Script outline and thumbnail below the fold!
I want to talk to you about something new about something old and in the process, share old words abotu something timeless.
First of all: I’ve been playing a lot of The Swindle lately.
On Christmas Day, I signed up for speedrun dot com. See, I knew I was probably? One of the fastest Swindle players in the world. I’d shown my times to Dan Marshall, and then looked around the internet to try and find if there were other people who had done a better run than I had. I couldn’t find any. And the run I was planning on submitting had a ten minute sit-around-do-nothing period, what the hell.
Well, I figured at some point, someone else would do it and I’d find out I was in fact, quite bad at The Swindle. But nobody did. And I kept checking on Speedrun.com and find that nope, nobody done it yet. Nobody else done it yet. I realised, as GDQ bore down upon me that if in fact nobody’s done it, then nobody’s going to do it, until someone cares enough. And if nobody cares but me, well…
It’s a free trophy, isn’t it?
This was the journey into exploring what it took to set up the Swindle’s Speedrun Dot Com page. First thing I had to do was sign up for an account. Then, reading the paperwork to make sure I wasn’t doing anything shifty, I went and checked to see if I was set things up. I needed to wait seven days, and …
That’s when began the waiting.
Seven days to do a thing is just the right amount of time to let my brain go squirrelly.
First things first is, I kind of wonder why I never did anything about it before now? I mean I kind of do know, I just can’t see it as a good reason. I think I never bothered to make the Swindle’s speedrunning archives because that was something for speedrunners to do. Proper speedrunners. People who are good at it and are friends with speedrunners and who merit respect as speedrunners. People who are in the discord, people who are either in the trash human cateogry who think bonesaw did nothing wrong, or the cool people I see on Games Done Quick.
It is extremely strange to me to reflect on this but I genuinely wasn’t interested in making the speedrun leaderboard. I wanted it to be there, so I could slink into the back of the classroom and submit my scores so that all the people doing the infrastructural stuff, all the people doing the work, they could do their thing and I wouldn’t have to do anything or say anything.
I was neglecting that speedrunning is a social experience. I was neglecting the speed of crowds.
Part of my job is putting what we call text into a position where you can see the lines that connect it to the things that may have been responsible for its creation or things that may help you understand the way that that text in ways it may or may not be intended. The way I describe it to students who are dismissive of the difficulty of the degree is that media studies is merely the study of how literally every human being interacts with every other thing that exists or doesn’t exist. This can be deeply confusing for people who want experts to give them meaningful answers, to be consulted directly and spit out a useful or usable answer, which we kind of just don’t tend to do in media studies, because so much of what we’re dealing with is examining culture which runs on a level that is simultaneously saturating through and yet also the surface that everything else runs on and beholden to their forces in a sort of whole general mish mosh of stuff.
Point is that you come to this blog to hear someone who’s got a lot of practice writing this blog, and by ‘hear’ I mean ‘read’ and by ‘read’ I mean what Marshall McLuahn referred to as making an ear of an eye, which is some body horror shit right there but the point is that that thing I did there where I dropped someone you never heard of but you could look them up on google and be told they wrote a bunch of books and they have a wikipedia page and were probably a skeevy sexist or racist and you don’t wanna necessarily go digging into their books yourself so you’re happy to let me serve as an interpreter because the odds I’m that bad aren’t so bad, that sort of intercessionary media is kind of what I do and when it comes to speedrunning, I need to pull off some impressive bullshit to try and relate this work to a greater academic space in a way that’s funny or engaging.
I’m not about to write a piece like Speedrunning Science, nor my nameless foe’s beautiful introductory and expanded primer, and there are funnily enough not a lot of people who had opinions on how this kind of thing worked, though I think with some minor contortions I could get you to ‘Roger Caillois thinks that speedrunning isn’t a game, but speedrunning with twitch chat live is.’
What I do want to talk about though is how speedruns are an interesting form of collaborative art, which may seem a little weird to those of you who watch these events where you get to see a runner executing a run a sort of gamer tribute when we refer to people as the best or world leader or the fastest or next level or whatever wording you favour when you hear these people described as the people who try over and over and over again, missed the first split, break, try again, missed the first split, try again, bad first level spawns, reset, try again, even if maybe you notice the way that every single one of those runners will espouse that their community is literally the best and they’re all so great and this trick, this Greg Egg Trick, all of that, all of that can be seen as a sort of breathless, collaborative communal composition.
DwangoAC, the spokesperson for TASBot, has drawn a direct parallel between TAS (or tool assisted speedruns okay I guess I’ll do a bit of nomenclature), and the historical device of a player piano. The player piano is a machine that’s designed to be played – it’s a piano, after all – but it contains within it a device that lets you feed into it someone else’s composition and let the machine play itself. The composition, the paper you feed into the player piano, is itself a sort of coding for the machinery, and that composition is made by the work of multiple people, coming together to form a rendition that you can replay in your home.
This vision of a machine that plays itself being a form of play is extremely interesting to me, especially as a games studies… person… where the question of what new and weird forms of gameplay even are, with my massively permissive vision of game definition. I’ve argued that players watching a game on twitch and contributing via chat are playing a game (though not the same game as the person they’re watching), it’s just the control mechanism is extremely obtuse, and that they’re playing a game with the person playing the game.
When you’re watching a speedrun, the metaphor of music is applicable once again, because every speedrun is not just the execution of the one runner in front of you but the combined and contributed effort of an orchestra of people who have played alongside that person, encouraging them and showing them techniques, helping them practice, driving them to succeed, filling out leaderboards and showing them what can be done, what can work as the communal effort shaves the techniques and design down, and down, and down, as if you have a composition of a single whole piece, where the orchestra perform it in isolation but each composer is working on nailing down sometimes sections as small and as refined as a single
Speedrunning is cool, and the best speedruns can, for all that it’s a meme, be the product of an amazing community… and that is, people who are putting in the work to maintain that social structure. I’m not saying mods are the most important people in the world, but because I’m going to be one now, I guess it’s in my best interest to at least imply it.
I was thinking about this as I waited to request the board. I knew I had a run that was a personal record, but I hadn’t checked it in a while. During this waiting period, I went and watched it and found to my surprise, an it has a weird black clip in it… and I think I cut something out. Maybe it’s a discord ding while I was standing still, maybe it was an email popup, maybe it was cutting out a long period of standing still that I thought didn’t impact the short-days run version of the video. I don’t know. It doesn’t infringe on the day count, but I am pretty confident that this video isn’t a valid speedrun.
Easiest way to get a single, clean speedrun, then, is to just do it.
Except to my immense embarrassment, I couldn’t.
Fast forward a few more days. My speedrun account was now old enough to request games. I punched in the link to go request it, and found that I needed to enter my social media info to make sure I could request a game. This makes sense! This is because they need someone to moderate the game I’m asking for, and turns out that by asking for the board I am indicating I am at least one of the people interested in it and that means suck it up, buttercup, it’s time to become a mod.
I also had to confront another ongoing question here, which is how do I relate to twitter? I know I still am on twitter. This blog post is being shared to twitter after all. But I’m not posting there as part of my intentional attempt to be more present on other places I don’t have the same ethical objections to. But on the other hand, the point of having these social media contacts is so that people can ask me questions – and weirdly, cohost (for example) isn’t good at that. Weird! Anyway, I provided a bunch of access points (like my tumblr, for those of you who are into that), and put in the request.
I got asked some questions and one of them was wanting a video of my run. But I hadn’t been able to successfully pull off a Henry Beresford Swindle, so I didn’t have anything to share. Okay okay back to the archives, did I ever finish a Swindle in a way that didn’t have anything edited out of it…?
I did! A fifteen-day, one-hour run, which I titled The Full Henry Beresford? That makes it the best provable speedrun I’d ever done!
I linked that in the form, I checked all the info I’d provided, and sent it away.
I was then told, okay, great, we’ll get back to you in one to four weeks, provided there’s nothing major going on like, um, say, a speedrunning marathon? That should be? Going on? Now?
But I am undeterred. This video is going up not just to direct you to ‘hey, there’s a Swindle speedrun category now’ (and there should be, eventually, and I’ll update the video description as is appropriate when it is), but also to step you through the actual process to hopefully prepare you if you’re easily thwarted by modest resistance (broden saying ‘a form? fuck that off!’) and I guess…
to put it out there.
There’s a world record holder for the Swindle now. It’s me. I’m holding it for now. You can probably beat it.
If you’re better than me.
Come get it!