If you’ve ever felt that the gaming community is largely a petulant morass of internal strife, arbitrary divisions, unending trolldom, and rampant toxicity, you’re not alone. From the incessant console wars, to the casual misogyny and homophobia, to the constant abuse strewn about every time you try to play Dota 2 or Halo, the gaming community has many problems. And, calling it a “community” can often seem like a contradiction in and of itself.
But now and again, the gaming community is capable of something that breaks down the divisions and allows people to put aside their troll masks for just a little while. Whether in large gaming expositions like PAX or charitable drives like Extra Life gamers have shown themselves capable of embracing the better angels of their natures.
Right now the best of the gaming community is embodied in Awesome Games Done Quick, or AGDQ for short. For those who don’t know what it is, Games Done Quick are large non-stop week-long speed-running marathons that are broadcast on Twitch in support of a charitable cause. Viewers can send in donations with messages that are read on stream, and they can specify that their donation is to go towards certain incentive goals, such as naming a character, or changing the speed-running route.
For those of you still confused, speed-running is the practice of beating video games as quickly as possible. These methods often include unintended methods and glitches, and completion times can be mere fractions of the time it would take for even a quick completion playing as intended.
As I write this, I’ve just finished watching a Half-Life 2 run in which the player managed to skip vast portions of the game by using a strange momentum-building glitch that allowed him to fly over entire levels at high speed. Some runs are what are called “Any%” runs, in which the goal is merely to get to the end as quickly as possible, but many other categories also exist, such as “100%” runs in which every level is finished and every collectible obtained.
GDQ isn’t new; it’s been running since 2010 with events both in June and in January, but only in the last couple of years has it become the massive Twitch phenomenon that it is now. The winter event, with the “Awesome” appellation, tends to be the larger event than the one in June and it raised more than a million dollars in both 2014 and 2015.
Broadcasting is done around the clock and you can tune in at any time this week and catch some amazing games. It’s worth watching even the games you’ve never played or never even heard of: they can often surprise you and you might find something you want to check out.
The skill on display is incredible, with players regularly performing countless split-second inputs over the course of their playthroughs and making even the most difficult games look like child’s play. It’s also fascinating to see your favorite games reduced to their most basic elements and broken in every possible way. It can even be humbling as you see games you thought you were good at crushed so completely.
But the amazing thing here isn’t so much the skill, or even the great sums of money raised for cancer prevention (though that’s amazing too and you can donate here), but the overwhelming positivity of the event.
All runs take place in one hall with a live audience, and the player is supported by a couch of commentators that comment on the game and discuss it with the gamer. The audience applauds for the many stellar moves made by the players and the spirit of joviality is infectious. Even during the competitive races that sometimes take place, everything is in good fun, and a fit of laughter is far more likely than a fit of anger at something not going the player’s way.
Donation comments are almost universally supportive, and are often funny, and everyone gets in on the jokes. The absence of negativity without seeming fake or puritanical is addictive. Perhaps it’s the charitable cause, or maybe it’s simply awe at seeing the immense dedication and skill on display, but the entire community for once appears joined in common cause. Everyone is rooting for the same team.
And it’s no small group of people. In addition to the live attendees, Twitch viewership numbers have already hit highs of over 200,000, and even during the early morning, viewership often remains above 80,000. Twitch chat remains largely unbearable, but even that is toned down compared to the chat of many popular streams. Most have checked their petulance at the door, even if not their memes and ASCII spam.
If nothing else, AGDQ represents the idea that gamers can come together in common cause, and simultaneously do something both entertaining and good for society. It shows that the gaming community need not always break down into juvenile bickering, and that we can celebrate our shared passions in a positive way.
Watching brings back the shared discovery and passion for gaming that I know most of us first experienced as children, and it’s not merely because many of the games are those I loved growing up. Instead, it’s the fact that these players and this community approach every game from platformers to first-person shooters with the same drive for perfection, the same thrill of discovery, and the same desire to share their experiences with others. It’s everything that gaming is supposed to be, and everything that’s right about it.
The greatest virtue of AGDQ isn’t the skill on display or the money raised. It’s in bringing the community together and reminding everyone, myself included, why we fell in love with this hobby in the first place. It’s too bad it only lasts two weeks a year, but it’s brilliant while it does. If you haven’t yet, head over right now to the live stream. It ends early Sunday morning, but many of the best games are still to come. You won’t regret it.