I am not a gamer, but I love video games! It was Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo that first introduced me to the medium. Although I wasn't allowed to play as often as I wanted, video games were a huge pastime for me as I grew up. My love for them has not wavered with age. If anything, I've become more enamored with video games as I grow older.
As a kid, games were just plain fun. As a teen, I began to realize that games had more potential than most people gave them credit, to tell interesting stories and tell them well. As an adult, I've become more knowledgeable of the skill that goes into mastering a video game. It isn't all just random button mashing like the general populous seem to believe, nor does the medium deserve to be slandered by ignorant news anchors. Games, like anything, are crafted by individuals trying to make something great, and players can be just as well versed in the game as a Major League baseball player is to their sport. There is an art and skill required to mastering a video game that many don't think twice over, unless they have played the game themselves and understand the difficulties.
I heard of Games Done Quick via a YouTube suggested video that popped up on the side of my internet browser. The video was a speedrun of one of my favorite games, Kingdom Hearts 2. The player, and now one of my go to Kingdom Hearts YouTubers, is a guy known as Bl00dyBizkitz. The speedrun was commentated by Bl00dy, along with some additional commentators on a couch behind him. Behind them sat a large crowd of people, cheering when Bl00dy made fighting the game's enemies look effortless. Every so often a woman off screen would read donations, as Games Down Quick is a charity event, and during the game's flight missions (i.e. The Gummi Missions) Bl00dy and a few others would sing Disney karaoke.
Prior to watching this video, my knowledge of speedrunning was very little. The only game I really thought to associate with the sport was Super Mario Bros, a game that features a bunch of shortcuts and warp points to easily manipulate the gameplay and finish fast. Watching Bl00dy show off his mastery of Kingdom Hearts 2 on Critical Mode (the hardest difficulty of the game) blew my mind! I'd played KH2 once before on Standard Mode (there are 4 difficulties: Beginner, Standard, Proud, and Critical) and died a lot. This guy made the challenge look as easy as eating cake.
Summer Games Done Quick is a week long charity event streamed online. It is one of the many charity marathons put on by Games Done Quick throughout the year. There, a bunch of people known as speedrunners come to show off their knowledge and mastery of a particular game while people donate to a specific charity. Commentators talk about the strategies behind what the speedrunners are doing on screen, similar to sports commentators discussion on athletes and stats, except GDQ is way better than the ESPN garble.
At the end of June, Games Done Quick was at it again for their summer edition of the event. A wide selection of games were featured, including fairly new titles and titles released way back when. The games spanned across most consoles and there was always something interesting on the stream. I was looking forward to a bunch of speedruns on the schedule, including Kingdom Hearts 1 Final Mix, Banjo-Tooie, Super Mario 64, Cuphead, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Maker, Amy (because gotta love speedrunner FoldableHuman), and Rise of the Tomb Raider!
I felt the need to reflect on Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) this year because I felt such a strong tie to the event while watching live from a hotel room in Pittsburgh. There are so many things to love and I'd love to share my thoughts with you today.
Why I LOVE Games Done Quick
The dedication and work put into the events and the games.
Live streaming on Twitch takes a lot of setup and computer power on your own. Doing so on a constant basis with ever changing games and consoles and commentators sounds like a nightmare to handle, but GDQ make it look easy. It is clear by the graphics and smoothness of the event on Twitch that a lot of capable people work on this event and it is awesome! It is so cool to see such a high quality production dedicated to speedrunning video games, as if it justifies the event in itself. The high quality production sets the event on a new level and practically demands respect from onlookers.
And speaking of demanding respect, let's talk about the amazing speedrunners who have dedicated so much time and effort into understanding their game of choice. Wow are these people incredible. Their skills make one want to punch anyone in the face who said video games are a waste of time! Okay, so I won't literally punch someone in the face but you get the point. Games, just like anything, are a piece of machinery that can be picked apart and studied, should one desire to do so. Runners study the movement of the character they are controlling and use said movement to speed up the game. They known sound and visual cues from enemies so that they know when to attack or step aside. They master game menus and game features that the casual player may not think twice about and it is amazing!
The comradery / community
Sometimes there will be more than one speedrunner running a game, and it becomes a race to see which runner can finish first. We all know the stereotype of the angry gamer. You know, the one who breaks his controller and shouts swear words at the television screen? It is an unfortunate attitude that, while existing, has become popularized as the negative effect of gaming culture. GDQ simply proves the opposite and showcases friendly competition between gamers.
Whenever I watch these races, I see nothing but common courtesy and sportsmanship between the two runners. No one boos them maliciously should the speedrunner mess up, because the audience and commentators recognize the difficulty of the strategy put into each game. While there is competition, everyone is on the same side.
This also goes for the entire event as a whole. There is generally a lot of healthy competition and support that exists in the GDQ community and it is inspiring and just wonderful.
While there is an obvious sentiment that speedrunners do what they do for personal reasons such as the challenge, or recognition, or what have you, there is a cool understanding among everyone at GDQ that at the end of the day, what they are doing is all about the charity.
Sure, a speedrunner obviously can't wait to show off the game they are playing and cool strategies they have learned along the way; but it is the community's encouragement to do good and donate to a great cause that truly shines throughout the event.
Love for all games
Just like any artistic medium, video games have the critically acclaimed titles, the beloved titles, and the laughably awful titles. However, GDQ doesn't discriminate. All titles are worthy of speedrunning. From the platforming sensations like Banjo-Kazooie, to RPG greats such as Final Fantasy, to product placement games like Pepsi-Man and Bible Adventures, all games are considered and worthy to be manipulated for a fast run.
Now I just listed reasons why I LOVE this event, but I want to quickly touch upon something that irks me. This is not necessarily a critique aimed at GDQ but more at the gaming industry.
GDQ needs more women on screen!
I know there are some people who will be triggered by this statement and leave a comment saying that this desire is some SJW BS. I disagree, obviously. Please don't think that my statement about GDQ needing more women on screen means that I think GDQ is a misogynist boys club. To be clear, I have seen an occasional female speedrunner and the occasional female commentator. Let me also be clear that while I watch a number of speedruns, and follow the event, I don't watch it 24/7. Therefore while I am very familiar with the event and what goes on, I am also limited to the scope of understanding the event entirely. I can only comment on what I see. I also am aware that I don't see any of the people who work behind the scenes on the event and I am sure several women are apart of that.
Finally, it is a known fact that video games have largely been marketed to boys and men. And like most of western culture, video game culture reflects our patriarchal society, a society geared toward the benefit of straight white men. Therefore it is important to understand that saying there aren't as many women as men playing video games because of marketing is not a good excuse toward my statement that GDQ needs more women, because there are women playing games. There are female speedrunners. We all contribute to this problem and I don't exclude myself in that statement. Most video game content creators I watch online are male. I group myself into this critique as well.
While I love watching GDQ, I can't help but feel like a bit of an outsider while watching a guy speedrun, guys talking on a couch, and an audience largely made up of guys. Sure there is usually a woman reading out donations, but from what I have seen after watching this summer's event as well as past events, we never see her on screen. This makes it seem like women are at the event, but aren't apart of the event. It feels like women are put to the sidelines so men can strut their stuff.
Now, again, I say with confidence that I don't believe GDQ actively works to make this a boys club. On the contrary, I think they strive to get a diverse group of people together for a great cause. But I also don't think GDQ, and gaming culture in general, is above receiving criticism. In the future, it would be nice to see more female speedrunners actually playing the games and commentating on the couch. Hell, sometimes I feel so strong about this sentiment that I want to become a speedrunner. It is something I am seriously considering. I hope to see more of a balanced ratio in the future.
So there you have it, my reflection on SGDQ 2018! It was a fan-freaking-tastic time and I hope to attend the next GDQ event in Rockville, MD this coming January, if not as a volunteer than hopefully as a mere fan of video games!