The USS Quad Damage

Ideas in Gaming: The Null Speedrun

I come up with an idea that might satisfy all sides in the hardcore vs casual wars.

Currently games are structured to ensure you interact with almost all aspects of them before you finish the game. Dara O Brian commented that Video Games are the only artform which will not let you progress until you display mastery of some skill. Speedruns as they currently stand show mastery of the game by having the player finish it quickly. The implication is that to some extent, true mastery can only be displayed by understanding the game so thoroughly that one can complete it by doing only what is necessary and not a thing more. Mastery and understanding are therefore inextricably tied together in gaming.

Now most people have been thinking of breaking this deadlock with tools to make games easier, either by having them play themselves or letting the player skip fights like they can skip cut scenes. These suggestions have not been without controversy, and indeed I do not ascribe to the philosophy that games should be without challenge. However, I do want people to be able to “finish” a game without requiring mastery of it.

Indeed, as O Brian says, you can “watch” a movie, but this does not mean you need to understand it. However, in order to master a game, you do need to show that you understand it. But the converse still stands: If you understand a movie, you have watched it, and if you understand a game, you have played it. To make these ideas match up, I’ve come up with an idea, and I’m calling it: "The Null Speedrun"

The Null Speedrun is a game design idea where you design the game specifically so that the Speedrun is trivial. The player gently gets prodded along to the finish line, and can generally get there without help, and there are thrills and spills along the way, but nothing is gained. There’s a popcorn hour, and that’s it. The bulk of the “game” as gamers understand it today, is instead pushed into “side missions”, or exposition, or bonuses, or bits of detail you could get into that make the overall store more complex either in strategy, skill, mentally, or emotionally.

I’ve had thoughts along this line before, but the idea here is to make it very clearly de-lineated and to go further than just game mechanics and bonuses. Some games already do this “null speedrun” idea, but in parts. For example, the Speedrun for the isometric Fallout games skip most of what happens in the game. However, in order to actually be able to achieve that speedrun, you would need to have played through the game many times and know all the subtleties of the game systems and the universe. Mastery still equates to completion, but here at least a little bit of re-organisation and explanation could make it that the sensible way to end the game is also the fastest.

Another example is Dragon Age Origins, where a few of the “side missions” aren’t even side missions. You need to read bits of paper and piece together what’s going on and “complete” this mission, which won’t give you any specific recognition of its completion. These particular things that you do are also a lot harder (for my characters anyway) than the rest of the “game”. I could imagine far more of this leafing through old tomes to find an old magician’s stockpile where the main game is a lot more straight forward.

Future games could, for example, have the player kill an “obvious bad guy” and celebrate a victory and ending the game, triumphant. However, for the curious gamer, they could discover that the obvious bad guy is actually a misunderstood resistance, join the resistance, and defeat the oppressive government. Something like Haze or or Red Faction could have played out like this, and been far more effective in their message.

The end result would mean that many people could get their 8-ish hours of gameplay out of video games, have a lot of fun in the process, but for the hardcore gamers, there are bigger challenges in the process, but you have to go to them.