Every January, hundreds of veteran players gather to host one of the most popular events of the year. It’s a time of bus stop analogies, playground rumors coming to life, and games getting completed as quickly as possible while raising millions of dollars for cancer research. Last Sunday ended Awesome Games Done Quick 2023, the winter edition of the biannual Games Done Quick speed running marathon. This year’s event featured a race through a once-lost Zelda game, a fast-paced showcase of Dance Dance Revolution-inspired StepMania, and the first Mario World Record at a GDQ event in over a decade.
Games Done Quick was created in January 2010 by then Speed Demos Archive Administrator Mike Uyama during the MAGFest games fair in Maryland. Originally intended for the show floor, internet problems forced Uyama and over 20 runners into his mother’s basement for two straight days. The event raised over $10,000 for charity CARE, a humanitarian organization focused on fighting poverty and world hunger, and it has only grown from there.
Instead of two days in a basement, GDQ events now take up entire hotels over the course of a week, except for the pandemic and AGDQ 2023 – which was scheduled for Florida but was postponed online due to the Don’t Say Gay law and restrictions on coronavirus requirements. Instead of about 20 runners, this past event had over 150 players.
The most notable expansion, however, comes from the growth in donations. Last week, the AGDQ 2023 raised $2,642,493 for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Over the past 13 years, the total amount raised for charity has accumulated to over $41 million.
“I think the coolest thing about the GDQ is that it’s one of the ways that speedrunning reaches the masses and I’m grateful it’s this cool charity event,” said Kosmic, a full-time speedrunner and YouTube creator with over 165,000 subscribers. “Comments like, ‘Wow, you’re just wasting your life… why don’t you cure cancer instead of spending all your time playing video games?’ and it’s like, dude, that couldn’t be more ironic. We literally raise millions for [fighting] Cancer.”
During his time in speed running, Kosmic set 40 world records in games like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong 64. Some of these records were earned by just milliseconds. In Super Mario Bros., it took years to tweak a single level, 4-2. Kosmic believes the skills on display give speedrunning its mass appeal.
“Video games in general are just popular, and so people who enjoy sports enjoy watching them at a high level,” Kosmic said. “That is the same.”
One of the highlights of AGDQ 2023 was Tuesday’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 Any% race, where runners competed to beat the game by any means necessary as fast as possible. Nothing was off the table including glitches and two player mode. At two hours, 54 minutes and 51 seconds, speedrunner Jhay set the category world record, a rare sight during the GDQ. The previous record had stood for nine months and was beaten by less than a minute.
Jhay had spent the past week practicing live on Twitch, with streams lasting nearly 12 hours and several runs setting world record paces. Still, at the start of the race, Jhay couldn’t ignore the fact that he was playing in front of 80,000 spectators.
“I was so nervous,” Jhay said. “You could probably see it in the first few levels… my in-game cursor was shaking a lot.” He felt more comfortable during the run, and in that magical moment of touching that final star, he entered a completely different state of being.
“I don’t think I’ve ever partied this hard in my life,” he said. “Even in the video you can see me running away like crazy at the end…I was speechless.”
The other runners were also incredible with times in the all-time top 15. For Jhay, this event was more than just a world record for him, it was an opportunity to showcase a game he loves with members of a community he loves. “Just being able to show what I’m doing in my game and the Galaxy community itself has been such a good experience.”
Another community that garnered attention this year was Mega Man, with a Mega Man ZX run on Thursday and two more on Saturday. Max, known online as OneOneTwo, is an occasional speedrunner, twitch streamer, and admin on the r/MegaMan subreddit and discord server.
“It’s just wonderful to see these games being more represented… I feel like people, especially ‘Mega Man’ fans, kind of overestimate how popular the show is,” they said. “Not just seeing people play [“Mega Man ZX”] more but showing why the game is so unique…it was really cool.”
One of Max’s favorite parts of GDQ is the accessibility that livestream commentators bring to speedrunning during runs.
“I think what GDQ does best is explain how tricks work,” they said. “One thing I’ve noticed is that when people try to get into speed running games, they often don’t know where to start because they don’t understand how the mechanics and tricks work.”
Whether you choose to learn the mechanics or not, Kosmic, Jhay, and Max had the same advice for those looking to start speedrunning: just give it a try.
“You have nothing to lose,” Jhay said. “It might be difficult at first, but as long as you put in the time and the motivation, you can do it. You can do everything. It doesn’t [take] a special person who is good at speed running, just someone with a lot of dedication.”