Feb 16th, 2017, 10:00 AM

The Name of the Game is Speed

By Ofir Ben Dor
Over $2.2 million raised at AGDQ 2017. Image credit: twitter/GamesDoneQuick
An introduction to the growing niche world of speedrunning and its most prominent event - Games Done Quick

If I told you that there was an event this year where hundreds of people chanted together "hug that goat!" would you believe me? I am glad to say that there was indeed such an event — Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) 2017 — a 24/7, weeklong gaming marathon that occurred during Jan. 8-15 and raised more than $2.2 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. AGDQ (and its sister event, Summer Games Done Quick) is a special type of marathon: it's a speedrunning marathon.

What is speedrunning?

You do not have to be a hardcore gamer to enjoy speedruns, but it does help. Speedrunners take any and every videogame and attempt beat them in the shortest time possible. The methods and the games vary, but the one connecting point between all runners is that they know every nook and cranny in their chosen games. Runners tend to specialize in very few games, spending many hours streaming on Twitch to perfect their runs. Essentially, every game has its one little community that runs it, where runners compete against each other to get the best times in different categories.

The world of speedrunning is a complex one to enter, with its own glossary that may confuse first-time watchers. Many of the terms used by runners, and the language in general, assume that the viewer has some knowledge of how video games work. The best way to learn about speedrunning, and to absorb its glossary, is to watch speedruns; and the best place to absorb all of this information is a marathon. During marathons, runners try to explain what it is that they are doing, but even then there are some words which runners presume viewers already know.

Games Done Quick

Gaming marathons for charity have existed for a while; some of the earliest include marathons by "TheSpeedGamers" from as far back as March 2008. The first GDQ event was Classic Games Done Quick, held in January 2010. Organized from the basement of Mike Uyama—one of the founders of Games Done Quick—the marathon raised $11,000 for CARE.

The beginning of Classic Games Done Quick. Clearly, the inaugural event was rather bare bones.

GDQ has hosted their bi-annual events since 2011; that same year, they hosted an additional event to raise money for victims of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The venues have become steadily larger since GDQ's first event—the largest yet, the 2017 event was hosted at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel. The amount raised has also risen throughout the years; AGDQ 2011 raised around $52,000, while the most successful event, AGDQ 2015, raised $1.57 million. Additionally, AGDQ 2017 was streamed by more than 200,000 viewers, exemplifying the growing popularity of the event.

What should you expect to see?

A GDQ event features a rotating cast of "runners"—players—performing individual runs. Behind the runners are the commentators; their job is to comment on the run, ask questions about the tricks being used and just provide banter. Off-screen announcers share news of donations with the viewers. Runners do their best to explain what exactly they are doing, make some jokes and try to have some conversation with the couch commentators.

Marathons are open to all, if not most, games; from well-known series such as Mario, Sonic and Tetris, to bizarre choices such as zzt, a little-known, rudimentary RPG released in 1991. Marathons also present many different kinds of speedruns beyond the usual any/100% (completion):

  • Races: two or more runners face off against each other to get the best time.
  • Glitchless%: the runner uses no glitches (an unintentional flaw in game's programming or design, which is exploited by runners) at all; this is as "pure" as a speedrun can possibly be.
  • Two players, one controller: as the title suggests, two players share a single controller and must work together to complete the run.
  • One player, two controllers: while there is only one example of this, it should be highlighted for the extremely high skill level necessary.
  • Blindfolded: in one of the toughest categories, Rrunners are not allowed to see the game they are running. This type of run is based completely on memorization and thorough knowledge of the game.


Categories can also be mixed, such as this blindfolded race of Pokemon Blue:

Throughout a marathon, there are many donation incentives. They range from raising enough money to play a certain game (such as in the video above), raising enough money to showcase something (like a bonus boss fight), a "bid war" to decide the name of a character or save file and a "bid war" to decide if runners go after a certain ending. The last example has a tradition connected to it; many GDQs have a run towards the end of Super Metroid. At the end of this run, there is an area where you can save a group of animals which takes about 30 seconds; speedrunners do not save the animals because they want to save time. Owing to this, a "bid war" exists that calls donators to either donate to save the animals — leading to a slower run — or kill the animals. Over the course of the previous event, this "war" alone raised nearly $800,000, and "save the animals" won.

GDQ is not only about speedruns; it also has showcases where games are shown off not for speed, but for skill. These types of runs may be rarer, but every event has a time slot to show off some TAS (Tool Assisted Speedruns), as well as one or two showcases of glitches.

Just as there are many different types of games in a marathon, there are also many different types of runners. Each runner has their own style, both of play and commentary. One of the most notable runners is "halfcoordinated," who was "born with hemiparesis, a physical disability lowering feeling and coordination in [his] right side" (according to his pastebin bio). "Halfcoordinated" plays his runs using only his left hand, and, in a way, is an idol to handicapped gamers.

This article is just short introduction into the vast world of speedrunning. If you are interested in watching the event, check out the schedule page; additionally, archives of previous events are hosted on GDQ's Youtube channel. AGDQ 2017 may have finished a few weeks ago, but there are constantly livestreams of speedruns, and many other international marathons occur regularly throughout the year. Visit Speedrun.com to get involved in the community. As for future events, Summer Games Done Quick 2017 will air 2-9 July, 2017 on their Twitch account—commentary is available en français here.