Speedrunning Super Bowl: Be a video game voyeur this weekend. It’s actually less creepy than you’d think.

By on January 4, 2018

Two speedrunners race their way through Ocarina of Time while a projection of their game play is shown for the audience behind them and a camera streams the action online. (Photo by Yves Tennevin via wikimedia commons)

Watching strangers play video games is less weird than it sounds.

The idea only sounds counterintuitive because we now live in a society when you can play video games pretty much anywhere at any time. Smart devices and portable consoles mean you can be a hero in your car, at the coffee shop and, most importantly, while you poop. We’re raising a generation of kids who don’t know gaming without microtransactions.

But think back to when you were younger, when you were first discovering video games. Odds are that if you came across them at a young age, it was probably watching an older sibling or adult play a home console, or watching strangers smash their way through games at an arcade. Yes, you were looking forward to when it would be your turn to take over, but those times of watching other people were probably pretty fun.

I’m not going to pretend I have any clue about the psychology about why we like to watch other people play games, be it football or chess or “Super Mario Odyssey,” but it is something that a lot of like to do. And yes, watching people play video games is no less weird than watching grown men give each other concussions for fun and profit. It’s also way easier to do online.

While watching someone work their way through a video game is perfectly fine, the real magic in video game streaming is in speedruns. Speedruns are basically what the name suggests: people trying to beat video games as fast as possible. This usually means exploiting holes in the games code that allow speedrunners to perform moves that a casual video game player would never discover on their own. These exploits, along with some serious gaming skills, explain how even though you’ve always struggled to beat the original “Super Mario Bros.” the current world record is just under five minutes and while it took you a month to conquer “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” the current world record is just over 4 hours 7 minutes.

Trust me, watching speedruns tickles a very particular part of the brain; it’s a combination of being amazed at how skilled someone can be at something and the petty satisfaction of watching someone destroy something that gave you so much trouble when you tried playing it yourself. If you can’t get revenge yourself, it never hurts to watch someone get it for you.

Thanks to Twitch and Youtube, you can watch people play video games around the clock. Gamers have entire communities built around their streams, and the most popular have thousands of people watching them at any given time. People donate money to their favorite streamers as a reward for the entertainment they’ve gotten from watching them play.

And starting this weekend is one of the biggest weeks of the year for the speedrunning community. Kicking off on January 7 is Awesome Games Done Quick, effectively the Super Bowl of speedrunning. Runners from all around will gather in Virginia for a week long marathon of speedruns and races, allowing different game communities the chance to show off what it is they do. And I’m not joking about it being a marathon: AGDQ runs 24 hours a day until it ends on Jan 14.

For a week you’ll have the chance to pop in and watch someone doing something amazing with a controller. Yes, there will be in-jokes you won’t understand at first, and you’ll want to think real hard about whether or not you want to watch with chat on or just enjoy the game stream as is, but all in all the speedrunning community is a welcoming one, looking to spread their particular hobby while raising money for a good cause.

About that: AGDQ, along with its warmer marathon Summer Games Done Quick, are speedrun marathons for charity. The upcoming colder installment raises money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and if history is any indication the marathon could raise over $1.5 million when all is said and done.

Listen, I get that you’re still skeptical. “Why would I watch other people play video games when I could be playing them myself?” I hear you saying under your breath, as if they’re mutually exclusive options, like you’re some caveman who only owns one gaming device. But fine, if you need a different reason to watch, consider this: video game streaming is interesting because it proves that your parents were wrong. All those times they told you “you can’t make a living playing video games” were a lie. Yes, to be a successful streamer means having skills and personality in equal measure, but at the end of the day these are still people making money playing video games. Wasn’t that always the dream growing up? PJH

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