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A world record Super Mario Bros speedrun explained

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

In this 27-minute video, Bismuth explains how fellow speedrunner Kosmic achieved the world record for the fastest Super Mario Bros game ever. 27 minutes may sound daunting, but if you’ve ever played SMB more than casually, it’s fascinating. As Craig Mod said, “it’s like watching a swiss clock maker explain his machine”.

Heck, even if you aren’t into video games it’s pretty interesting. Here’s why. One of the reasons for the popularity of sports and sports media (analysis, etc.) is that, unlike many other human endeavors, it’s relatively easy for spectators to judge and compare and analyze athletes’ performances, to see how & why they fail, where they might improve, and how they stack up against past performances and records. This is similar to a point David Foster Wallace made in his piece about tennis player Tracy Austin (collected in Consider the Lobster):

Top athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison-based achievement we Americans revere — fastest, strongest — and because they do so in a totally unambiguous way. Questions of the best plumber or best managerial accountant are impossible even to define, whereas the best relief pitcher, free-throw shooter, or female tennis player is, at any given time, a matter of public statistical record. Top athletes fascinate us by appealing to our twin compulsions with competitive superiority and hard data.

In the video analysis of this speedrun, if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before. Progress and understanding by groups of people happens exactly like this in manufacturing, art, science, engineering, design, social science, literature, and every other collective human endeavor…it’s what humans do. But since playing sports and video games is such a universal experience and you get to see it all happening right on the screen in front of you, it’s perhaps easier to grok SMB speedrun innovations more quickly than, say, how assembly line manufacturing has improved since 2000, recent innovations in art, how we got from the flip phone to iPhone X in only 10 years, or how CRISPR happened.

Anyway, that video is interesting & well done, you should watch it, the end.