Speedrunning: Transgressive Play in Digital Space

Abstract

In How To Do Things With Videogames, Ian Bogost argues that videogames offer “an experience of the ‘space between points’ that had been reduced or eliminated by the transportation technologies that began with the train” (2011, 49). But when we watch a speedrun of a game such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD 1998), what we instead see is a player determined to destroy as much of that ‘space between points’ as possible. It is a game that takes most players tens of hours to complete, but is finished in just over 17 minutes by the best speedrunners, utilizing glitches that manipulate the game’s code to skip enormous chunks of both the narrative and the gameworld. Once an underground hobby conducted between users swapping footage on obscure internet forums, speedrunning has shot into the mainstream in recent years following the rise of livestreaming platforms and livestreamed events such as Games Done Quick and the European Speedsters Assembly. So what does speedrunning mean as a mode of play, and what can it reveal about the relationship between player and gameworld? This paper examines speedrunning as a transgressive mode of play. Building on previous work on this topic by scholars such as Rainforest Scully-Blaker, I first aim to define speedrunning as a practice and then to explore its relationship with the space in the gameworld, the game’s narrative, and with the ideological and representational implications that arise from them. To do this, I bring in spatial, digital and videogame theorists such as Paul Virilio, Tom Apperley and Espen Aarseth, as well as work on other transgressive spatial practices such as parkour in order to see if and how they relate.

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