Speedrunning Games – Definitions and Guides for Parents

“Did you see?”
“I’m gonna need more than that. Like, anything about anything.”
“Super Mario Brothers. There’s a new world record for beating it. It’s down to 4:56”
“You can beat Super Mario Brothers in less than five minutes?”
“I can’t… But people can. They found a flagpole glitch that let’em shave off time.”
“A flag what now?”
“A glitch. They shaved off like 3 tenths of a second.”
“Wait. Wait wait wait. 3 tenths of a second. That’s a thing. That’s a thing people do. Run games to shave off fractions of a second.”
“Um… Yea-ah. It’s speedrunning. Three tenths of a second is a big deal.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“Seriously. It’s HUGE”
“Ugh… You just. Don’t. Get it.”

Yup. Speedrunning. It’s a thing. And it’s a big deal for a subset of gamers. There’s even a biannual charity event for it: Games Done Quick. Where the dedicated get together and stream out playing games as fast as humanly possible.

Seriously. I’m not kidding, like really really fast: Speed Running Records

And while it absolutely seems crazy, If you’ve seen a few runs, particularly if you’ve played the games, there’s very much a sense of skill and artistry to it. It’s the same sort of rush you get seeing anyone performing at the top of their game (no pun intended… well, only kinda intended)

The kiddos are ALL about the streaming these days. Watching others play on youtube, twitch, or mixer is huge. Speedrunning plays directly into that, with most of the folks in the scene recording and uploading videos of their runs and attempts, which helps propagate and build on the pastime.

As an example, Here’s a link to a wikipedia page solely dedicated to speed run times for the Super Mario Brothers franchise:

Yeah… It’s a thing.

So… People just play a game as fast as they can?

Mostly. That said, as with any activity with dedicated and zealous participants, it has a layers of complexity and terminology all it’s own.

The first thing to take away is that, while on the surface the goal is to play a particular game as fast as possible, there’s a number of mutually agreed on rules and terms that go along with that, allowing different players playing the same title to be able to compare times and results in a more “apples to apples” format. Some of these are more or less universal, others are more game specific.

Okay. Then what’s a PB, a WR, or a Death Warp?

That is all part of the lingo – Just like a TD, or touchdown in football. As called out above, if your kiddo is into doing or watching speedruns, chances are you’ll hear some esoteric phrasing .

  • 100% – Pretty much what you would guess, this is a run that completes the whole game, usually getting all the collectible items, taking care of quests, defeating all the major bosses, clearing all the levels, etc…
  • Any% – This is where the amount of game completed doesn’t matter. It’s all about the speed, getting from beginning to end as fast possible, so skipping out on content is encouraged.
  • Clipping – I know this will come as a surprise, but games aren’t perfect. In order to keep performance up, sometimes the code that runs physics (so things like, preventing the player from going through walls) can sometimes run a little slow. Also, sometimes, things just don’t have collision – meaning they can be walked right through. Speedrunners find these spots and, where possible, use them to get to other parts of the game faster than normal.
  • Damage Boost – Sometimes, taking damage from enemies is faster than defeating them. Other times, depending on the animations involved and character orientation, taking damage can actually push a player further in the game or to normally inaccessible areas.
  • Death Warp – In many games, the progression isn’t just left to right or top to bottom. Often times there’s exploration and backtracking. In games like this, speed runners will sometimes kill off their character because it’s faster than running back to a location.
  • Glitch/Bug – As called out above, games aren’t perfect, and speedruns will often find bugs in the game that they can use to speed up their runs. For example, taking damage and getting bounced up and pushed through a wall.
  • PB – Personal Best. The best time a specific runner has achieved.
  • RNG (Random Number Generator) – While games and gameplay rely heavily on patterns, sometimes randomness is in play as well – Sometimes used to randomly pick which pattern to play. For speed running, randomness can help or hinder a run, based on what happens
  • Strats – Slang for the word Strategy. Basically what routes, glitches, etc… A speedrunner plans to use in a run.
  • WR – World Record. The fastest a game has been completed under a specific rule set.

What If My Kid Wants To Participate

Well, they should be prepared to practice, a lot. Despite what you may read in the media, there’s actually a lot of positives to playing games. For speedrunning in particular, it has the addition of instilling some grit and perseverance. To get really really good will require playing the game far past it being fun in and of itself, the kiddo will need to be in it for the greater satisfaction of improving.

As far as documenting progress and success, well, while many of the speedrunning heroes and antics can be watched and rewatched on youtube, rest assured there’s no need or mandate to actually record and upload runs (despite how your child will protest, and if they’re like mine the protest will be both loud and vociferous). Later on, if your kiddo is old enough and really gets into it, there’s plenty of ways into the scene.

In the short term, it’s a fun way to revisit older games, particularly games from our childhood. It’s best to think of it as another game mode, one where you’re making up your own rules, but a new mode – or new way to play.

How Can I Talk With My Kid About Speedrunning?

One of the great things about speedrunning is you can talk about it in and of itself, asking them about their best times, challenges they faced, particular hard spots, world record times, etc…

Another approach, though, is you can use it as a gateway to talking about practice and perseverance. Speedrunning is hard. It can mean hours of deliberate practice on specific sections of a game, for example running one spot over and over again to make a jump on the exact right frame (as short as 1/60th of a second).

Another nice bit of information is that many (not all, but many) of the games that get a lot of speedrunning coverage are older (retro) games. Many of which, you – or a sibling – may have played when you were younger, giving you another way to connect.

One interesting tid-bit of knowledge you can drop on your gaming progeny – particularly if they’re getting frustrated. The latest World Record of Super Mario Brothers is: Video Of Speedrun (4:56.528) – Yeah, just under 5 minutes. But here’s the rub, the speedrunner who now holds this record (he goes by the handle: Darbian) practiced a lot…  6 cubic tons of a lots.

He got the record on his 27,474th attempt.

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