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So to end my foray into talking about speedrunning, I wanted to reveal my frustrations with the process. Specifically, the frustrations that caused me to go on a brief hiatus – which is still ongoing, but should be ending within a week or two.
With as much success as I’ve had in speedrunning during the past several months, and the enjoyment that success has brought, it becomes progressively harder to chase those highs. Especially with so much else to do. There does not need to be any particular event that causes burnout, but it’s important to watch out for that burnout and realize what to do about it.
The nice thing about this story is that it is short: I was able to recognize the problem quickly and identify a solution.
The No Good, Very Bad Day
So every Monday afternoon I would do practice runs on stream. I would block off about two and a half to three hours for the purpose, enough to do three runs if I’m doing well – rarely the case. The most likely scenario would be several attempts resulting in some failures and resets, and then maybe one or two decent runs that got to the end.
One rule I set for myself once I broke my first time goal of 45 minutes was that I would reset upon (unintentionally) dying. If I was near the end of a run and then made some stupid mistake, then I would need to reset. The purpose of that rule was to prepare myself and get used to those failures. In addition, it could help me stop to identify potential problems so I could practice later.
The downside of this rule, of course, is that all it takes is a bad day to result in no completed runs. That’s what happened a few weeks ago.
After practicing a couple of tricks to help shave off some time, I started up the stream and got down to brass tacks. The first run was going quite well, definitely on a pace to beat my best time. And then I died in a section which has admittedly given me trouble from the very beginning.
Okay, that’s understandable. Just reset and try again.
I did just that…and died at the same spot.
Given it took me about 30 minutes to get to that point, it was a bit disheartening to have an hour of progress go down the drain. Especially after all the practice I’d put in – practice that in part was devoted to this very section of the game.
But the day wasn’t over. And this was, after all, the point of the rule. Just reset and try again. No need to let this get me down.
Although the simple fact of the matter was that I could feel it all weighing on me. I was making really simple mistakes – mistakes I have seen other runners make, but which I felt like I shouldn’t be making. A failed run later, I was back at the beginning.
Reset and try again.
One more attempt.
Now to help set the scene: if you’re unfamiliar with speedrunning, runners use a program to time their runs. This program allows you to divide your timer into segments called “splits,” which mark a certain section of the run. That way you can get a sense of where you might be doing well, and where you might need improvement. And to know when you’re on a good or bad pace.
The way the “split” works is that the timer rolls over to the next segment once something has been done. You could, for instance, tell the program to roll to the next segment when you press a particular button (some runners might have a foot pedal or keyboard at the ready for this). In many cases, the program can automatically detect when you cross a threshold and essentially press that button for you (this, of course, all being thanks to the hard work of people who set up the program to know what those thresholds are and identify them).
So of course, you come to rely on that program for keeping track of things. It is incredibly helpful, especially if it works automatically. And having some kind of program is necessary for making your run official.
And when it doesn’t work…things really fall apart.
So one more attempt.
Things were starting off decently. And then during the third or fourth section of the run, the program just decided to press the button and roll over to the next segment.
That may seem minor, but it actually screws up the timing for everything else. Firstly, because the program also keeps track of you current time against your best time…so now you have no clue whether you’re doing well or poorly on a given segment. But secondly and more importantly, the timer would end up stopping the run early. Which means even if the rest of the run were to go really well, it would basically be impossible to tell.
At that point I snapped.
I was feeling cheated and angry – at the game, at the program, and even a bit at myself. I needed to just stop. I needed a break.
And making that decision was the right call. Speedrunning is entirely voluntary. It’s not a job – at least not in my case. There is a massive amount of stress involved in the process, and subjecting myself to it continually does not aid my mental health.
And this would be true for anyone. Any personal challenge we set for ourselves necessarily creates stress. Speedrunning, a hardcore run of a game we like, even just trying to tackle a game that is notoriously difficult. All of these things are weights that we need to be aware of. And we need to have exit strategies. Whether that exit is giving up or taking a break or consulting a guide or altering the goal. Stepping back and saying “this is something I have chosen to do…do I really want to continue, and if so, why?” is necessary. Which is not to say that the answer to the question is to stop entirely. But rather to examine our relationship to these goals and games.
My own journey, for instance, isn’t done. My plan is to continue practicing, but I just needed a break. In truth, I even look forward to resuming the practice. But in the meantime, I’m just doing something else.
Speedrunning may be fun, but at its heart it is competitive. Even if you aren’t competing with other runners, you are competing with yourself. And the struggle that comes with all that can take a toll.
I share this bit of my story as a way of both reflecting and offering a kind of advice. Those who have considered or wish to get into speedrunning should see this as a warning. Not a warning to avoid the process. Rather, as a warning to be careful about your approach. Knowing when to just stop – permanently or temporarily – is a useful skill. Burning out will likely happen, and the only question is if you want that burnout to be the end of your speedrunning, or just a bump along the path.