Watching grown adults—often blindfolded—rush through my favorite computer games is a thrill like no other.
This post originally appeared on VICE UK
At 3 AM on Thursday night I paid $15 to two grown men I did not know, who weren't even in my country, who didn't know who the fuck I was, to play Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island for a charity event called Awesome Games Done Quick. You may be thinking, What a sad prick, and you'd be right to be dubious, but this yearly gaming marathon got my pulse smacking harder than a night on the sauce with Jack Wilshere.
While I watched, there were over 130,000 other sad pricks online, so you can think of that as either the largest collection of twats since Alex James's New Years Eve party or three times the capacity of Chelsea's stadium, Stamford Bridge. Up to you. This is before you consider the fact that there was a huge auditorium full of real, flesh-and-blood human beings sat watching them play. Or the live commentary that accompanied each run, spewing lesser known facts like a computer game Martin Tyler and Gary Neville.
You may be asking yourself a few questions, like, why in God's name I—or anyone else—would want to watch someone play a game when I can play it myself? Or, why would I support a bunch of square-eyed nerds who probably only masturbate to Japanese cartoon porn? Or, more importantly, what the hell is speed-running?
Well, listen up, you bigot.
Speed-running is an art and a sport, a way of life, and a profound pursuit that borders on the mystical. And it's also just about playing a game really quickly, because why the hell not. They've managed to transform the medium into something between an art and a sport.
Across the week, these brilliant people raised and donated $1.5 million to the Prevent Cancer Foundation from the general public, which goes to show that gaming is the most important cultural thing around right now and you should probably just embrace it. Or, consider the fact that there were almost as many female gamers as men, making this the most sexually equal sporting event I have ever seen.
What I'm saying is: I'm not so sad that I'd watch a sweaty guy just sat there playing a game. Give me some credit. Founded in 1998 as Speed Demos Archive by a guy named Radix to show off how good he was at the game Quake, through their dedication to completing any game as fast as possible (maybe blindfolded, maybe while having to complete totally arbitrary goals, maybe drunk) they've managed to break them. To kill them and then shag their corpses with "epic speed-running strats" that screw the games' internal construction with glorious glitches that are freakishly hard to do.
And, it's all in the name of charity and self-improvement—much like how your everyday soccer player spends roughly two hours at practice trying to figure out how to do a rabona. One runner—a guy named Cosmo—makes so much money from streaming his runs that he does it full time. I doubt he's the only one.
The level of dedication to becoming a runner is absurdly high. You can't just sit on your ass for a few hours in the evenings and become one. Trust me. They've got a forum to share techniques. World records to be broken. An entire language that you've never heard of, involving things like "the swamp matrix," "RNGs," and "tonguing." They can even complete games blindfolded in the time it takes to complete a soccer match (see below).
There's something quite animalistic and raw about watching a pale man finger his controller with practiced skill, something heart-poundingly exciting about watching Samus make precise leap after leap onto precariously-placed platforms hanging above a void. Any death is a failure, any frame missed an embarrassment. These people are perfect at what they do
The Yoshi's Island run, for example, was a race between two of the greatest runners of that game around— Thecrispy22 and mt76907. Whoever got to the end first won. Imagine Mo Farah, only nigh-on expressionless, slightly chubby and very much sitting down. At one point in the Yoshi's Island run, one runner started "tonguing" and, let me tell you, it was the most excited I'd been since Andy Murray backhanded his angry ginger noggin into the Wimbledon record books.
Basically, it involved a series of frame-perfect button punching that happen within a blink of an eye and then Yoshi – who has a famously long tongue – started tonguing absolutely everywhere and I fucking loved it and before I could shove a bit of cold pizza in my mouth the runner's character had transported about three levels forward. And—yes—I found myself swept up in the glory of it all, applauding naked into a dark room with hot tears running down my face.
And then the other runner did the same thing, and they were back to being neck and neck, charging through the game like a bloke pissed off his face to the nearest kebab house.
I've realized that speed-runners are the pioneers of future sports, the Christopher Columbi of the gaming world. And just like how watching Cristiano Ronaldo hit a soccer ball like it offended his mom doesn't make you any less of a klutz, watching these lads play games didn't make me suck any less at them. Feeling inspired on Saturday morning, I attempted to copy one technique called "hessing" in Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and, after failing to do anything but roll into a wall for an hour, I realized that—longside being a model, an athlete, or hand model—I would never be a famous gamer.
But that's the beauty of sport. Not everyone can be Lionel Messi, and not everyone can be Cosmo.
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