This week, a few thousand people will gather in a hotel in America.
For the next seven days — for 24 hours a day — they’ll be playing video games really fast. So fast, it’s known as speedrunning.
But outside of that hotel, hundreds of thousands of people around the world will watch via the internet.
And between them all, millions of dollars will be raised for charity.
Welcome to Games Done Quick.
Gotta go fast
Speedrunning is playing a video game like you’ve probably never seen before.
Playing a game normally might involve following a story, trying to beat your friends or rounding up collectibles.
Speedrunning involves only one goal — beating the game as fast as possible. There are no cheats used, but players will use glitches in the game’s code to break things in spectacular ways to save a few seconds.
Here’s what a regular person playing the classic Super Mario 64 looks like:
A speedrun of the same level of Super Mario 64, one of the most popular (and competitive) games run, looks like this:
Challenges you spent hours on will take a speedrunner seconds to beat.
Bosses you struggled for days against will be skipped by a speedrunner by teleporting through a wall.
More than once while watching, you’ll stare at the screen baffled, and ask no-one in particular “HOW?”.
How breaking video games became a force for good
Games Done Quick charity speedrunning marathons are held twice every year, but this January marks the 10th anniversary of its marquee event, Awesome Games Done Quick.
The very first event, held at the house of one of the participants, raised $10,000 for charity.
Last year’s events raised more than $US5 million ($7 million) for charities like Doctors Without Borders and the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
Kasumi ‘Sumichu’ Yogi is the director of marketing and business development for Games Done Quick.
“It’s a really interactive event that ultimately is a lot of really talented people playing video games very quickly,” she said.
“Viewers can donate to add on additional challenges, to send in messages to be aired during the event or to choose between different games.”
Sumichu says the growth of Games Done Quick has closely mirrored the rise of video games and live streaming.
“More people know about live streaming. More people are able to watch people play video games. More people validate the existence of watching video games as, you know, the same thing as watching reality television,” she said.
The growth has established Games Done Quick not only as a major event on the gaming calendar, but one of the community’s biggest forces for good.
Over 10 years, Games Done Quick has raised more than $US22.5 million.
A run at Games Done Quick can be intense, even if it’s all just for charity. (Games Done Quick)
Why not just play games the normal way?
AeonFrodo is an Australian who’s been speedrunning games for almost five years and who’s got a swathe of world records to her name, including two in the last month.
“It’s very goal-orientated, and you can set them for yourself,” she said.
“Speedrunning is more of a personal journey and for me has helped me a lot with my mental health.”
Fellow Australian speedrunner JRP will be one of the first people playing in front of a massive audience at this week’s Awesome Games Done Quick event.
It’s not the first time he’s done it — his maiden outing was in a race against other speedrunners.
“Instead of having like, 40 people watching me, there was nearly 200,000 people,”
For players like JRP, speedrunning is about getting the most out of a game you love by becoming the best you possibly can at it. And that means practice. Sometimes hundreds of hours of it, perfecting just one jump.
To learn a new game, JRP said he can take months or even years before he’s good enough to start posting times that challenge world records.
“It’s pretty much like learning an instrument. You’ve got to practice, you improve and you just get better at it,” he said.
Going fast … and making space
The online communities that Games Done Quick grew out of — video games and Twitch streaming — can be outright hostile towards women and the LGBTQ community.
But Games Done Quick events are different. Runners who are transgender or have disabilities feature prominently at the bi-annual charity marathons. Outside of the main show, the organisation hosts all-female events featuring the best women speedrunners.
“I think that us providing this inclusive, safe space for people just to be themselves and to feel comfortable and safe is one of our biggest successes,” Sumichu said.
“I really hope that a lot of people around the gaming space will see how much of an impact that has on the happiness of the community and work to implement similar things into their events and livestreams.”
Back home in Australia, AeonFrodo is part of the Australian Speedruns group that has raised $17,000 this year for charity, including more than $2,000 recently for bushfire relief efforts.
She says the group is always happy to help new people learn the ropes of speedrunning.
Records get broken at Games Done Quick
Everyone is trying go really, really fast after all.
But there is one record everyone behind the scenes will be keeping an eye on in 2020.
At the last event — Summer Games Done Quick in June 2019 — the charity marathon raised more than $US3 million for Doctors Without Borders.
Anticipation is high that the 10th anniversary event could raise even more.
Viewers can donate money to set challenges for speedrunners — like playing the entire game blindfolded. (Games Done Quick)
Sumichu can vividly recall the moment the $US3 million barrier was broken — the most a single Games Done Quick event had ever raised.
“I had a mic on me because there is a documentary crew filming and I had to turn it off because I was freaking out and I didn’t want that to be heard,” she said.
“It wasn’t just our 41 staff members or the 250 volunteers but hundreds of thousands of people who just really enjoy speed running.
“That … is so cool.”
Awesome Games Done Quick begins on Monday January 6 and runs for seven days. You can watch the event live on Twitch.