Speed-runners inhabit a unique segment of video game culture. They take something that most people think of as a leisure activity and turn it into an adrenaline-fueled, flop-sweat-inducing test of physical and mental abilities. They push themselves to the brink of insanity all in the name of shaving a few seconds off of their Super Metroid or Legend Of Zelda time. But who exactly are these people? How fast can they really go? And how did they get to be so damn good at video games?
Speed-run aficionado Summoning Salt attempts to answer these questions in his ongoing World Record Progression series on YouTube. Beginning in January of this year with the fastest TKO in the final round of Mike Tyson’s Punchout (a record that Summoning Salt himself currently holds), each successive video takes on a new video game and goes into incredibly granular detail on the speed-running history associated with it. Using a combination of archival footage, screenshots from early-2000s message boards, and more recent Twitch streams, Summoning Salt provides an impressive amount of detail on these records, especially considering the pace at which he’s producing videos.
As Summoning Salt explains, achieving a world record usually comes down to traditional skills, speed, and knowing how to manipulate some sort of glitch, like the “prop climbing” technique seen in his recent Half Life 2 video. This Super Mario 64 video details the history of the “backwards long jump” technique that first appeared in grainy footage someone filmed by pointing a camera at their television back in 2003.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this series is seeing the various reactions the professional speed-runners have when they’re fortunate enough to break a world record. Some erupt in joyous, uncontrollable laughter, some shake their heads in disbelief, and some simply stare at their screen with the dead-eyed look of a man who’s played the same 15 seconds of a video game over and over for the past month. It really runs the gamut.
But the prevailing thesis of the World Record Progression series is clear: However unbeatable a record might seem, someone will eventually beat it. This only adds to the suspense of what, in less capable hands, could be just a boring rundown of gaming statistics. Instead, you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat hoping some guy in a dank basement somewhere can get a World 7 Wrong Warp in Super Mario Bros 3. It shouldn’t be, but it’s thrilling.