Why Do Speedrunners Say RNG Instead Of Luck? A Theory

On the speedrun subreddit, someone began constructing an “SGDQ Bingo” website, and asked for suggestions. There were two in particular I found amusing:

  1. A speedrunner says “RNG” instead of “luck”.
  2. That speedrunner then has to explain what “RNG” is, because they couldn’t just say “luck”.

I’ll admit to being as guilty of this as any speedrunner. Indeed, I’m aware of the absurdity of it–my spiel when I say “RNG” while running Metroid II is along the lines of “If you don’t know, ‘RNG’ stands for ‘Random Number Generator’, it’s basically what determines luck in your speedrun. But we’re speedrunners, so we can’t just say ‘luck’.” And yet I still say RNG.

Why is this? Why do speedrunners insist on using an alternate term when “luck” is perfectly adequate and gets the point across? I think there are two main reasons for this:

  • One reason is that there are numerous cases, especially in RPGs, where the RNG can be manipulated. There’s an obnoxious, but technically correct, copypasta that sometimes floats around that can be summarized as “RNG should really be called PRNG (Pseudo-Random Number Generator), since nothing in computers is truly random.”. Disregarding semantics, if you can manipulate the RNG (Luck), you can eliminate it as a factor. One non-speedrunning example of this is the North American version of Final Fantasy V Advance; by saving and reloading, you reset the list of encounters, which you can use to guarantee the encounter you want.

    But Note that even TASVideos, which can manipulate the RNG of a game to literally inhuman degrees, calls this Luck Manipulation. I think there’s another reason speedrunners don’t just say “luck”, and it relates to a phenomenon that can be applied to sports in general:

  • Speedrunners don’t want to admit how little they’re really in control.

Indeed, in any competitive endeavor, even all-time greats need some luck to achieve their ultimate goal. Most recently in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, by advanced metrics a historically great team, nonetheless got lucky that A. They didn’t have to play either the Los Angeles Clippers or the San Antonio Spurs, and B. That the Cleveland Cavaliers were reduced to “LeBron James and Eleven Replacement Level Players” after game 1 of the Finals (And the LeBron Show still took two games from the Warriors before he ran out of gas). Moving to American Football, the 2007 New England Patriots were an absurd helmet catch away from completing the greatest season in NFL history; before that, though, they got lucky to remain in a position to make the attempt. If not for a terribly-timed timeout from their opponents in their 12th game, they would have entered the Super Bowl with a 17-1 record instead of an 18-0 one. Going back a ways, the 1985 Chicago Bears, one of the greatest teams in NFL history, were fortunate to avoid the Miami Dolphins (The one team that beat them that year, and did so decisively) in the Super Bowl when the Patriots beat the Dolphins in the AFC title game. They were further lucky that the Patriots coaching staff decided to run the same game plan as the Dolphins did, but neglected the part where the Dolphins had an all-time great quarterback (Dan Marino) with a skillset uniquely suited to taking advantage of the relatively less-awesome parts of the Bears defense.

It’s the same with most speedruns. For better or worse, “World Records” are currency in the speedrun world today. And for many of the most popular/well-optimized games, just being the best at your game in terms of skill isn’t enough (The role of “skill” in a speedrun could be a whole other topic)–if the game doesn’t want to cooperate with you, you’re probably not getting that coveted “WR” (For one example, if Phantoon doesn’t cooperate in Super Metroid, it basically doesn’t matter what happens before or after it–say goodbye to that record run.).

So my thoughts on why speedrunners can’t just say “luck” is that it’s a coping mechanism, a way to deny its power and influence on “the run”. By calling it “RNG”, speedrunners can avoid confronting how big a role luck actually plays in getting a good time.


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