Rainforest Scully-Blaker

Born and raised in Montreal, Rainforest Scully-Blaker is currently a graduate student in the first year of his MA in Media Studies at Concordia University. Through the university’s interdisciplinary TAG Research Centre, his current area of interest is speedrunning and the online community that surrounds this emergent gameplay practice.
Contact information:
fscullyblaker at gmail.com

A Practiced Practice: Speedrunning Through Space With de Certeau and Virilio

by Rainforest Scully-Blaker


This paper discusses the emergent gameplay practice known as speedrunning, or the process of completing a game as quickly as possible without the use of cheats or cheat devices, and its relation to games as narrative spaces. By using Michel de Certeau’s notion of a spatial practice and Paul Virilio’s discussion of the violence of speed as frameworks for the discussion, this paper articulates two conceptual definitions by which to classify speedruns - finesse runs and deconstructive runs. Finesse runs are those in which the narrative architecture of the gamespace is largely left intact while deconstructive runs are those in which Virilio’s violence of speed is on full display as de Certeau’s narrative boundaries are torn down by the player. Distinct from but vital to the discussion of speedrunning in relation to games as narrative spaces is an articulation of two sets of rules that a player encounters in a game - implicit rules and explicit rules. Implicit rules are those which exist by virtue of Huizinga’s Magic Circle, by virtue of an assumption that the virtual world of a game is whole. Explicit rules are those which actually govern the game, the rules that speedrunners seek out in an effort to circumvent entire sequences of gameplay. Speedrunning is shown to be a spatial practice within a spatial practice, or a Practiced Practice.

Keywords: speedrun, speedrunning, practice, speed, rules, exploit, gamespace, dromology, narratology


Completing a game as quickly as possible is a seemingly counterintuitive practice. For if, as Jesper Juul observes in half-real, the narrative architecture of a gamespace works as “a combination of rules and fiction”, then gamers known as speedrunners, those who attempt to complete a game as quickly as possible through any means other than inputting cheats, would seem to trespass against everything that a particular game is setting out to convey to its player (Jull, 2005, 163). For instance, what are we to make of the narrative traced by a glitched speedrun of Pokémon Yellow which, instead of being a story of one young boy’s quest to defeat all the other trainers in the land by catching different types of creatures, becomes a tale of a young man who leaves his house one morning and, instead of finding himself walking around Pallet Town, finds that he has warped to the Pokémon Hall of Fame where his victory is being archived despite the fact that he owns no Pokémon (See Fig. 1)? How do these apparently drastic rewrites of a game’s narrative relate to our discussion of games as narrative spaces?

In Chapter IX of his The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau writes that “[e]very story is a travel story - a spatial practice” (de Certeau, 1984, 115). He argues that any narrative must in some way be rooted in space, stating: “stories of journeys and actions are marked out by the ‘citation’ of the places that result from them or authorize them” (120). Though it is difficult to gauge how all-encompassing de Certeau’s discourse on spatial practice truly is, videogames can certainly fall within the purview of his discussion of “narrative actions” (116).

Fig. 1: The final screen of a glitched Pokémon Yellow run with the play time of 0:00 plainly visible. The textbox below shows the game’s attempt to provide a Pokédex rating to a player who never received a Pokédex, or a Pokémon, to begin with.

In their essay, The Art of Contested Spaces, Squire and Jenkins are quick to remind the reader that “[g]ame worlds are totally constructed environments. Everything there was put on the screen for some purpose -- shaping the game play or contributing to the mood and atmosphere or encouraging performance, playfulness, competition, or collaboration” (Squire and Jenkins, 2002, Web). They argue that the space in which a gameworld is situated is one that is fundamentally rife with conflict, whether it be a conflict between player and NPC or player and the environment itself. But what about those who take it upon themselves to navigate these “contested spaces” in new and vastly different ways (Ibid)? With regards to these players who stray from the beaten path, Katie Salen writes:

Because the creators of emergent systems, like generative music or games, can never fully anticipate how the rules will play out, they are limited to the design of the formal structures that go on to produce patterns of events. Sometimes the forms of play that emerge from these structures overwhelm and transform, generating rich and resistant outcomes. Sometimes, in fact, the force of play is so powerful that it can change the rule structure itself. (Salen, 2002, Web)

Speedrunning is, of course, one such emergent gameplay practice, one that often reappropriates or ignores these things that are “put on the screen for some purpose” (Squire and Jenkins, 2002, Web) [1]. For the sake of this discussion, I will use speedrunning to refer to the practice of players or ‘runners’ attempting to ‘travel’ from a game’s opening state at its first necessary button input to the game’s conclusion at its last necessary button input in the smallest amount of time possible.

Speedrunning in Game Studies

There is relatively little literature on speedrunning and the most common cause for an article to mention it at all is in referencing “Quake Done Quick” as an early form of Machinima. While this is certainly an important point, it is by no means the only way in which this emergent gameplay practice is relevant to game studies. Despite this apparent deficiency in existing game scholarship, there are still some pieces that are worth discussing for the sake of better understanding speedrunning’s current significance in game studies.

When Raakel Hämäläinen, Joni Salomaa and Joni Sivonen asked What Makes a Gamer Hardcore?, one “gaming subculture” that they argue is “not necessarily something a casual gamer would go for” is speedrunning (Hämäläinen, Salomaa and Sivonen, 2011, Web). After all, they argue, “if the player wants to make a respectable speedrun, he needs to learn just about every inch of the game he plays” (Ibid). Though many of their observations are now outdated (players now tend to livestream their runs rather than recording and uploading them, for example), their treatment of speedrunning still notably goes beyond a mere mention as historical footnote.

In his The Significance of Jeep Tag: On Player-Imposed Rules in Videogames, Felan Parker goes as far as to articulate a theoretical discussion of speedrunning, citing it as an example of “expansive gameplay”, the way in which some players “impose additional or alternative rules on videogames, in order to refine or expand game play and to create new gaming experiences” (Parker, 2008, 1). To Parker, speedrunning is a middle point of sorts, demonstrating a more “formalized and socialized” rule set than, say, an individual deciding to do a ‘pacifist’ run of an Elder Scrolls game, but still with a rule set that is less involved than the expansive gameplay practices in online multiplayer games such as ‘jeep tag’ in Halo 2 [2].

In their Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Salen and Zimmerman refer to games as “Open Culture”, that is to say that “the emergent, open-ended play of a game can occur on a cultural level; and that as an open system, games exchange meaning with their surrounding contexts” (Salen and Zimmerman, 2003, Web). When Henry Lowood refers to one of the first series of speedrunning videos, Quake Done Quick, as “a single-player show that combines virtual gymnastics, game engine analysis, trickery and expert gameplay”, he correctly associates the practiced practice of speedruns to this notion of Open Culture (Lowood, 2006, 34). Lowood quotes one of the makers of Quake Done Quick who described speedrunning as “’experimental physics in a whole new universe’” (35).

Finally, in Seb Franklin’s “We Need Radical Gameplay, Not Just Radical Graphics”: Towards a Contemporary Minor Practice in Computer Gaming, speedrunning is discussed at length, particularly regarding the way in which “speedruns place technical virtuosity and the will to distort software’s intended use at the heart of a mode of gameplay that pushes beyond” (Franklin, 2009, 176). He argues that speedrunning is “based around a potentially central concept in contemporary avant-garde practice, that of nonexistence in relation to software” (Ibid). In other words, for Franklin, speedrunners ignore a game’s coding, the digital equivalent of a referee to play games in an unprecedented, counter-stream fashion.

While all of these articles feature speedrunning in meaningful ways, I have been unable to come across any pieces on speedrunning proper. I offer this paper as a first step. By examining the concepts of space and speed first in general, then in the context of videogames, I will articulate two types of speedruns, finesse and deconstructive, and argue that these definitions properly take into account spatial practices. To properly accomplish this, I will also describe two types of rules, implicit and explicit and introduce them as a means to facilitate explaining how speedruns relate to a game’s rule sets. To begin, however, I believe that it is necessary to outline two sets of vocabulary: de Certeau’s language of space and Paul Virilio’s language of speed.

Space and Speed

In discussing the ways in which spatial environments can be navigated, Michel de Certeau creates a distinction between “places” and “spaces” (de Certeau, 1984, 117). A place is “an instantaneous configuration of positions”, an environment that exists in a vacuum. Places are theoretical and abstract. Space, on the other hand, “exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables” - in essence, a “space is a practiced place” (Ibid). A space is concrete. The example de Certeau provides to clarify this dichotomy is that “the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers” (Ibid). In this way, I would argue, game environments, too, must on some level be defined by how they are navigated by players.

De Certeau also articulates a dialectic that explains how we describe the navigation of spaces with what he calls a “map” and a “tour” (119). A map is a floor plan, it describes a location from the perspective of one who is not in it - in essence it describes a place (“’The girls’ room is next to the kitchen’” [Ibid]). Unlike a map, a tour directly implicates its audience into the active navigation of the location it describes - that is to say that a tour describes a space (“’You turn right and come into the living room’” [Ibid]). Directions more commonly come in the form of tours than in the form of maps and, in fact, maps would not be possible without the preliminary work established by tours. We can observe, then, that in the case of video games, the maps created by game designers give rise to many potential tours on which players may embark. This is perhaps most clearly realized if one considers game walkthroughs, but it applies to counter-stream approaches as well.

Finally, and perhaps the most important point from The Practice of Everyday Life as regards videogames and speedrunning, de Certeau argues that through narrative, an individual is able to mark out boundaries in a space. He writes:

These "operations of marking out boundaries," consisting in narrative contracts and compilations of stories, are composed of fragments drawn from earlier stories and fitted together in makeshift fashion (bricoles). In this sense, they shed light on the formation of myths, since they also have the function of founding and articulating spaces. (122-3)

In this way, narratives come to be used as a means to validate the demarcations imposed on a given space. While de Certeau goes on to discuss what bearing this has for the concrete world, we will soon discuss its significance in virtual spaces, particularly those spaces through which speedrunners trace tours other than those intended by game designers.

We now have an appropriate set of words for discussing the spatial element of speedrunning, but what of speed itself? In 1978, French intellectual Paul Virilio published a work entitled Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. In it, he describes the city as “a tapestry of trajectories, a series of streets and avenues […] subject to a police repression intended to control […] wanderings” (Virilio, 1986, 3). I am inclined to recall de Certeau’s maps to mind. These streets are realms of “intense circulation” which require a new sort of language - “the first form of expression to be truly animated and galvanizing”, as Virilio quotes from Joseph Goebbels. (4).

Virilio argues in the vein of Hegel and Marx that history has been driven entirely by a “circulation” of sorts (5). By amassing traffic, the streets themselves recall “the ‘pilgrim’s progress’, movement of progression […] towards something better” (7). In face of this focus on mass transit, Virilio argues that “speed” has come to signify “time saved in the most absolute sense of the world” (22). The rate at which an action occurs often changes the essential nature of that action and Virilio argues that those things that happen quickly tend to dominate those that do not.

Admittedly, Virilio mostly discusses speed in relation to new forms of warfare and the instantaneous, destructive action at a distance that is now possible through nuclear weaponry and missiles, but nonetheless he concludes in a much more universal way, stating that “the violence of speed has become both the location and the law, the world’s destiny and its destination” (151). As with de Certeau, we see in Virilio a focus that is far removed from any notion of a virtual world and yet this does not prevent us from applying his work to the digital realm. Networks, whether electronic or urban, are all built and travelled with intent and there are always those who seek to be the most efficient navigators.

In their work, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker modernize Virilio’s discussion of speed when they observe that “within protocological networks, political acts generally happen not by shifting power from one place to another but by exploiting power differentials already existing in the system” (Galloway & Thacker, 2007, 81). They make reference to hackers, who work within an established computer network, “discovering holes in existing technologies and projecting potential change through these holes” (Ibid). Electronic networks are maintained and exploited by the same speed and efficiency of action at a distance, that Virilio observes in military campaigns. Indeed, with all of this in mind, it is not difficult to associate the same power of speed to video games. One needs to look no further than Sega’s infamous ‘Blast Processing’ to see how important speed is for gamers and gaming [3]. But when we narrow our lens from video games to speedrunning, what are we to make of this emergent gameplay practice with reference to exploits, speed, and space?

Is Speedrunning Cheating? Implicit and Explicit Rules

Now that we have a sense of the ways in which space and speed have been examined in the past, we are ready to turn to speedrunning itself. In such a discussion, the question of whether or not such a play practice can be considered cheating must first be addressed. This is a self-imposed organizing principle on my part, as it would seem clear from my definition of a speedrun that cheating is forbidden. From my own observations of the speedrunning community this is, in fact, one of the more common claims made against the practice by spectators, meaning that the temptation to link speedrunning and cheating does exist. In addition to addressing this commonly-raised point, a discussion of cheating will offer us a way of moving into a discussion of what speedrunning means for the rules of a game as guaranteed by the game space.

In her study of cheating in videogames, Mia Consalvo explains that each player “define[s] cheating in their own terms”, but that, in essence, cheating consists of anything from skipping levels to giving a player character infinite health or ammo. In other words, cheating consists of breaking what I would call the game’s implicit rules rather than the game’s explicit rules (Consalvo, 2007, 5).

Of course a discussion of rules in games is by no means new, and yet I find it necessary here to develop my own set of terms rather than trying to synthesize what I can from existing models. For, while I agree with Jesper Juul in half-real that all games have rules which specify limitations and affordances, as I will show, speedruns are built around thwarting these limitations and finding affordances that a designer never conceived of when making their game. While a discussion of speedrunning from a design perspective is something that interests me, it is not my present line of inquiry and as such, Juul’s emergence versus progression cannot serve as my base here. Given the current limitations of speedrunning scholarship, I believe it is more fruitful here to conceive of rules from the perspective of the runner.

Although their analysis is made from the player’s perspective, I cannot rely on the extensive work done by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals either, for the simple reason that speedrunners do not relate to games in the same ways that players do. While it is indeed true that the runner’s dramatic rewrite of a game’s narrative in order to reach the ending as quickly as possible is a narrative just the same, to treat the narratives generated through speedruns the same as we do the narratives yielded by normal playthroughs without first having a set of terms to distinguish the two is not productive for understanding speedrunning as a practice. It is in this spirit, then, that I put forth the terms explicit and implicit rules.

To distinguish between what I mean by explicit rules and implicit rules, I will use the example of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998). Upon its release, this game’s control scheme and graphics made it one of the most realistic play experiences available. As a result, the average player would assume that their in-game avatar could not phase through doors and the game’s high-fantasy setting suggested that the player would not fight spaceships. These are what I would call implicit rules, or the rules that govern normal playthroughs, and it is important to note that these limitations and affordances are only put in place by what Consalvo (through Huizinga) refers to as the “Magic Circle”, or “the space apart from regular space” created by the action of virtual play (Consalvo, 2007, 6-7). This does not mean that these rules necessarily apply, however.

Both the example of phasing through doors and that of fighting spaceships are in fact things that the player can do in Ocarina of Time according to the game’s explicit rules (See Fig. 2 and Fig. 3). Explicit rules tend to be much more complicated to phrase, but let us use the example of an implicit rule: ‘you cannot phase through doors’. The explicit rule would be ‘you cannot usually phase through doors but in the Temple of Time, if you use the momentum of a properly timed side hop to clip your avatar through the wall slightly, you can jump through The Door of Time’.

This particular explicit rule is known as the Door of Time Skip in the speedrunning community and is only one of the many major tricks that skip entire chunks of gameplay (in this case skipping the first three dungeons). Such rules, though convoluted, reflect the real scaffolding of the game they apply to. These are the rules that govern speedruns (and necessarily any play session, although less immanently in the sense that the average player is not actively trying to clip through every door they find) [4].

Fig. 2: A screenshot of the famous Door of Time Skip in progress.

Fig. 3: A screenshot of Link battling an Arwing from Starfox 64. It is believed that the ship was implemented to test AI for flying enemies but that it was never removed from the game’s code.

In this sense, then, I would argue that while speedrunners clearly trespass against the implicit rules of certain games, they cannot be considered cheaters with reference to a game’s explicit rules, because explicit rules cannot be broken. In fact, if a game has been available for enough time, runners are often more familiar with the game’s explicit rules than those who designed the game.

To those who suggest that speedrunning is cheating, then, I would say that it is simply a matter of perspective. If one views speedrunning as an activity fundamentally attached to play and the Magic Circle, then the ‘cheater’ label is understandable, but I would argue that the realm of the Magic Circle and the realm of the speedrunner must be of separate species. It is for this reason that I disagree with Franklin’s assertion that speedrunning implies a “nonexistence in relation to software” (Franklin, 2009, 176). It is not that speedrunners ignore a game’s rules, but rather that they tear down the scaffolding of implicit rules to find the explicit rules that lie beneath.

If we return to Parker’s The Significance of Jeep Tag, there is a worthwhile comparison to be made with his fixed and imposed rules. Parker defines fixed rules as “rules that the player cannot refuse” and imposed rules as “rules created in the process of expansive gameplay” (Parker, 2008, 7). I would suggest that my explicit rules represent the most refined possible understanding of a game’s fixed rules. My implicit rules deal more with a player’s understanding of a game on a narrative level while Parker’s imposed rules are what construct the standardization of the meta-narrative, the rules for speedrunning [5].

A Language for Discussing Speedruns

While there exist multiple ways to classify speedruns under Parker’s imposed rules (see Note 5), I believe that all of these focus much more on the production aspect of the run rather than the way in which a runner acts within the game. To this speedrunning vocabulary, then, I propose to add a new concept - a division that has bearing on spatial practice. One can either record a finesse run or a deconstructive run.

I suggest that finesse runs are runs in which the player interacts with the game as an extreme extension of what a game designer may consider an ‘ideal’ player. Such a run uses no game-breaking glitches. In de Certeau’s terms, a finesse run represents the most efficient tour of the gamespace. It also largely respects the game’s ‘narrative boundaries’ while navigating them with an extreme level of efficiency. This can most often be observed in games whose implicit and explicit rules are similar. Virilio’s violence of speed is present, but only in a subtle and limited capacity. He writes, “revolution is movement, but movement is not a revolution” - I put forth that finesse runs are speed as applied to movement rather than a total revolution (Virilio, 1986, 18).

Deconstructive runs, on the other hand, are runs in which the player exploits glitches within the game to break scripted sequences and potentially skip several hours of gameplay altogether. To again use de Certeau’s terms, I believe that a deconstructive run dismantles narrative boundaries by transgressing both the literal narrative and the narrative implied by the design of the gamespace (the implicit rules). To prepare for a deconstructive run, a player must find specific ways to stray from the intended narrative tour and often has to understand the map of the place that is contained within the game’s code. With deconstructive runs, Virilio’s violence of speed is present in its fully literal sense. The player arguably ‘does violence’ to the narrative contained within the gamespace and finds a narrative for himself. I believe that deconstructive runs represent speed as applied to a revolution in both a spatial and narrative sense.

At this point, I would like to use two games from the same family tree to illustrate exactly what I mean. As a disclaimer, I would like to state that there is nothing that I know of to suggest that games of particular genres or from particular eras are more prone to being used in either finesse or deconstructive runs. The two examples that I have chosen are more representative of my personal experiences with gaming and speedrunning than they are of any notion of ideal games to speedrun. Serving as a case study for finesse runs will be Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo 1985) while the case study for deconstructive runs will be Super Mario 64 (Nintendo, 1996).

Andrew Gardkis’ Super Mario Bros. - A Finesse Run

Released in 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Mario Bros. consists of eight worlds, each with four levels. In spite of being relatively short by today’s standards, Super Mario Bros was one of the first games that could explicitly be finished, with completion times averaging somewhere around an hour (this time only resulting from multiple hours of trial and error a honing of the game’s spatial practice). The average completion time was shaved down over the years, as the game’s boundaries were better understood. The first run to garner significant attention occurred on February 26, 2004 when Scott Kessler travelled from the game’s opening screen to its closing screen in 5 minutes and 11 seconds. Andrew Gardkis officially completed the most famous speedrun of Super Mario Bros. on December 15, 2011 by entering the last necessary button input after 4 minutes and 58 seconds of gameplay (See Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: A screenshot taken the moment that timing officially stops in a Super Mario Bros. speedrun. The violence of speed is only detectable here if one knows that 314 is a particularly large amount of time to have left at the end of the stage.

What do we see if we watch Gardkis’ progression from the first player input (pressing start on the title screen) to the last (pressing the ‘A’ button at the right moment, causing Mario to jump towards a glowing axe which, when touched will send Bowser falling into a pit)? We see a near perfect example of a finesse run through Super Mario Bros. As Gardkis writes in the description of his run,

… I've enjoyed the competition and the fun I've had with this project for all these years now. I'm willing to bet that other players could match this time, even beat it by a few milliseconds, but I still think it will never be brought down to 4:57. I think this is as fast as it's gonna get. Unless something new is discovered, I think I'm done with this run for a while. I will probably go back to lower it further in the future, but I still don't think I will hit that perfect 4:57 [6].

(Gardkis, 2011)

Though he makes use of ‘Warp Zones’ and some design oversights (most notably the hitboxes of some enemies), these exploits are by no means what I would call game-breaking - they do not threaten the physical boundaries of the gameworld as established by the game’s narrative. And yet it is unlikely that the designers of Super Mario Bros. could ever have conceived of their game being beaten so quickly. Though this run does little violence to the narrative of the game world, we cannot suggest that Gardkis’ 5-minute play session represents normal gameplay practice. Instead, I believe that Gardkis’ play-style represents a form of practiced practice, both in the sense that the run took many hours of training but also in the sense that his approach to the spatial practice of playing through the game is so efficiently streamlined that it becomes a new practice unto itself.

FunilaSM64’s Super Mario 64 - A Deconstructive Run

As regards deconstructive runs, I will now draw your attention to the 1995 classic, Super Mario 64. This game revolves around the collection of stars, with the gameworld containing 120 in total. As players collect stars, new areas of the game became accessible to them. Players also have the unique opportunity to face the game’s final boss without all 120 stars, being able to legitimately beat the game with only 70, clocking average playthroughs at an hour or more. As a result, there exist many different categories of speedrun for Super Mario 64 ranging from 100% completion to 70-star and even 16-star runs. These are not the runs that I will be discussing, however.

On November 14, 2011, runner FunilaSM64 completed a “0-star” run of Super Mario 64 in 6 minutes and 41 seconds. I consider this run a perfect example of a deconstructive run for the way in which it completely breaks the gamespace down to a series of frames and punches holes through the game’s invisible walls. The run itself was once thought possible only in a ‘tool-assisted speedrun’ (TAS), meaning that a computer would be used to enter inputs into the game frame by frame allowing for a perfect execution based on current runner knowledge. Through a similar technique known as ‘pause buffering’ FunilaSM64’s run proved this supposition wrong.

By pausing the game until Mario’s animation reaches a particular frame, the runner was able to make his inputs with precision that would otherwise be humanly impossible. The process does not necessarily connote speed, but once the frames are strung together and Mario deals the final blow to Bowser having collected no stars, we can see Virilo’s revolutionary violence of speed in full effect (See Fig. 5). De Certeau’s narrative boundaries are torn down before our eyes as scripted events lose all sense of continuity and walls become mere suggestions rather than firm demarcations of how the journey is to be experienced. This run also represents the nature of speedrunning as a practiced practice, but in this case it is one that rewrites the narrative as it goes. My earlier example from Pokémon Yellow would also fall into this category. Players who wish to complete that game in 0:00 go as far as to rewrite the game’s RAM, compromising not only the spatial logic of the game, but suggesting that a game’s very code can be a set of implicit rules.

Fig. 5: A screenshot taken the moment that timing officially stops in a Super Mario 64 speedrun. Though the violence of speed is more obvious in video form, the fact that 0 stars have been collected is a clear anomaly.

Review of Terms and Conclusion

These, then, are what I consider to be the two types of speedruns:

Andrew Gardkis’ finesse run of Super Mario Bros. serves as an example of the ‘ideal player’ taken to near-absurd lengths. Everything that is done to accelerate the journey from the title screen to the defeat of Bowser falls under the rules and boundaries as established by the game’s narrative space. Speed is applied to spatial practice to such an extreme that I argued for such speedrunning being its own practiced practice, a way of approaching space that is both rooted in and transcends the standard layout of blocks, coins and Goombas.

FunilaSM64’s deconstructive run of Super Mario 64 represents a dismantling of all that de Certeau saw narratives as guaranteeing. Completing a game that is meant to be beaten in multiple sittings in just under seven minutes is one of the most extreme examples of a deconstructive run I could have chosen. Runs like this show that speedrunning is continually narrowing the list of ludic feats that can only be seen in a TAS. The run stands as an emblematic example of the violence of speed as well as a complete dismantling of the spatial narrative. It is not only a practiced practice in the same sense as a finesse run, but arguably transcends the logic of the gameworld even more so. If a finesse run is a sort of game within a game (or practice within a practice), then I believe that a deconstructive run may go a step further and become a game (or practice) all its own - a practiced practice of a whole other sort.

This is why I prefer my terminology to Franklin’s. While it may be true that speedrunners "pass through walls that are coded to be impassable [and] harmlessly touch enemies that are coded to do a particular amount of damage”, the amount of effort that goes into understanding all aspects of a game cannot, in my mind, indicate a “nonexistence in relation to software” (Ibid). Instead, I would suggest that speedrunning requires a heightened presence in the gamespace, a hyperexistence. While it may still be true that speedrunning is a “contemporary avant-garde practice”, it is more prudent to think of it as a Practiced Practice (Franklin, 2009, 176).


[1] My use of the term emergent here and throughout is in the sense suggested by Salen and Zimmerman and is not to be confused with Juul’s employing the term to refer to the “primordial game structure” in half-real (Juul, 2005, 5). His concepts of emergence and progression are both rooted within the design perspective, which, as I will show, is not as fruitful a perspective for my purposes as that of the runner.

[2] While what a pacifist run entails may be clear to all readers, the notion of Jeep Tag, perhaps, is not. From Parker: “The official rules of Jeep Tag are as follows:

1. One player is ‘it’ and drives an M12 Warthog all-terrain vehicle, scoring points by running over and killing players on foot.

2. All other players are equipped with rocket launchers and fragmentation grenades, and must try to stay alive while attempting to score points by killing the player who is ‘it.’

3. If the player who is ‘it’ is killed, the player responsible assumes the ‘it’ position in the Warthog, switching places with the killed player.

4. If the player who is ‘it’ is ejected from the Warthog but survives, gameplay is paused while he or she is given free passage back to the vehicle, and a head start of roughly two seconds before gameplay resumes.

5. The players who are not ‘it’ must not attack one another.

6. ‘Sticky’ plasma grenades, as well as all other weapons and vehicles are expressly forbidden.

7. At the end of a pre-defined time period, or upon reaching a certain score, the game ends, and the player with the highest combined score wins.” (Parker, 2008, 1).

[3] Blast processing is a term coined by Sega during the marketing of the Genesis. The company famously claimed that the console had a far better processing capability than the rival Super Nintendo console in a commercial that featured the Genesis strapped to a drag racing car that leaves the SNES (strapped to a jalopy) in its dust. The phrase was generally discredited as a marketing gimmick.

[4] Although my focus here is on implicit and explicit rules that govern game logic and game space, the same terms can of course apply to the other aspects of how a game works. In all cases, ranging from how items work to how points are calculated or even to how a game’s save system can be corrupted to allow one to rewrite the game’s RAM in the case of Pokémon Yellow, speedrunners still work to dismantle the implicit rules and trace the exact contours of a game’s explicit rules.

[5] Generally, the imposed rules that govern speedrunning are based on the game being run and often undergo multiple changes as an increasing number of people commit to running a game over time. Such imposed rules standardize aspects of speedrunning such as accepted versions of a game (console versus emulation) or how a run is timed (real time vs in-game timer).

[6] Gardkis was in fact proven wrong recently. While he has yet to get his time down to 4:57, as of June 25, 2014, the current record is 4:57.69 by a player that goes by blubbler. For a long time, Gardkis was working on bringing the time closer and closer to 4:58 flat from 4:58.89 to 4:58.09 most recently, but the current world record has surpassed even that milestone by coming within frames of the best tool-assisted time of 4:57.31.


Consalvo, M. (2007). Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.

De Certeau, M. (1984). Spatial Stories. In S. Randall (Trans.). The Practice of Everyday Life (pp. 115-130). Berkeley: University of California Press.

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URL of Werster’s Pokémon Yellow 0:00 run (as seen in Fig. 1):


URL of Runnerguy2489’s demonstration of the ‘Door of Time Skip’ (Fig. 2):


URL of TheNewerGuy’s demonstration of the Ocarina of Time Arwing (Fig. 3):


URL of Andrew Gardkis’ Super Mario Bros run (Fig. 4): http://speeddemosarchive.com/Mario1.html#norm

URL of FunilaSM64’s “0-star” run of Super Mario 64 (Fig. 5):


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