It takes little reading on these sites to realize the runners' seriousness. "A Brief DOOM Demo History," an article by "Opulent" published in December 2003 on the venerable Doomworld, reverently commemorates an epochal DHT event: "In 1997, Thomas 'Panter' Pilger spread throughout the COMPET-N tables like a plague. By August, he was the first to do the third DOOM 2 episode (Map 21-30) on Nightmare skill and was primed for the ultimate DOOM 2 honor, DOOM 2 Schwarzenegger. Almost a year in the making, Thomas 'Panter' Pilger finally achieved the impossible by recording all 32 maps of DOOM 2 on Nightmare skill in one demo in 49:49."
Is there some deep psychological reason players speedrun? To the speedrunners themselves, their motives are obvious beyond discussion; they're as transparent, as universal as any desire to excel.
Mike "TSA" Damiani, on his site The Hylia, writes, "The most common question or remark I personally see or am told about speedrunning is, 'That's great, but I don't care because this game should be played slowly and thoroughly to be enjoyed!' Well, I've always sort of laughed at this ... Most speedrunners chose a game they know extremely well and enjoy. That means they played the game through normally, explored it and enjoyed it thoroughly. ... This is usually how most competitive gaming in single-player games is born - the ambition to do challenges in order to add replay value to a title."
The joy of speedrunning is interesting, especially in light of designer Raph Koster's 2005 book A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Koster conceptualizes fun as the act of learning, of ever-growing mastery over a game's environment. We conventionally think of this mastery as an encounter with the obstacles devised and set by the game's designer(s), a tour as structured as a theme park ride. But speedrunners push beyond the designers' own intentions and understanding. They elevate mastery to a new level. And, many times, they pull the field along in their wake.
In exploiting the holes in game physics engines, speedrunners function as extremely sophisticated bug testers. DOOM was built on a polar coordinate system that let the player move faster along coordinate axes and pass through diagonal openings that would ordinarily be too narrow. Running diagonally ("strafe-running") was 1.4 times faster than running straight, and firing a rocket at a nearby object would cause you to zoom in the opposite direction. Later shooter games corrected the coordinate and strafe-running errors, but rocket jumping (though originally a bug) proved so fun and popular it remains in many shooters even today.
Over the long term, perhaps the speedrunners' most valuable contribution will turn out to be their pivotal early role in the development of machinima. Machinima ("machine cinema") is the art of creating movies in the virtual reality of game engines. The best-known example today is Rooster Teeth Productions' Red vs. Blue, a comedy series created using the Halo engine.
Some of the earliest machinima consisted of Quake speedruns. Stanford curator and lecturer Dr. Henry Lowood, a historian of machinima and computer game design, writes in "High Performance Play: The Making of Machinima," "When it was released in June 1997, 'Quake done Quick' demonstrated more than impressive playing skills or the technical wizardry of its makers. It signaled a shift from cyberathleticism to making movies and the emergence of a new form of play."
"As if to underscore the transition, the Team released two versions of the complete set of speedruns, which lasted nearly 20 minutes after stitching together the individual runs for each level of the game. The first was visually a conventional demo movie viewed from the first-person perspective of the player; the second was the re-cammed movie. The technical performance involved in recording separate demos and patching them together to make either version, all while preserving a smoothly integrated whole, was of course non-trivial. So was the performance itself. As (QDQ team member Anthony) Bailey put it when describing his work on the project, preparation for a perfect speedrun meant 'trying to understand more about how the engine underlying the game works so that we can turn its little nooks and crannies to our advantage.'"