Human Perfection


PJ Smith



The speedrunner aims for perfection, swiftly executing a series of actions with milliseconds to spare. Speedrunners aim to beat a game as quickly as possible. Even if it takes over a thousand attempts, they will do whatever it takes to capture the world record. Imagine the stress as the sweat beads grow on your head as you channel your focus into a game. Making a single mistake can end the run of your life, but when you complete it you see living proof that it is possible to master something. 

Let’s take Super Mario Bros., a true classic. If you were one of the lucky few to play it, you probably weren’t that good at it. The NES’s controller certainly did not help in combination with the difficult platforming and enemies. This is undoubtedly a tough game, but it was absolutely obliterated by speedrunners in under 5 minutes.

This run is packed full of perfect button inputs, glitches that seem impossible but are executed in a way that looks so simple. The world record speedrun, comes in at 4 minutes, 54 seconds, and 881 milliseconds, which beat the previous by only 33 milliseconds. Crazy enough this speedrunner even had a heart rate monitor on his stream, which towards the end of the run reached 180 beats per minute, the heart racing like its life or death.

One thing that really stands out about speedrunning is the pure scale of it all. I could look up any game and find someone that absolutely crushes me at it. When I was a kid I had many fond memories of playing Mario 64, running around beating as many levels as I could and trudging myself to the finish line over the course of a month. Now, I search for “world record Mario 64” and I see somebody phasing through walls, piloting Mario as if he was Usain Bolt, beating a game from my childhood in under 8 minutes.

At first, it’s hard to grasp how a speedrunner could condition themselves to ram their head into a wall, over and again, until they get it right, but science may say otherwise. In fact, in “The Psychology of Speedrunning” by Alexander R. Toftness, he claims that in examples of intense, high-skill repetition it is possible the brain may enter a “flow” state. In a flow state, muscle memory takes over and it becomes possible to make all of these inputs with relatively low stress. It is possible that high level speedrunning is a result of gamers unintentionally rewiring themselves to an automated state of play. 

Speedrunning as a whole, is a sport of attrition. Maybe it’s a game slowly breaking down the player, who is trying over and over to beat that final boss and chooses to quit. Or maybe it is the player, who gradually breaks down the game and actively conquers its levels and systems in order to master it.