January 8 kicked off Awesome Games Done Quick 2017, a bi-annual event featuring speedrun exhibitions by some of the most skilled gamers in the country (and beyond). The traditional definition of "speedrunning" in the gaming world simply refers to clearing a game in the minimal amount of time required. While that in itself is understandably interesting, speedrunning has evolved into something more complex. Runners aren't just moving through games at breakneck speed; they're finding entirely new ways to play.
Looking at the schedule for Awesome Games Done Quick 2017, you'll find games that hail from every genre and console. Even RPGs and point-and-click adventures are popular speedrunning targets. A game you may have never given more than a passing glance is a game one of these runners knows inside and out after some hundred- or thousand-plus hours of devotion. We're talking every screen, every glitch, every nuance exhaustively and meticulously memorized to shave precious seconds off of the clock. Why? For fun and glory, of course.
Even more fascinating are the unique, player-defined challenges that runners have devised. You might be familiar with one of the most common: the "Nuzlocke Challenge," wherein Pokemon players must complete the game using only the first Pokemon they catch in any given area and release creatures that fall in battle even once. Awesome Games Done Quick 2017 introduced me to a fascinating way to play Ori and the Blind Forest that's referred to as OREO, or "Ori Reverse Event Order." It's exactly as it sounds: Runners utilize glitches in tandem with skillful execution to progress through the game backwards (otherwise known as "sequence breaking"). Even with this self-imposed handicap, some runners still beat the game in an hour. An hour!
Player-defined challenges are some of my favorite things to learn about in the world of gaming. Gamers like the ones who participate in Games Done Quick display awesome ingenuity in devising new ways to extend the lives of their favorite titles. It takes serious dedication to learn a game at such a microscopic level, and the feats that runners pull off can be borderline unbelievable. I mean, last year, I watched a guy play through the entirety of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night blindfolded. Like the Ori speedrunners this year, he beat it in just over an hour. It probably took me ten times that long when I was a kid!
Speedrunning proves that there's depth hidden beneath the surface of pretty much any game you can think of. Short games, particularly those that are score-centric - Lollipop Chainsaw and Sin & Punishment: Star Successor come to mind amidst an ocean of other options - are rife with potential for speedrunning. The credit sequence isn't the end for these types of games; it's the beginning, because that's when the truly skilled can start breaking them apart with the end goal of putting them back together in the most efficient manner possible.
Games Done Quick is a fantastic way to become acquainted with the art of speedrunning. For one, the players participating are among the best at their respective crafts, and they provide a wealth of insightful commentary throughout their performances. More importantly, Games Done Quick is a charity event, and viewers are encouraged to donate to further research efforts on behalf of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Watching people pull off amazing gaming feats while making a difference in the real world is about as win-win as it gets.