These days, almost constantly through my work day (and later, as I work towards 200 hours in Into the Breach), I have Twitch on in the background. I’ll watch many flavors of stream: creative streams, watching artists or developers plying their trade. My friends, playing whatever they fancy. Random Let’s Plays. I’ve even started to watch RPG streams, enjoying the process of watching characters and DMs do their dance.
But more often than not, I’m watching speedruns. Zelda speedruns.
I’ve been watching Majora’s Mask World Record holder Enopp112 for years now, and I constantly have him on while I edit written pieces or cut sequences of video together. Or Linkus7, as he does Wind Waker runs (or streams speedrunning tutorials, which are fascinating), as I fill out paperwork or triage emails. Orcastraw’s BOTW runs, while I search for story ideas. It seems that about the only time I don’t have some sort of Zelda stream on in the background, it’s when I’m streaming or podcasting myself.
Perhaps I’ll even cross that bridge one day.
There is something simultaneously soothing and energizing about these runs. These are games I know, yes, so the territory is familiar and somehow comforting. And there is a meditative quality to watching someone practice their speedrunning, like a martial artist going over moves and combinations in the gym: practicing every minute motion until it’s perfect, second nature. These streams are both entertainment and a sort of intellectual companionship: this person is working on their craft, while I work on mine. Theirs just happens to also be entertaining to watch, and take place in some of my most beloved game worlds.
Of course, that’s the appeal of streaming: the shared illusion of intimacy, community around a figure and their work, of performance and practice rolled into one.
There’s also, of course, my fascination with speedrunning, the exceedingly rare hobby that I have no desire to try, but find endlessly captivating. Our own Cameron Kunzelman wrote eloquently on why it’s so interesting, as a practice:
“When you’re watching a speedrun, it has nothing to do with the person in front of you. They’re just a kind of octopus limb that’s stretched out from a Reddit subforum, a website, or a Discord channel. They are the sum product of dozens or hundreds of people hammering themselves up against a game that was, like all games are, put together with duct tape and glue. These people have taken crowbars to the doors, flames to the floorboards, and created the most perfect knowledge that they can about this game object that is being ripped through in front of your eyes.”
Speedrunning has always fascinated me from that point of view, particularly if you dive into the history of how particular glitches or tricks are found, since they bely so many tricks of game development. This Donkey Kong 64 speedrunning video from Summoning Salt floored me in that respect.
But the performance part—the martial artist training in the dojo of a previous metaphor—also resonates with me. I’m the kind of nerd who loves to watch narrated rolls (sparring sessions in grappling), and if fighters streamed their workouts in the gym, I’d watch those pretty much religiously. It is a genuine delight to watch people acquire and polish skill, even on bad days. And that goes for any of my hobbies or areas of expertise. Hell, I’d love to watch trauma surgeons work all day if that wasn’t a HIPPA nightmare.
And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that hopes that through sheer absorption, some little bit of skill or patience or knowledge will soak into my own brain.
How about you, dear readers? Is there a type of stream or entertainment you like to put on in the background while you work? Sound off on the forums!
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/3kjbxn/watching-other-people-play-zelda-gets-me-through-my-day