The Decade-Long Struggle to Shave Seconds Off Super Mario Bros. Speedruns

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Damn you Mario, run faster!

Speedrunning, a subculture of video game fandom dedicated to figuring out how to get through games as fast as possible, can be fascinating. It can also be incredibly opaque to outsiders. The shorthand lingo developed among the truly obsessed — “Bullet Bill glitch,” “fast four dash two,” “flagpole clipping” — gives me the same feeling I get when I stumble across a game of cricket. I know something impressive is happening, but I have no idea what exactly it is.

Which is why I love YouTube user Summoning Salt’s “Super Mario Bros World Record Progression” video. Using layman’s language, Summoning Salt clearly and lucidly explains how a group of dedicated speedrunners spent 12 years shaving seconds off the world-record time in Nintendo’s classic Super Mario Bros., starting at 5:10 and finally arriving (as of this writing) at just under 4:56.

Those 14 seconds may not seem like much, but watch the video and you get a sense of the sheer dedication these young men (and they all are young men) threw into this game. Combined, they ran through the game thousands and thousands of times, looking for every tiny advantage. It doesn’t just take playing the game with a kind of muscle-memory perfection few people achieve at anything in life, it also requires carefully figuring out where the game’s code breaks in very specific ways — and combining those glitches with perfect runs to set new world records.

Summoning Salt has another video that’s equally fascinating, looking at the same race for the world record in speedruning Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. What makes the videos stand out from the crowd is Summoning Salt’s ability to create narrative and drama out of people throwing themselves against the brick walls of incredibly difficult games over and over again.

It’s like 30 for 30, except for people who don’t get much sunlight. I cannot recommend a better way to spend your lunch break today.

The 12-Year Struggle to Shave Seconds From a Mario Speedrun