Speedrun HOT TAKES! Post-AGDQ2016 Edition

Disclaimers: This will jump from subject to subject. Also, a confession: The organization leading up to AGDQ 2016 rubbed me the wrong way to the point I watched a total of probably one minute of the actual marathon “live”. From what others have said, the event itself went very well despite the terrible organization leading up to it, and I’ll take their word for it, not knowing enough to say differently. Finally, I’ve e-mailed some of these thoughts to GDQ staff already; the parts I’m comfortable making public will re-appear here.

Most of my frustration concerned the lead-in to the event. While I like all of the GDQ staff as people, the person who said “GDQ LLC isn’t a corporation, it’s a bunch of people playing at being a corporation” was right on. And to be honest, while I hope he does make a full recovery, I lay an at-least-equal share of the blame for that at Mike’s feet for failing to come up with a proper contingency plan. The proper move here was, after AGDQ 2015, for Mike and a few people he trusted to sit down, and for him to say “Okay. Let’s all hope I’m back before too long, but for now, we need to assume the worst: that I’m out of action for the long-term. Here’s what needs to get done, here’s how to do those things, and here are the people I want to do them.” Instead, what happened was that the plan put into place was “Wait for Mike to get better”, and this plan was followed right up until it became clear doing so would result in there not being an AGDQ 2016. Then Cool Matty became the leader basically by default. Similarly, making Sumichu the “messenger” for the selection committee when she had no actual power to influence the decisions (1) was fair to no one–this led to a situation where she was forced to deal with everyone being upset over their game being cut, but couldn’t do anything about it other than say “Sorry, I feel for you”. No one was surprised when the staff missed their deadlines for setting the schedule–compressing the process and starting it way later than usual (For context, AGDQ 2015’s submission process began in August 2014. AGDQ2016’s process? Started in October.) was inviting disaster, and their track record to that point with Mike leading was not great–but the lack of preparation showed when the staff tried to blame the delay on “Unforeseeable circumstances”. I’m sorry, but “The guy who has been sick for months and months is still sick” is the exact opposite of “unforeseeable”.

The good news is that things seem to be getting better on this front. Now that Matty knows “Okay, looks like I’m the leader for the long-term”, he seems to actually be stepping up and making changes. And I like a lot of the changes being made. Some of these include:

  • Not publicizing decisions about accept/reject until the submission process is over. I hope this extends to actually not making decisions about the games until said process is over, and ideally randomizing the order the decisions are made in (A big problem I have with the process is possible subconscious bias, especially in light of the staff claiming early submissions won’t help your chances. They parrot this, but I’m not sure if they know whether it’s actually true or not, and they seem resistant to finding out for whatever reason), but this is a big step.
  • Getting rid of the Salt-o-Meter on the website. It was a cute joke in 2013, when the community (2) was smaller than it is now. It’s needlessly antagonistic in 2016. Or, put another way, how are you not supposed to take a rejection personally when the Games Done Quick website itself all but demands that you do by naming its progress meter after being needlessly/excessively upset about something?
  • Publicizing a few members of the committee, and as importantly, removing “Final say” powers from Mike. Even pre-the existence of the committee (And speaking as, I guess, an “oldboi”–do I still count as one even though I haven’t had a game accepted in three years?), Mike tended to say of a lot of potential submissions, “I’ve never played this. It looks like it’s boring and a bad marathon game”, as though the first influenced the second. More recently, at least one person has been discouraged from re-submitting their game after it was rejected once, feeling that Mike and his “final say” was just going to reject it anyway no matter how much the rest of the committee loved it. Removing Mike’s disproportionate influence on the process also prevents it from being a bottleneck in the future. Similarly, publicizing a few members of the committee is a much-needed step toward transparency, which has been an issue in the past.
  • Actually having a contingency plan besides “Pray the leader doesn’t get sick or otherwise incapacitated, because we’re screwed if s/he does”. From my understanding, this is a work in progress, but progress is being made, and that’s good. The changes to the selection committee will help that process continue to run smoothly in the future, and similar measures should be taken on the rest of the GDQ-related functions–liaising with sponsors, the hotel, etc.

I realize I’m bashing Mike quite a bit here, which isn’t my intention. I like him, and I hope he makes a full recovery and gets back to leading GDQs soon, as they are his “baby” after all. But he has strengths and weaknesses, like anyone does, and taking one of these weaknesses away from him would allow him to better focus on his strengths. Also, while it’s a day hopefully far in the future, if he wants GDQ LLC to truly thrive, he needs to envision the day “GDQ LLC Minus Mike Uyama” comes to be.

On Threats And Enforcement

I’ll readily admit I go back and forth on this (Or, less kindly, I flip-flop on this issue). Awhile back, I wrote a pastebin opining Kollin shouldn’t have been banned for making a stupid joke (Just in case I didn’t say it enough times in the Pastebin, I’m not defending what he said at all, nor do I think it was in the slightest bit funny. I just don’t think the punishment for “making an unfunny joke” should be “banned from GDQs”.), which I stand by. On a personal level, I’m not a fan of “security theater” where people go about banning this and that to make people feel safe without making them actually safer (Applying it to a “threat” such as I discuss above: If the threat isn’t serious, the person wasn’t going to do anything, so banning the person really accomplishes nothing except, maybe, teaching them not to make unfunny jokes. If the threat is serious, I doubt banning them from the event is going to stop them without additional measures.).

And yet. Naegleria asked about a week back on Twitter if every single threat, even sarcastic ones, should be grounds for being banned from GDQs. And while I think the answer is “no” (See above Pastebin), on an intellectual level, I understand why most threats end with banning, even if it’s not the decision I would have made. The consequences of taking someone seriously when they were joking are “You ban that person and annoy them, and maybe some of their friends.” The consequences of deciding someone was joking when they were actually serious are, well, potential loss of life.

The issue here is striking a balance between “Protecting the GDQs” and “Policing the Internet”. A complicating factor here is what I believe to be a new trolling strategy this year. The strategy can be summed up as “Trolls bait someone into saying something stupid. Trolls then report that to GDQ staff, not out of genuine concern for the event’s safety, but to continue trolling, getting their victim banned because they’re aware GDQ takes a hard-line approach to threats.” And yes, people will argue “Then the victim shouldn’t have taken the bait.” But I’m hugely uncomfortable with any kind of strategy that amounts to “The victim should shut up and take it” as opposed to putting the onus on assholes to not be assholes. It’s a difficult balance, and one I’m glad I don’t have to strike (Lost in the Pastebin was that, while I don’t think Kollin should have been banned, I do think the decision to do so was defensible [My instinct was actually to agree with the banning, until I took a step back and asked myself “Wait, what does the ban actually accomplish?”], and that was pretty far down on my list of “WTF” moments in terms of GDQ leadership leading up to the event).

On The Game Selection Process In General

If I had to sum up the game selection process as I see it, it would be “While GDQ selections are not a straight popularity contest, you do have a leg up if you and/or your game are popular.” I also think that the committee privately weights popularity higher than they’re comfortable admitting in public, though I of course have no way of proving that. And I’m okay with this–I think of the GDQs nowadays as being “A charity event that happens to primarily use speedrunning as its moneyraising vehicle” as opposed to “A speedrunning event that also happens to be for charity”.

I think, as much as I love it and hope it comes back every GDQ, the transition point for this was Tetris the Grandmaster at AGDQ2015. While there is a speed component to the game, I didn’t get the impression that the players were psuhing the time to its absolute limit (Especially during some of the demonstrations like the Doubles Mode) like you’d see in a more traditional speedrun. Granting, part of this is the extreme difficulty of the game itself, but just “trying to beat a time limit”, while “speedrunning” in the technical sense (By which I’ve been “speedrunning” since about 1992, when I tried to get the best ending in Metroid II…segmented), but not in the sense that you think of when you think “GDQs”.

An observation: The biggest speedrunning “stars” also tend to be the ones who burn out the fastest. As such, it makes sense to constantly seek out and cycle “new talent” into the GDQ pool, because you don’t know if your mega-star from one year will even still be speedrunning the next year.

Overall though, I have hope for the future of GDQs. Cool Matty acknowledged that him, or someone, taking the reigns sooner than he did leading up to this past AGDQ would have alleviated a lot of the issues we saw. Now that he’s actually going to be the leader from the start, I can see the steps actually being taken to improve the event. Actually getting the charity topic up when he said it would be (Late in “the next week”, admittedly, but still in the next week–last year, or a year and a half ago, Friday would likely have brought “Sorry, due to unforeseen circumstances, we’re delaying the charity topic by another two weeks”) is a small but important step in showing that the staff are serious about walking the walk, and not just talking the talk.

(1) The question of whether Sumi should have influence in the process is a separate one. For my money, while I’d want the majority of the committee to have experience speedrunning games of various genres, I do think one person or two with a non-speedrunning/”outsider’s” perspective is valuable in cases like these, to prevent the selections from becoming too insular, or keep the whole thing from being too much of an insiders’ cool-kids-only club. Similarly to how a non-speedrunner watching your stream will sometimes point out obvious things that you, in your speedrunning mentality, glossed over, a non-speedrunner having selection influence can bring a new angle that everyone else misses, but which turns out to be really good idea. One example: I would never have guessed Dr. Mario would have been a good speedrun game, yet Essentia’s run of that was one of my personal highlights of Classic Games Done Quick.

(2) To the extent that there was just “the speedrunning community” and not “A bunch of smaller speedrunning communities that gather together a couple times a year for GDQs” even in 2013. Note that I still regard AGDQ2013 as “The Identity Crisis GDQ”, where we collectively tried to hold on to “The CGDQ Feeling” one marathon longer than was feasible in hindsight.


(Edited to correct some typos/take out some redundant words at about 11:55PM EST 1/30/16. Nothing about the substance of what I said before was changed)

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