos

archive while the site would remain

Quake exclusive for several years Radix

would open it up to other games in 2004

as by this point he had joined the

Metroid Prime community and wanted

somewhere to host his Run for the next

several years years SDA would have

become the center of the speedrunning

world it provided a place for all sorts

of communities to host the records for

all to see it also served as a period of

tyranny in speedrunning SDA was heavily

centralized it had a general set of

rules that each run must follow in order

to be verified while this sounds great

at first it was less than Stellar in

practice many of these rules were for

quality assurance SDA did not want to

host runs that were of subpar quality so

would often reject runs that did not

meet a certain standard this did a lot

to shape the culture of speedrunning at

the time making it more gate kept as

Runners would often not upload times

until they were completely satisfied

with them so it would be less likely

that they would be rejected it also

placed much of the attention on world

record culture as it generally hosted

just the world record for the game

rather than serving as a leaderboard

while some rules made sense other rules

were more confusing the two most head

scratching were probably the ones

related to dying and going out of bounds

SDA would initially ban both death abuse

and out-of-bound streaks from runs on

the grounds that it didn't look good

while the these rules would be loosened

over time other increasingly arbitrary

runes would make their way into the

rulebook for games in which dying

significantly lowers the final time and

changes the strategy throughout the run

runs with deaths can be categorized

separately for games that let players

save and reload anywhere a half second

penalty is added for each manual save if

a run is over 3 hours long the minimum

Improvement allowed is one minute

because seconds are less significant

past the three hour mark

of course SDA was not the only website

dedicated to speedrunning in the 2000s

in fact many communities had their own

sites dedicated to specific games and

series even once SDA opened to all games

communities like Mario Kart 64 and

GoldenEye would opt to continue hosting

their own sites this came with one

distinct Advantage autonomy in political

Theory few things have been as

influential in recent centuries than the

concept of autonomy autonomy is the act

of self-governance the ability for a

group to make rules for themselves

rather than having a higher authority

dictate how they can live there's

perhaps no better example of the

importance of autonomy and

self-governance than Ho Chi Minh and

Vietnam the story of Vietnam in the

early 20th century is one of toiling

under colonial rule the 19th century had

seen Vietnam fall under the control of

the French while the 20th century would

be characterized by the struggle of

autonomy by 1919 World War one had come

to a close and negotiations were

underway with America's 28th President

Woodrow Wilson playing a key role the

Paris peace conference Saul Wilson

worked to enact his is 14 points of the

values he laid out self-determination

was key among them in the aftermath of

the war Wilson wanted autonomy for the

people of Austria-Hungary and the

Ottoman Empire these principles

resonated deeply with Ho Chi Minh who

sought counsel from Wilson to ask for

America's help in escaping French

colonial rule in the name of

self-determination Wilson ignored him

nearly 30 years and another world war

later Ho Chi Minh found himself in the

same spot while the rest of the world

was beginning to undergo decolonization

Vietnam watched as the French tried to

reinstate their influence over the

nation now the president of a government

recognized by none Ho Chi Minh would

once again find himself reaching out to

a sitting president he wrote to

President Truman stressing Vietnam's

effort in assisting the U.S during the

war and recalling America's Atlantic

Charter which all too cleanly stated

that every nation had the right to

choose which form of government they

should live under in total eight letters

were written and no one responded rather

than upholding the values the United

States claimed to hold Truman actively

worked to embolden the French trading

beliefs for comfort so in the end Ho Chi

Minh did it himself first the Vietnamese

would kick out the French then it became

the first nation to win a war against

the United States while he wouldn't live

to see foreign Boots leave Vietnamese

soil Ho Chi minh's dreams would be

achieved

much like Ho Chi Minh the belief that a

community can decide what is best for

itself would go on to shape speedrunning

as speedrunning entered the age of live

streaming it needed to adapt more and

more people were getting into it and

they didn't hold the same Notions of

Runners of previous generations they

wanted to run their games the way they

saw fit with SDA increasingly not making

the cut communities no longer wish for

their rules to be defined by a

self-defined group of Outsiders claiming

to be physically mentally and

emotionally Superior the Tipping Point

would come in 2014 with speedrun.com

going live speedrun.com function as a

leaderboard website where runs would be

submitted for any game and then

displayed for all to see rather than

having a centralized group of verifiers

deciding the legitimacy of a game

they've never run verifiers would be

game specific with communities being

able to decide on who verified runs it

also didn't dictate what was allowed to

be done in runs leaving decisions

regarding rules up to communities as

well all of this represented an

opportunity for autonomy and the ability

for communities to govern themselves as

they saw fit of course the social meant

virtually every Community would govern

themselves differently when it comes to

managing a speedrunning community there

are three main aspects that come into

play verifying moderating and Rule

setting verifying is the most

straightforward of the roles when a run

is submitted the community must review

it and determine if it follows the rules

after which it'll be instated onto the

boards while different communities have

different standards of quality for what

they allow on the boards the role of

verifying is largely consistent between

communities moderating is generally more

Community oriented much like any society

speedrunning communities have

discussions to be held news that must be

delivered problems to resolve rules that

must be followed and punishments to be

carried out the role of moderating is to

ensure that the community runs smoothly

rules and how they're decided is where

the biggest difference between

communities arise each game has a unique

circumstance and thus must tailor the

rules to fit the needs of the community

just like the real world though

speedrunning is characterized by the

vastly different structures for how

these decisions are made this has led to

anything from democracies holding

community-wide votes to dictators

aggressively ruling over their games and

making decisions with little regard for

the thoughts of others

as one of the largest speedrunning

communities Minecraft has also developed

an extensive political structure and a

game well known for its cheating

scandals moderation and verification are

separate teams working jointly Runners

can apply by filling out a form asking

about their experience and interest in

the position with roles being rewarded

to trusted applicants as agreed upon by

the mod team in function the moderates

serve as the legislative body while the

verifiers are the enforcers at first

glance the way Minecraft approaches

policy decisions doesn't seem that

unusual every so often polls will be

sent in the public Discord to survey the

community's opinion while the winning

option does not necessarily guarantee

that option will be selected it's used

to inform the moderation team of how the

society as a whole wishes to progress

allowing them to make decisions

accordingly the more unique Quirk of

rule setting in Minecraft happens behind

closed invites though in addition to the

Normal public Discord there's an

invite-only server simply titled

Minecraft speedrun discussion but more

commonly referred to as the top Runner

Discord Runners with the time under a

category specific threshold are allow

allowed to join the server providing

them with more direct access to the

moderation team to voice their concerns

the top Runner Discord was made to

address one of the most controversial

periods of Minecraft speedrunning as the

community became more advanced

increasingly complicated ways of

locating the stronghold were developed

often times requiring the use of a

calculator or a table of values to solve

this would in turn become a contentious

debate over the validity of speed runs

that use calculators as in the most

literal sense of the words they were

speedruns assisted by tools many Runners

believed that this had blurred the line

between RTA and task too much and that

their use in speedrun should be

prohibited it seemed like the end was

reached when the community was pulled

and the results showed calculators

winning but this left a mess to clean up

one from opponent to calculators being

allowed was Feinberg Feinberg has long

been one of Minecraft speedrunning's

largest streamers and fastest Runners he

would turn on his stream during this

ordeal and unload his thoughts as a

community for us to have a world record

run with a program playing the game for

you that's the only reason why they were

until this situation got fixed it's

because he got the world record we don't

need to let it get to that point again

we have the same issue six months ago

the monsters need to do something

Feinberg stressed how most of the mods

at the time were either not active or

they were not high level Runners this

made them poorly equipped for making

decisions that affected the nature of

speedrunning at world record contention

he also called out the mods for

complacency saying that problems were

never addressed preemptively but rather

only when they could no longer be

ignored the Fallout from the stream was

immediate and would fundamentally change

the structure of Minecraft speedrunning

it was initially met with hostility for

much of the mod team most took what

Feinberg had said personally and were

unable to see anything but negativity

towards an already thankless job a

minority of the mod team was in

agreement with the sentiment of

feinberg's message but they would push

for changes to the way issues were

approached part of this was changing the

members of The Mod team over time more

top level Runners would begin to find

their way into positions including

Feinberg but even this was not without

incident while other top Runners would

be welcomed with open arms some

moderators continued to Harbor

resentment towards Feinberg leading to

him not being offered a position until

nearly a year after his rant perhaps

more importantly though a separate

Discord would be set up exclusively for

top Runners to be more in the ear of

moderators this increased access has

manifested itself in different ways when

the moderators go to survey the

community for a policy change results

are divided between the community and

the top Runners often times all parties

will agree and the result will reflect

that accurately but when the top Runners

and the rest of the community disagree

this structure forces moderators to

choose between the two a recent example

of this can be seen in a poll conducted

about texture pack rules the poll Begins

by asking Runners about whether old

versions of Minecraft should be allowed

to use the modern Netherrack texture

with both the populace and the elite

overwhelmingly an agreement that it

should after this there are only two

other textures where both sides are in

agreement in total the general server

voted in favor of 15 of the options

while the top Runners were only in favor

of two options and apathetic to another

five on issues where both sides were in

favor or one group had a preference and

the other did not the mod team had a

straightforward decision there were

several results where the sides

disagreed though forcing a choice to be

made and it often favored the top

runners in the case of the health hunger

and XP bar the mod team opted to not

allow texture changes aligning with the

desires of the top Runners the

moderators would break with the top

runners in regards to GUI color changes

but even this was only if it was a solid

color or a gradient in the end though

textures are just cosmetic changes

outside of X-ray or high visibility

packs they don't have a pronounced

impact on gameplay there have been other

times though where changes have been

made with only the top renders being

consulted a pole was conducted in the

top Runner Discord over whether the

mod's standard setting should be allowed

standard setting makes it so that each

time a runner joins a world their

settings are changed back to default

while this is more a quality of life

adjustment than a truly game-changing

mod it still has an effect on the game

the results of the pole would find top

Runners to be overwhelmingly in favor of

the mod being loud and a short bit later

it was legalized for runs while it's

likely that the community as a whole

would approve its inclusion the decision

was made without the inclusion of the

public Discord in the discourse in this

respect Minecraft has chosen to govern

itself as a meritocracy within America

democracy power is allocated based on

ability the more skilled a person is the

more of a say they have while everyone

in the community has a voice in the

system the voices of those with the

fastest times are provided with the

loudest microphones

the stands in contrast to speedrunning's

other preeminent game at this point

Super Mario 64 is a decade's established

scene of all the ways to describe sm64

rapid change is not one of them the main

role of moderators is to verify runs and

manage the community Discord the rules

are largely established and there are

rarely times when change needs to be

made in this respect moderators more

closely resemble a group of volunteers

than members of a government community

members interested in moderating

typically reach out to express their

interest if there are slots to be filled

and the person is well respected in the

community they will be accepted onto the

team the primary responsibility is

maintaining the leaderboards in a game

as popular as Super Mario 64 it doesn't

require much slacking for a backlog of

runs in need of verification to pile up

this makes it essential for each mod to

keep up to date with the runs they need

to verify so as to not place an unfair

burden onto other members of the team

while rule changes and policy

adjustments are not the norm for Super

Mario 64. they still arise from time to

time in February 2018 cheese was on the

Run of his life after losing time on the

first split of the game cheese would go

on to save time in 13 of the next 16

splits he would enter Tippy nearly a

minute ahead even after two messy splits

he would enter Bowser in the sky half a

minute ahead and the first 138 still

firmly attainable when he first entered

the pipe it was as if time froze the

stream had been dropping frames every so

often the entire run he would hit the

first throw and then Midway through the

second throw what happened became a bit

of a mystery over the last 40 seconds of

the run there were 11 frames of gameplay

it couldn't be seen But cheese would

miss a throw despite this the Run would

still be a world record this left the

moderation team in a difficult position

no one thought cheese had cheated he was

too good too well respected and the way

it was done was too obvious that said

standards needed to be upheld especially

for a world record run a video of

similar quality by a less known Runner

would probably not be accepted a vote

between the mod team was held and it

found that roughly half wanted the run

to be verified and another half did not

without a clear preference a compromise

eyes would be made a new variable would

be added to the leaderboards verified if

a run is uploaded and no issues are

found it will be verified like normal

but for runs like cheese where cheating

is not suspected but cannot be outright

denied they would be labeled as not

verified this allowed Jesus run to be on

the leaderboards but it would not be

verified while this was a discussion

made exclusively by the mods that is not

exclusively how sm-64 makes decisions

frame walking is arguably the most

controversial trick in sm64 history it

had been known for years with little

attention being paid to it but all that

changed at PACE 2019 during a 120 Star

Race cyclamic would change controllers

in the middle of Jolly Roger Bay

changing from an N64 controller to a box

and nunchuck frame walking requires the

player to mash between analog up and

neutral position within a small Frame

Window repeatedly by using a box

seglemic was able to map analog up to a

button making it much easier to mesh

this opened a tidal wave of players

remapping their controllers to make

frame walking easier which rubbed other

Runners the wrong way for a while the

moderation team chose to not act in a

community as stable as sm64 the Hope was

that the issue would guide itself to

resolution instead framewalking's

detractors would grow louder and the

problem could no longer be ignored

rather than simply making a rule the

team started by Fielding opinions from

the community eventually these arguments

would be compiled into a document and

put to a vote for the community with the

winning result being to allow remapping

as long as it was consistent throughout

the run in many respects Super Mario 64

doesn't conform to any form of

government being practiced for the most

part it's reached a point where it can

run on autopilot the systems work as

intended so change is not needed the

role of the moderation team is less

about governance and more closely

resembling that of a bureaucracy keeping

the machine running when a community

defining decision needs to be made the

structure of how to go about it is less

defined

not all communities are just a single

game though when browsing speedrun.com

you have the option to sort by both

games and by series series are a

grouping of all the games released under

a certain title or franchise such as the

Legend of Zelda or Mario Kart While most

of these series don't operate as a

single group some do which presents its

own unique issues Harry Potter is one of

the most recognizable brands in the

world it also came out at a time where

basically every movie and TV show had a

tie-in video game Not only was Harry

Potter part of this trend it epitomized

it for just the eight films there are 23

games with spin-offs only adding to this

number these games break down into a few

smaller communities based primarily on

platform with PC PS1 6th generation

consoles handhelds Lego and Hogwarts

Legacy each being their own Community

while these lines are not rigid and

overlap exist each is self-governing of

all these communities PC Harry Potter

speed running and the nine games that

make it up are the largest communities

PC Harry Potter has a unique political

structure in that it more closely

resembles governments found in the the

real world while the leaders of most

communities are appointed HP approaches

it differently every six months

elections are held for the role of

prefect and for a spot on the wizen

gamut Each of which can be held for a

year since there's no maximum number of

seats candidates are not elected over

one another but simply run on their own

individual Merit in order to be elected

a person must win a simple majority of

votes cast by Runners with a valid run

on speedrun.com this allows for the

entire Community to have a say even if

they do not run a specific game the role

of a prefect is to oversee the

moderation of the community and maintain

a Discord while the wizard gamma is in

charge of maintaining the leaderboards

and deciding on rule changes following a

community discussion for smaller policy

changes the wizard gamut may choose to

decide on their own but more meaningful

issues may be put to vote for the

community as a whole since the wizard

gamut are in charge of the boards and

the prefix maintain the community

community votes require cooperation

between both groups to be facilitated

the complexities arise when factoring in

the fact that it isn't just one game

that needs to be moderated but 9. for

help with this members of The Wizard

gamut must be elected specifically for

the games they wish to moderate rather

than simply being elected for all of

them this helps to ensure quality

control as for instance it sets up the

possibility that someone could be

elected for Chamber of Secrets while

losing the Prisoner of Azkaban election

if the community believes they are not

qualified for both while the entirety of

the wizard gamut has a sane policy

changes a greater emphasis is placed on

the moderators for the game in question

to express their thoughts while still

showing respect for the members that are

most ingrained in the game as a whole

Harry Potter speedrunning is a uniquely

Democratic structure the systems in

place mirror once found in many Western

democracies complete with organized

divisions of power and elections

it also showcases a unique Quirk of how

speedrun.com is set up while each game

has their own team some series also have

their overall moderators series mods are

appointed by speedrun.com itself rather

than by an individual Community since

games need to be approved and manually

added to have a leaderboard it falls on

site management to create the boards in

series that have frequent releases or

games like Roblox that have an endless

number of fan games to play the site may

decide to appoint serious months to

create boards for them the site also has

a super moderator role in addition to

other regular mod permissions super

moderators have the ability to add or

remove staff for their game so that

speedrun.com staff does not need to

handle all moderation changes now if

you've made it this far how about you

verify that you hit that subscribe

button and moderate liking the video the

politics of speedrunning is not a

straightforward answer there are an

ever-growing number of communities each

presenting the possibility to further

experiment and refine approaches on how

to best run a society for everything

done right and everything done wrong

each is an opportunity to learn and

improve regardless thanks and see you

again soon

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