More Remarks on Quick and Indelible Deaths

Here lies y

Have been continuing to make these Permadeath Speedruns of mine for the last few weeks and find myself still quite enjoying it. I particularly like the way they correspond in some sense with my approach to make games: they’re generally very brief – they make their point and get out, by and large. And importantly they often seem to manage to have a point, at least as far as I’m concerned.

The other day I finished of a run of The Oregon Trail which was illustrative for me in the sense of casting a (weird, refracted) light on the process of “real” speedruns, in that I had to think through the fastest way to die in the game as it’s not immediately obvious. There are straightforward elements, like buying the bare minimum of supplies (one yoke of oxen, in this case), and I practiced shooting out onto the trail at a gruelling pace as fast as possible to kill my party off. But they tend to survive, and there are distractions like rivers to ford (in true form I willed them all to drown, but they never did), Indians giving them food, and so on.

At some point I realised that the fastest route to death (that I’ve found) is not to set out at all – it’s faster to buy no food and then stay “resting” in town until you all succumb to the usual starvation, dysentery and measles. I like the way that feels like a “technical” discovery about the game in the sense of speed running, but I also like how it offers a strange alternative narrative experience as well. It’s full of irony and pathos – the family is one moment planning to rush to the West for a better life, and the next they just stay put in town, becoming ill and eventually dying. Not the American Dream.

As a second example, I think the recent run of Super Punch-Out! did something similar in terms of a different interaction with the first opponent you face, Gabby Jay. He’s the weakest opponent in the game, something of a push-over, but of course in the speed run the objective is to let him knock you out as fast as he can manage (which isn’t very fast). You don’t have to do much beyond move your hands up if you detect he’s going for a body blow. But importantly, his catch-phrase before the first fight is “Let me win. I’ve lost so many times I forgot how winning feels.” How oddly nice is then, even heart-warming, to be able to exactly that…

4 January 2016
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