August 7, 2020

Speedrunning, Part 1

5:06 AM

This may be one of the last posts that I type out on this keyboard. It’s currently suffering from some mechanical defects: a few of the keys don’t respond immediately when pressed, the battery life is getting shorter, and sometimes the wireless connection cuts out entirely and I am unable to type at all. Not that any of this is relevant to the subject at hand, but it’s just a thought that comes to mind as I realize it has been a while since I’ve written anything at all.

If you scroll down to the very bottom of this blog, you’ll find posts from mid-2018, when I didn’t even own this keyboard yet, when I was typing most of these on a three-year-old MacBook Air during the summer between high school and college. I remember that all I wanted to do was create things and be productive, and I started writing these to get myself in the habit of making things and having little projects to accomplish. Things have changed a lot. Instead of a dinky little screen and a cafe in downtown Cupertino, I have a big bright monitor and a fancy mechanical keyboard in the comfort of my own apartment unit in the heart of Isla Vista. It feels a little better to write with this setup, but the stuff I’m writing is really no different. Some of these I wrote on my phone when I was waiting for the subway in New York. The outcome remains the same. Getting better tools or a more comfortable environment doesn’t really change the quality of what I produce. There are no shortcuts - for writing at least, in my own experience. I’m sure better tools can make quite a difference in some other creative applications, but words are always just going to be words. I suppose you can always change the font.

But I’m not just content with writing things. I don’t even expect anything out of these: this is just my personal blog that I update every once in a while with an introspective essay or life update, hardly among what I consider to be my most ambitious projects. In fact, I think that’s the reason I’ve been able to be so lax about the quality of these posts. This is probably the closest thing to a true hobby out of the many things I wish to be good at, maybe because I was never really too concerned with always improving or creating something amazing. Writing has always been something I’ve been kinda okay at, and because writing doesn’t really get too far these days on its own, I’ve never really cared too much about whether I was bad or not. Recently, I’ve found myself questioning whether I feel the same about the rest of the things I do. Graphic design, drawing, coding, and music are definitely activities that I struggle to do absentmindedly. I’m always worried about the timeline. Am I improving fast enough? Will I be able to finish this project in time for it to be actually relevant? Will this be good enough for people to accept? How good should I get? There are just too many questions to ask and too many ambitions to fulfill. Dreams are good motivation, but go too far with your imagination and you will come to expect things out of yourself that are neither healthy nor plausible.

Impatience is probably one of the most prominent themes of my lifestyle. I lie awake at night wondering what could happen if I utilized my time perfectly the next day, or the next week even. How much could my future change if I just did this and that? I just can’t wait to see the results of my actions. I have to know for sure whether the practice that I do today or the work and effort I put in for these months is actually going to have a lasting result or finished product in the future. I’m trying to make sure that this imaginary future plan of events that I’ve envisioned in my head actually comes to fruition, always thinking that one day I’ll wake up and create the perfect piece of content that was scheduled for that exact moment, and everything will be good.

It’s such a strange paradox. I don’t want to spend time on a “bad” project like an ugly sketch or a failed design idea, I want to just skip through all of it and go straight to my masterpiece. Sounds very nice on paper, of course, except for the fact that it is not logical or consistent with reality at all. That’s just simply not how things work. Yes, most of the work and effort that I spend will go to waste, meaning that it won’t result in an actually presentable product. But going through those bad times and failures is the only way I’ll get to become better and one step closer to actually fulfilling that goal. For some reason I always trick myself into thinking the rules don’t apply to me. I can watch every tutorial on double speed and just halfheartedly work on beginner projects because I’m just too good, right? I don’t have time for this introductory stuff, I’m destined to just succeed immediately and be the greatest. But it’s not true. No matter how special and smart I am and how much motivation and room to dream I was given as a child, there is no shortcutting around the fact that skill only comes through being bad for quite a while.

There is a rather niche community of gaming known as speedrunning, in which players compete to finish a game the fastest, employing tricks and even glitches in order to lower the time it takes to speed through the story and get from start to finish in the lowest amount of time possible. A special category of this is labeled “any%”, and refers to the fact that the run is valid as long as the player reaches the end, no matter how much of the content or achievements the player skipped along the way. This stems from the concept of “percent completion” of a game, as some games are designed to allow the player to complete a certain amount of tasks or extra achievements. Fully completing a game and exploring everything the developer put into the game is known as “100%ing”, hence the opposite being named after the ability to complete the run at “any percent”.

Speedrunning is cool and quite interesting, but to say that speedrunning is the correct way to play games would be a gross misunderstanding of the fundamentals of why the game was created in the first place. A grand story and adventure was designed for you to fully experience and immerse yourself in. To completely ignore the first playthrough and dive headfirst into speedrunning would be to deprive yourself of the emotions and feelings you would normally get from just playing the game it was meant to be played.

I wonder when I became so obsessed with time and speed. I find myself thinking, “If only I was faster at this, then I’d be able to finish this by the end of today.” It’s as if I’m always on the clock, ticking down and down until I eventually miss the deadline to become the best version of me I could possibly be. Every day that I don’t get something done is just time that will always be lost. I have to finish this and that so that my life can get back on track and that I can get better and do this and that and this and that and - I wonder where it ends. Is there an end goal in mind or is it just “keep on working and grinding until the bitter end”?

Even I know I’m not smart enough to create my own ending for this stress festival. What am I even running out of time for? Do I even care? Why am I even doing all of this? The time runs out, doesn’t it? It keeps going and going and going; there has to be some sort of deadline, right? I’m willing to skip everything just to see what happens at the end. Do I become great? Do I do great things? I just want to know so I can see whether it’s all worth it or not. Please just let me fast forward to the consequences of my everyday actions.

I can’t speedrun life. I want to enjoy it the way it was meant to be lived. But I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t see what happens at the end. I cannot predict the future, nor do I know what is the optimal use of tomorrow’s time. I just have to slow down.

I’ll finish this when I’m a little further along.

- Sam