Narrative Speedruns Are Just More Fun

Narrative games offer a much more interesting—and hilarious speedrunning experience.

Jul 5 2017, 9:00pm

Uncharted image courtesy of Sony

We're deep into Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ), the annual marathon where runners unite from across the world to play games very fast to make money for charity. The talent involved for everyone who speedruns is immense, and while there are games I care more and less for, I really have a lot of respect for the people who commit themselves to this activity.

Just like I enjoy some kinds of games more than others, I have some preferences for what kinds of speed runs I like. For me, there's a pretty strict dividing line between what I call "skill runs" and "memorization runs." In skill runs, like Tetris, a runner is memorizing best practices. They're playing the game at an incredibly fast rate, at a high skill level. In memorization runs, you're just hitting the right buttons at the right places in order to minimize travel times, glitch through walls, and avoid enemies. Most of the time, skill runs are just about playing a game really fast; in memorization runs, you're breaking those games to make them go really fast.

I think that many people might enjoy that fast-paced, high-skill stuff, but I prefer the games of rote memorization. I want people to know the exact jagged polygon they can jump off to break the game, or the exact control specifications that allow them to fly.

I discovered this about myself while watching a run of Uncharted during a 2015 speedrun. Rather than being really good at the game, the runners had figured out how to wiggle Drake's butt through a wall. While they're certainly good at the game, that isn't the core of the run. Instead, they just know where to go and how to execute on some off-the-wall glitches.

I find these more fulfilling because they shatter our notions of what video games are. While the great Pokemon Puzzle League player is just really, really good at the game, the excellent Metroid Prime player is doing pixel-perfect jumps, slipping below the map, and generally just causing havoc within a duct-taped together experience. Give me that over perfect skill any day.