What is the biggest video game event of the year? For some it might be E3, for others it could be all of the Game of the Year discussions that take place in December, but for a dedicated and growing community, it’s when a group of people comes together to play video games very fast.
Games Done Quick, also known as GDQ, is a bi-annual event where members of Speed Demos Archive have a huge gaming marathon. For a week on their Twitch channel, it’s non-stop streams of people playing games as fast as they possibly can. These marathons attract thousands of viewers all week not just because watching people finish games at high speeds is a good time, because these events go beyond entertainment. All of it is for the cause of raising money for charity. As GDQ has grown, the amount they’ve been able to raise has become tremendous — during Summer Games Done Quick 2021 back in July, the marathon raised $2.9 million for Doctors Without Borders.
While the expectation for any GDQ event these days is to raise a minimum of $2 million, the beginnings of the marathon were comparatively much more modest. The first event was supposed to be held alongside the convention MAGFest, but streaming issues from the convention forced host Mike Uyama to move it to his mother’s basement. From there, they raised over $10,000 for CARE and quickly realized this was an event that could draw in people without the need of a coexisting convention like MAGFest.
“I think Mike definitely knew that he had something.” Matt Merkle, Director of Operations for GDQ, told Uproxx. “After the Classic Games Done Quick down in his basement, the amount of people that were like, ‘Hey, I want to come next time!’ and he’s like, well, okay, that’s not going to fit my basement. That kind of gave a little inkling, but I think after we hit like the first million that really set the tone and said, okay, this is something serious at this point and we’ve been riding it ever since.”
That million-dollar point really was a monumental moment for the marathons. Not only because it’s such a significant amount raised, but it happened so fast. The very first event, Classic Games Done Quick, took place in 2010. The million-dollar barrier was shattered in 2014. In four years they went from a niche event that was mainly viewed by speedrunners and a handful of gamers, to something that anyone with an interest in video games tunes in for.
What makes this unique is that GDQ is far from the only event that utilizes video games to raise money for charity. YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and other organizations all host their own charity events, but the majority of those are built on the premise of entertainment. We’re watching and donating to these streams to be entertained by names that we’re familiar with. An emphasis of GDQ on the other hand is to get people that we might not recognize on the stage, commentate over the game, and show the best ways to play it quickly. The only real consistency is speedrunning, and leaning on how the art of speedrunning creates a lot of natural interest.
“Everyone remembers the first time they played Mario and how difficult it was to play that game and to complete it.” Merkle said. “And then, you know, when you see the spectacle of somebody beating it in less than five minutes you’re kind of immediately hooked. You’re like, wow. How the heck did they manage this? How did they pull this off? And, you know, you could do that for just about any game out there, any game with an ending could be a speedrun. There’s so many different games out there and there’s such a wide audience for all the different games that there’s usually something there for somebody to be interested in. On top of that, with the Games Done Quick events, we have the commentary which explains to people that what they’re seeing as opposed to just watching a random video on YouTube or a Twitch stream where the runner is just grinding out times. At GDQ events, we push to have people commentating and saying hey, this is how this is done, this is how this trick works, and then some people can actually take that and try it themselves at home and get interested in speed-running themselves.”
While not everyone goes out there and attempts to become a world record speedrunner, the runs themselves are incredibly fascinating to watch. A particular favorite is from the 2016 AGDQ where someone pushed multiple Pokemon games to their absolute breaking points. It’s almost like a magic show where the magician is telling us their secrets as they do each trick.
It’s this commentary and the willingness to put the person running the game in the spotlight that gives GDQ a unique opportunity. Obviously, charity is the main goal here at the end of the day and they’ve been very successful in raising money, but there’s also a chance to put the attention of thousands of people on members of underrepresented communities. It’s an opportunity to increase diversity in the speedrunning community as a whole and GDQ as an organization is taking steps there with events like FrostFatales, an all-women charity speedrunning event for Malala Fund.
“So Frame Fatales is this kind of sub-organization within GDQ that’s focused around women in speedrunning” “Merkle said. “Women have not been a major part of speedrunning for a long time and it’s mostly just because they haven’t really been given the chance to get the spotlight. And so this is an event for women and driven by women and, powered by women to really get their name out there and to show that hey, you know, this is, you know, a hobby for everybody, not for just guys and it’s been very successful been growing every single year and you know, we’re really excited to see how far that goes as well.”
One area that GDQ can continue to promote people in the speedrunning community is the couch spot. With every runner, there is usually a couch behind them and a lot of times the couch will have co-commentators to ask questions to the runner. These spots are a great opportunity to get new faces up there every year. GDQ also makes an effort to get different runners if possible so it’s not just the same people rotating in and out on a bi-annual basis. This constantly rotating cast is a great opportunity to help raise the profile of runners who might not be getting as much attention otherwise.
When AGDQ 2022 launches its stream next January, it will mark 12 years since Classic Games Done Quick started this whole thing in a basement. From those humble beginnings, it’s now an event with millions of dollars raised, hundreds of speedruns completed, and a community that is only getting larger by the year. With all this potential for growth, there is still one goal that is driving all of this: charity.
“We’re always exploring (new ways) we can do more charity, fundraising events within the means of our staff. We’re growing slowly, but surely,” said Merkle. “I think it’s definitely gonna be a charity focus first. That’s always been the goal.”