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A Brief History of Speedrunning

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Gouldian Finch | July 28, 2018
A Brief History of Speedrunning

Gamers spend hours upon hours exploring the intricacies of their most beloved video games. Whether it comes to collecting items and awards, traversing the deepest corners of maps, or even hunting for glitches, many may feel once they’ve done it all, the game is over.

“It is the complete playthrough of a video game…in the fastest way possible.”

But is this true—that once you’ve seemingly explored it all, a game has nothing left to offer?

Dedicated gamers certainly don’t think so.

And here’s one way they’re keeping games interesting: speedrunning.

So, if you’re looking to pump some life back into those once cherished games, speedrunning might be the challenge you need, too.

gamers speedrunning

(Image by thejuicyschinken) 

But, what is speedrunning, you ask?

To put it simply, it is the complete playthrough of a video game, or section of a video game, in the fastest way possible.

The history of speedrunning is complex, though, and in its beginning stages many gamers were opposed to this style of play.

By some, it was perceived to ruin the immersive experience of gaming and didn’t show proper appreciation for the game.

In reality, though, gamers attempt speedrunning because it sparks a new fire into their once loved games by creating new challenges, and reinvigorating a gamer’s competitive nature.

So let’s take a quick look into the history of speedrunning:

While speedrunning may seem to be a modern development, technically the concept has been around for decades. The first game to utilize the fundamentals of speedrunning was the 1977 game “Drag Race,” by Kee Games.

Shortly thereafter, in 1980, Activision released a similar game titled “Dragster.” The objective of these games was to complete a drag race as quickly as possible.

Dragster then released a promotion inviting people to take pictures of their screens if they finished a race in under 6 seconds—the in-house record was 5.64s. In 1982, gaming enthusiast, Todd Rogers, did just that with a world-record time of 5.51s. This brought Rogers fame in the gaming community and led him to becoming the first paid professional gamer.

“It wasn’t until the 1990’s, with the help of the internet, that speedrunning truly began to take off.”

However, in 2017, a computer scientist set the record straight by proving that his time was actually impossible to obtain, and that the fastest achievable time was 5.57s.

So, while Rogers was the first recognized speedrunning record-setter, he was also the first speedrunning cheater.


It wasn’t until the 1990’s, with the help of the internet, that speedrunning truly began to take off.

Two games in particular were at the forefront of this movement: Doom and Quake. What these two games added to the video-gaming ethos was a feature that is imperative to the world of gaming today—the ability to record gameplay.

This influenced the creation of websites dedicated to speedrunning. With video access, players could now share their experience, reveal strategies, and compare their skill-level to that of their peers.

Gamer Using Keyboard + Mouse

"Different games forged their own in-game specific speedruns."

The manifestation of the Doom and Quake online community inspired new categories of speedrunning. Gamers challenged their speedrunning by setting limitations or guidelines for their runs. For example, in Doom, a popular limitation was to use only fists and a pistol to kill all monsters, while another was to successfully make it through the game without killing any monsters at all.

The trend of recording video files spread to other games as well, and with it, even more categories of speedrunning were established.

Of course, different games forged their own in-game specific speedrun categories; but for the most part, the main categories are Any%, 100%, and Low%.

*Any% doesn’t put a limitation or stipulation on the player, only requiring them to finish the game in the fastest way they know how. This means players don’t try and collect items or achieve goals. It also doesn’t matter how much of the game they access (hence, ‘Any’). The use of glitches can speed up this process, and, unless otherwise prohibited, they are an aspect that is often utilized.

*100% speedrunning is when the player completes the game in full. In this style of play, the player must execute all major accomplishments of the game. Depending on the game, this could mean collecting treasures, defeating bosses, unlocking stages, etc. And of course, do so as fast as possible.

*Low% is the opposite of 100%. In Low%, players must finish the game while completing as the least amount of quests and game challenges. This is widely considered to be one of the more difficult kinds of speedrunning.

"When it comes to glitches, it’s fair game."

There are also numerous sub-categories and game-specific categories of speedrunning. Game-specific categories involve the use or avoidance of certain components in a game.

For example, completing a speedrun of SuperMario Bros. as the ‘little Mario’—meaning, without the help of any power-ups.

Don’t think that sounds too hard?

Just imagine trying to complete the entire game with no 1-up mushrooms, no fire flowers, no nothin’!

Not so easy, eh?

Super Mario Bros Landscape

In addition, the exploitation of in-game glitches are often allowed to be used to the player’s advantage.

While it was once frowned upon, they are now nearly universally accepted in the speedrunning community. This is in part due to glitches being complicated, and requiring a lot of skill and knowledge of the game.

When it comes to glitches, if it is a part of the game’s coding, it’s fair game, so to speak.

“GDQ has held 19 marathons and raised over $16.5 million for multiple charities.”

Skipping ahead to the late 2000’s, another crucial milestone for the expansion of the speedrunning community occurred in 2008 when a group of Texas gamers came together to hold a gaming marathon.

The group, TheSpeedGamers, saw this marathon as an opportunity to game for a good cause, and decided to raise money for charity.

In their first speedrunning marathon, TheSpeedGamers’ played all major Zelda games over the course of 72 hours, raising $1,090 dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

This marathon went on to help inspire the creation of the well-known gaming convention, Games Done Quick (GDQ).

Games Done Quick

GDQ is a biannual speedrunning marathon that is broadcasted over Twitch.tv and GDQ’s YouTube channel. Since its conception in 2010, GDQ has held 19 marathons and raised over $16.5 million for multiple charities.

Two of their most prevalent charities are Doctors Without Borders, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

In addition, their charity outreach has helped communities recovering from the aftermath of natural disasters.

In 2017, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Texas, GDQ raised $229,455 for victims.

“Gamers also achieved greatness in the record books.”

Games Done Quick GDQ Speed Running

(Image by Linkboss)

With the 2018 Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) recently coming to a close, the gamers have once again raked in the cash—this year raising a record-high $2.1 million for Doctor’s Without Borders.

Donations came from 43,368 donors who viewed the gaming in person, or from GDQ’s YouTube channel and twitch.tv.

Viewers are able to donate money during the streams through GDQ’s website, and once donations are sent, donors can leave comments, participate in donation incentives, and start bid wars.

Wait, what’s a donation incentive?

A bid war?

These are fun ways to spice up the gameplay for runners and get viewers involved in the action, too. Incentives can be nearly anything from giving the runners specific challenges during gameplay, to asking the runners trivia questions.

That’s when the donors get to participate in a little competition of their own.

Want to see someone attempt a play-through of Super Mario Bros. one-handed?

Well, you better donate.

And that’s how we get a bid war.

If a bid war is available, whoever wins (donates the most) wins that privilege.

Nintendo Game Controller

“ESA has attracted the attention of over 2.4 million viewers.”

This year’s summer GDQ event, gamers also achieved greatness in the record books—three world records were set for speedruns of the games Burnout Paradise (2008), Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (1988), and Superman 64 (1999).

ViewSonic proudly supported the gaming this summer and is excited to be a part of the GDQ’s next event in October, 2018.

Along with its support of GDQ, ViewSonic will also support the European Speedrunning Association (ESA)—Europe’s largest speedrunning marathon that takes place in Sweden.

European  Speedrunning  Association  (ESA)

(Image by thejuicyschinken) 

With hundreds of gamers streaming speedruns on Twitch.tv, this year ESA will be raising money for Save the Children International. Gamers will be competing in games like Horizon Zero Dawn on the PlayStation 4, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Genesis, and everything in between.

ESA has attracted the attention of over 2.4 million viewers, 7, 000, 000 video plays, and over 100 million minutes of gaming watched online.

And, hey, they’re accepting donations now, so why wait? Here’s a link to their donation page: https://donations.esamarathon.com/index/

Speedrunning continues to grow each year, so be sure to check out the next GDQ marathon October 26-28th, 2018, and the ESA marathon July 20-29th, 2018.