Elden Ring Is Further Establishing Speedrunning As An Art Form
Speedrunning for a long time has been misunderstood. When many people think of speedrunning, they consider it to mean 'playing a game very quickly', an assumption that makes perfect sense. However, it's also completely wrong. To think of speedrunning as simply beating a boss as fast as possible is to completely misunderstand what speedrunning is as an artform, and hopefully the huge wave of popularity Elden Ring speedrunners have gained will see a greater appreciation for what speedrunners do.
Initially, I dismissed speedrunning and just being speedy myself. Try as I have, I just can't find much entertainment in watching other people play video games in the form of esports or let's plays and the like. Even though I'm not as good as the esports pros, I can't shake the feeling that I'd just have more fun playing the video games rather than watching them. Even as a kid when a group of friends were all sitting around passing the controller each time we died, most of the time I was hoping they'd die so it would be my turn again.
Watching speedrunning is not like watching video games though, because speedrunning is not like playing video games. It's magic. It's art. If you want to get into speedrunning yourself, then sure, the best place to begin is to simply try to beat your fastest time completing any given task. Thinking of it like a race around a track, where every second counts and you must balance the risk and the reward, is the best way to begin. True speedrunning, however, is like a race with no track. You have to build and break the track as you go, plotting the best route on intuition. Once the time is set, you (and other challengers) can choose to use this new track you have assembled and simply shave seconds off the time, or can opt to build a newer, faster, better track in its stead.
Speedrunning is about figuring out that if you draw your sword as you jump off this ledge you end up respawning in the next area of the game. About knowing if you eat three bread rolls while facing south you can skip a boss encounter. About knowing which walls can be clipped through to escape a locked door. Essentially, it's about figuring out which parts of the game are broken and exploiting them to your will. You still need to be good at the game for the parts that work, but you mostly need to understand how and why the game doesn't work.
It takes a huge amount of imagination, mechanical skill, and precision to pull off a successful speedrun. You not only need to know all of these exploits, but execute them flawlessly and chain them together with perfect actions throughout the regular game. In something as vast as Elden Ring, where difficulty spikes lurk around every corner and each map seems unknowably huge, it's even more impressive.
The current speedrun record for Elden Ring is below seven minutes. The player in question, Distortion2, technically beat the game in that time, but nobody, not even Distortion2 themselves, would argue that seven minute run constitutes 'playing' Elden Ring. It's impossible to play Elden Ring, to experience what the game offers, in just seven minutes. This then should finally be proof positive for anyone still to be convinced that speedrunning is very different to simply running through a game at speed. Of course, Distortion2 is using knowledge from previous, much more complete playthroughs of Elden Ring, and has consistently shaved their time down in order to hit seven minutes – my argument is not that speedrunners do not know or play the games they speedrun. It is very particularly that speedrunning is an artform very separate to playing a video game, and is instead an exercise in mechanical excellence.
Elden Ring is not the only one fighting the good fight, of course. Awesome Games Done Quick is pushing speedrunning as a spectator sport, and is growing in popularity steadily, while Neon White seeks to gamify speedrunning as a tutorial in much the same way Umurangi Generation gamified photography tutorials. Still, given Elden Ring's huge reach, it feels as if that could have a major impact on how people perceive it.
It's clear Elden Ring will have a significant impact on the gaming landscape for the next few years, as studios cherry pick elements of world exploration from it and try to meld them with their own games. But it might also further establish speedrunning as a force to be reckoned with, and it will be fascinating to see where speedrunning goes from here.
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