Last Sunday, in the wee hours of the morning with the sounds of Nobuo Uematsu’s score to FFIV lingering in the ears of watchers and participants alike, another AGDQ came to a close. AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) is a yearly charity, alongside its sister event Summer Games Done Quick, that brings together a part of the gaming community that, perhaps, isn’t as popular as some others. These gatherings, while raising money all in the name of good causes, display one of the more technical arts of gaming, speedrunning. If you’re unfamiliar, speedrunning is both when players complete the game at astonishing speeds, and when players have taken it upon themselves to learn where the game is unstable, utilizing glitches to complete the game faster than a normal player could ever hope to achieve (such as beating Yoshi’s Island for the SNES in around three minutes).
Having hit an emotional low, I spent most of last week laying on my couch watching the events and marveling at all this ridiculous shit that I would never have the patience to learn and remembering my own speedrunning dreams.
On Saturday, watching on and off (because there’s only so much Twitch I can take in a day), something shook me from my haze. I didn’t notice anything strange about AeonFrodo’s 200cc run of Mario Kart 8 at first—except that I didn’t expect that Mario Kart would have been speedrun, especially not 8 because I’m terrible at it and, of course, that means no one else could possibly be good at it either. Suddenly, the announcer read a donation for three hundred dollars that ended with “here’s a hundred dollars for every lady who’s had a run at this marathon”. I squinted at the screen—only three lady runners? Out of the 100+ scheduled showings? Sure enough, though, this was the case, which left me, and many other women gamers, wondering: where are all the lady speedrunners at?
Speedrunners, as a community, present this image of acceptance, a group with tight bonds and mutual respect. They have to; it’s how the art survives. If not for people tirelessly searching through games, working pixel by pixel looking for new strategies, and then sharing their findings, I doubt the community would be where it is today. In that way, the speedrunning community is different than many others. The point isn’t (necessarily) to beat each other or the world record, it’s to share your findings and watch people use your techniques, maybe even improving on them to give birth to new techniques. And while you could easily compare this to, say, the meta game of League of Legends, what I find endearing is the emphasis on sharing, and more importantly supporting your fellow speedrunners as a new breakthrough for one means a new breakthrough for all. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the community is a paradise away from the typical gamer bullshit.
When watching various other streamers, I’ve never heard anything foul about speedrunners or the community. Needless to say I was perplexed as to why I’ve barely even heard of any lady speedrunners when I, as someone on the speedrunning periphery, have still managed to hear of so many dudes. However, in the end the reasons are the same ones that have been for all time, and thinking about it, it makes sense.
Upon reading the opinions of some women who speedrun, or who have a vested interest in running any game at whatever speed, it seems the most common reason for a lack of “voice” in the mainstream is a lack of time (if they want to have themselves on video in any way at all). Which, yeah, if you’re not partnered with Twitch, making your living from views, you have to make money another way. Additionally, sometimes you just don’t want to stream: you’re sick, you’re tired, you’re just over it, whatever. Secondly, everything about the situation can be exhausting. Gaining the notoriety to pull off a panel at AGDQ would mean having a somewhat steady schedule of streaming and a decent fanbase (or some foothold in the community), which in and of itself can be stressful. Even more so if they edit videos to then upload to YouTube. And that’s not even getting into the speedrunning process itself. As former speedrunner Narcissa Wright discussed in an interview with Kotaku:
“Certain parts of practicing were really annoying. And it does come down to this endless grind of like… you’re just sitting there and sort of waiting for everything to come together. And it’s so unlikely that it’ll come together [in any individual run] that it’s just sort of maddening. … [in a discovered route of Ocarina of Time] there’s, like, a 23 percent chance of something happening. If it does, you can continue the speedrun past the first eight minutes or so. So you have to play perfectly for eight minutes, and then only 20 percent of the time or so, you’ll actually get to continue. That’s incredibly frustrating.”
Those kinds of odds are infuriating to deal with, and I honestly can’t blame anyone with not wanting to deal with that in a marathon setting, even with save states being a thing.
In the end, though, what it really boils down to is the same old sexist tripe that women have to deal with in any gaming space. The instant a woman enters the fray, chats blow up with whatever ignorant, sexist bullshit they can come up with: it’s like clockwork. While mods of the chat can ban specific users, in a setting like AGDQ, there are simply too many people speaking too quickly to ban all of them. When doing something you enjoy, who really wants to deal with the toxicity.
From what I’ve seen of the speedrunning community as a whole, they are quite nice and accepting of anyone who wants to give speedrunning a shot. But this doesn’t mean that they are completely exempt from trash among their ranks. This very same AGDQ, a runner made allusions to sexually assaulting an NPC, along with some other off-color jokes. Though he was reprimanded by staff, he clearly has no idea that he even did something wrong, or holds any remorse for the entire section of speedrunners he made uncomfortable.
I understand the reasons why such things aren’t called out as they happen, because AGDQ, during the event, has to be focused on fostering an atmosphere where people want to donate. Indeed, AGDQ, in the past, has been pretty good about dealing with sexual harassment and other such things. Yet, if this tweet is to be believed and the runner comes back the next year, AGDQ is additionally fostering an environment where women won’t feel comfortable attending, destroying any pretense they have about speedrunning being “for everyone”.
After AeonFrodo’s run ended, a donation was received from a mother and her daughter (or it could have been an aunt and her niece, I can’t exactly remember). While it seems like the donation comment didn’t make it onto the archived videos, the woman spoke about how excited her young relative was at seeing a girl playing through a game on the big screen. That this young girl was now inspired by Aeon. This is what AGDQ, and everything really, should be shooting for: to inspire the groups who aren’t well represented to know that they can be represented. I sincerely hope that AGDQ will deal seriously with those who would detract from this, and that they realize what a great platform they have for female representation in a supportive community. And to any female speedrunner out there who may have tried to get into any Games Done Quick event and didn’t make it, I urge you to keep trying. You are fantastic, and you are important. Please don’t ever forget that.