Narcissa Wright held numerous world records for Zelda speedrunning. Ms. Wright has been extremely active in the speedrunning community, co-founding SpeedRunsLive with Daniel “Jiano” Hart. She maintains an active Patreon in addition to regularly streaming on Twitch.
Lately, you haven’t been able to speedrun due to health issues. Do you think you will ever get back into speedrunning?
I want to. I’ve been doing wrist exercise and strengthening. I have some worries that it won’t be enough. It sucks a lot because I don’t feel limited in any other way, and this might truly be something that holds me back. Sometimes I daydream about brain to computer interfaces that wouldn’t hurt my wrists and would allow me to play for long hours. This holds me back from enjoying not just speedrunning but Smash as well, and even casual gaming. I think the wrist issue is becoming more common amongst gamers, so controller ergonomics and wrist health is something that should be taken seriously and looked into more closely.
One of the issues with speedrunning is the numerous ways a game can be completed. This has led to numerous categories, and a lot of disagreements over what counts. Are there any possible solutions to these disagreements?
There is no perfect solution. Life is complicated. At one point, I did think that all of these issues could be resolved and everyone could be satisfied. I’ve since changed my philosophy entirely. I think the best thing to do is to focus on running the game in the way that you want to. Sometimes community structures emerge out of this, and there becomes a sort of general ruleset that people follow. I do not think this needs to be necessarily adhered to. I do not think people need to agree. I think the player’s freedom to choose how to play is the most important thing now.
This ideology perhaps dilutes the “importance” of the concept of “world records” which has become a very strong theme in speedrunning over the last 7 years. Speedrunning can sometimes result in awesome rivalries, as two or more players fight to push the time down. Other times, it can be a solo endeavor, an artistic project to tap into something untapped, or a quest for self improvement. None of these approaches are wrong. It is all open-ended.
Interestingly, if the game itself is structured in an elegant way, the categories can seem obvious and do not become a big point of contention. When this happens, the community has less arguments and sometimes can become something special. So there could be a bit of bonus on the developer. But also speedrunning can be seen as something that subverts the developer’s intentions and works counter to that. So it kinda depends on your outlook of what speedrunning is.
It’s funny because this speedrunning rules issue reminds me of the Smashbox and other custom controllers for Smash, or perhaps the stage list arguments. Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect solution with the rules, so if there is to be community, there’s always some politics, some give and take. I will say though, that the Smash community has thus far managed to be relatively united, at least amongst individual Smash games. I wonder if something like Melee HD or the netplay community could eventually start to disrupt the unison. It might be inevitable. I kinda wish we would see some items tournaments, too, but that’s another subject.
What challenges does the speedrunning community face in the future?
It’s easy to think of the speedrunning community as one cohesive whole, but I see it as many separate parts, often isolated from each other. I don’t really see that as a problem, either. The word speedrunning sort of encompasses a huge range of different activities, different games, different motivations. I feel like this umbrella view is maybe flawed.
There are streamers, streaming for entertainment. There are people grinding away on their pet projects. There are people who just enjoy finding glitches, whether they may or may not be “useful” for a speedrun. Sometimes people invent new categories for the sole purpose of showcasing a glitch that was found. And sometimes people just enjoy learning about how the game is programmed, all of its intricacies, and what features may have been removed before the final release or are still hidden in the code.
There are people interested in TASing, or computer science in general. There are people running events and coordinating marathons. There are people who enjoy races (often a very separate metagame to grinding runs), or even racing games without having played them prior, in a tournament format (“blind races”). There are romhacks, randomizers. There’s the world record chase. There are content creators and people seeking to make it big.
Outside of this, there’s also things that feel related but may not fall under the umbrella, such as superplay, rhythm games, fighting games, competitive games, game AI, creative romhack projects, etc. Where the line gets drawn seems to be rooted in a bit of history, just kind of how things played out. I somewhat get irritated by being called a “speedrunner” when my interests overlap with some of these outside things, and doesn’t intersect with some of the “inside things.” I also don’t feel that sense of community that maybe I felt several years ago.
I think that’s fine, it’s just, for example, when Breath of the Wild drops, I think that game will become its own subculture and “speedrunning” may not be the best way to describe what that subculture really encompasses. I guess the entire landscape is evolving.
You are perhaps one of the most famous speedrunners, ever. What suggestion would you give to other speedrunners who are trying to break out?
Follow the true passion, be honest to yourself.
What makes a speedrunner good? What makes them less interesting?
There are different ways to judge this. I suppose narrative tends to get involved. When it starts to feel like what they are doing matters, instead of it just being a mind-numbing time sink into the void. That’s why I think passion is important. When whittling away the time becomes something special, and not just another data point.
Other times you get people who find and break games in amazing ways. That alone can create a lot of excitement. Innovation is cool. Being a slave to the metagame is oftentimes not as cool as defining it.