I may get some flack for this article as Speedruns have grown to become something of a spectacle over the past few years but now I’m posing the question… just how are they fun?
Speedruns are certainly interesting to watch, there is no question as the amount of patience and skill it takes to conquer these games in such a record time is not something to take for granted – I can recognize that as fact. But what I don’t see where any element of fun comes from? It also imposes a misnomer on the game itself as many gamers use these speedruns as the baseline playtime of a game where that should not be a factor towards a games performance. This idea of time these Speedruns inflict dumbs down the true gameplay time, giving the impression that there wasn’t much to the game in the first place if it can be completed in such a short amount of time.
One may label me as a purist in regards to how I personally believe games should be played, and that was once true as I placed a lot of criticism on players essentially coloring outside of the lines when it came to playing a game away from its intended form. That has changed over the course of the past year, it is not a matter of how a game should be played but rather how someone enjoys playing a game.
As i turn my attention to Speedruns now, it is mainly only because they are a style of play that I can’t very much fathom as being fun. There are many players out there, mostly found on Twitch or YouTube that stream or post these videos where they complete games in stunning record paces. Let’s make no question about these speedruns, they are work… in most cases they are hard work.
Reflecting again on the amount of time these players put into memorizing patterns and effective techniques to complete a given task in all these various game types is nothing short of extraordinary. For the most part however, that’s what a game is – a series of patterns. It was only just recently discovered from the original Nintendo Entertainment System Title Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, that a pattern or key signature was hidden in the background in the form of one small spectator that could give the player key moments as to when to strike their opponent in order to win the match. That was just a small helper but still, provides an aid to help realize a pattern in order to win.
I am in no way suggesting that game designers should remove these little ticks, tills, or easter eggs from their creations. Frankly to discover them also lends to an idea of a more difficult pattern that a designer can leave in order to see if a player may actually figure out the pattern itself within the game, a sort of connection between player and designer, if you will. That I would believe is kind of a golden moment for a designer – when someone notices, but can also be seen as a card up the designer’s sleeve to showcase the game and their own strength while spectators are oblivious to the truth that they only just followed the pattern they realize or know. It could beg the question as to whether or not the designer ever intended on anyone ever figuring it out?
Seeing these patterns is great for players because it gives us a sense of accomplishment if we beat the system or exploit a flaw in the designer’s logic that lead to our own good fortune in solving this. For the most part these are made for us to figure them out, a way for designers to ignite problem solving skills in our brains – to overcome an obstacle in a game and some people are just faster than others to figure them out. While there are those miracle players that just know how a game works the same way a person can perhaps pick up a guitar and just know how to player realizing themselves to be a virtuoso, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
I look at these Speedrunners more like mathematicians that spend so much time just going over equations to solve a problem that can help lead us to other scientific adventures – to which I’ll say again, it is work and I can’t really imagine that it’s fun for many of these speedrunners. After all, they are gamers just like the rest of us and they too want to sit back and enjoy games just like the rest of us. But they give up so many hours, memorizing and preparing for these runs and most of them with nothing more then a recognition of accomplishment. Personally I would much more enjoy seeing the proceed progress with videos of their failed attempts leading up to their accomplishment. Not because I want them to prove to me that they completed it, but more to share with everyone that their accomplishment did not come easily
I recently spoke about a Twitch streamer that goes by the name of Spamfish and how I have been watching for him for over a year now. He started out this year with a goal he has set for himself in what he entitled Mariothon where he will play all of the Super Mario titles from their original game beginning with Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo Entertainment System and going in order based on their release and ending in Super Mario World 3D for the Nintendo Wii U. 12 titles in total if I recall correctly but his is not a speedrun. He provides his viewers with all the thrills and spills, all the rage and joy through his progress and asks that no one helps him while on his journey though from time to time he does involve his viewers in decisions as only he can, making the broadcast all that more enjoyable.
In this marathon he does impose some rules of his own upon himself particularly that he must complete every level and obtain all stars in each level to consider the game completed. This is a very involved quest he has embarked on and it shows in his efforts as the rage does sometimes overcome him where he may switch off to another game, but that’s what makes him more of a true gamer. Not only does he exhibit the rage and frustration we all go through with games, but the notion that there are other games out there he would really rather be playing. It probably goes without saying from what I mentioned that he has veered off course at times and placed his attention to other games for a time. Last I saw, he was still in the middle of Super Mario 64 to the neighborhood amount of around 115 stars in the game. I wish him luck in this task of his as it is something he has entitled the first annual Mariothon, and seeing how it’s now nearing May, there are still plenty more games to play to finish his task but also so many more games that will attempt to lure him away from his set goal.
My point is that it is a lot of work. Thankfully in Spamfish’s case, he not only has his work cut out for him but he has the support of his subscribers and fans to cheer him on as many of these other speedrunners do.
Spamfish’s journey is but one example I would classify as a way to keep it interesting as well as different from other streamers just trying to attract a following. In the same spirit of Mario though, Super Mario Maker has introduced a new work of levels for the little beloved Italian plumber that I now consider ridiculous and (to my own point) not a Mario game. It just so happens to have the mechanics and look of a Mario game but is in no way the spirit of a Mario game. There are hundreds, probably thousands of levels now that are rated as near impossible to be completed but this is the magical thing about Super Mario Maker, no level can be posted without its creator having finished it once himself proving that it is possible to finish, still, I cannot in good conscious call fun.
There are number of levels in Super Mario Maker that are just pure cosmetic or better stated as pixel art. There’s nothing really of merit or playability to the level designed. Just a nice pixel art image the creator game up with to generate an image while a player scrolls through levels for them to choose to play. Upon entering these levels, its nothing more than coins, or enemies trapped in series of colored boxes that appear as nothing more than a mess that doesn’t reflect the pixel art image the designer made. For that I would tell Nintendo to just implement a Mario Paint function into Super Mario Maker to appease these graphical artists to stop overloading the heart of the game with such nonessential levels that are no fun to play.
Another typical function that creators institute in their level designs is a trigger shooting the player forward giving them no warning as to their forward motion with only a fraction of time to figure out what exactly to do to avoid certain doom that can easily result in the character’s death. This again, is not fun to me – nobody wants to die when they play games, let alone die immediate in a game. Sometimes it is just as simple as a large enemy being dropped on top of the player as soon as there are spawned into the level that results in immediate death.
Designers, I’ll mention this right now if you are reading this, if you want to kill my gaming buzz right away, make it that I die immediately without at least five seconds to look at my surroundings…that will do it. It’s like listening to a song for at least thirty seconds and if it doesn’t grab you, then you’re pretty much done with it and will not make much effort to try to listen to it again unless you are in a situation where you have to listen to it… it’s just not fun to me.
I raise this question given my new outlook on the gameplay styles I have come to learn and appreciate through watching a variety of different players from around the world play games in so many different ways. So I’ll ask in final, is playing a game with the only way to play it in only one very specific way in order to complete the game – is it really fun? This is just my opinion here, but I have to say no… it is not fun!