Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is getting big destroying the Games Done Quick marathons?

The Games Done Quick marathons started in 2010, and were quite small, the first one raising a mere 10 thousand dollars (of course back then, when it was the first such event organized by SDA, that was a quite sizeable amount of money, but it's a very small sum compared to later editions.) In fact, the Summer Games Done Quick events were so small that the two first ones were held at someone's home (and raised 21 and 46 thousand dollars).

The event has seen a really enormous growth. Since 2014 each event has consistently raised over a million dollars per event, the record being over 2 million dollars in January of 2017.

But as the saying goes, with great income comes great bureaucracy. (Ok, I made that "saying" up.)

The first marathons were made by nerds (mostly) for nerds. Sure, somewhat also for the greater public, but mostly for other gamers and nerds. They were fun. There weren't many rules and pretty much everything was allowed.

However, since the GDQ marathons have started raising million-dollar sums every time, they have become more and more sterile, "cleaned up", bureaucratic, "kid-friendly", "sponsor-friendly", and highly, highly commercial.

Sure, you just can't run a 2-million-dollar event happening at a large hotel in the same way as you do a 10-thousand-dollar event at somebody's home. Some bureaucracy is required, or the entire thing will just fall apart. You need ground rules, and stricter enforcement of those rules. The logistics alone are a thousand times more complicated; the technology is more complicated; managing organizers, employees and the public is a thousand times more complicated; and when we are talking about millions of dollars, things just have to be done by the book, for legal, practical and a multitude of other reasons.

But the GDQ events have gone beyond that. The events have been heavily "sterilized" from anything that makes them "nerdy" events, or from anything that could even potentially cause any kind of controversy. From anything unusual that nerds and gamers would find fun. And this often goes to ridiculous extremes, like banning excessive clapping, completely banning cosplay, and even plush dolls.

From the runners' perspective the events are extremely totalitarian. Every runner, especially those who the organizers feel are potential "troublemakers" (eg. because they might use profanities in their personal speedrunning live streams) are on a very tight leash, and get the ban hammer applied to them really, really easily, for the most minor of infractions, and sometimes even for no reason at all.

For example, the runner who goes by the nickname PvtCinnamonbun wrote this from AGDQ 2016:

This isn't an isolated case. You can find tons and tons of stories of runners being banned for the most controversial of reasons (as in, not that what they did or say was that controversial, but the ban itself was controversial and highly criticized from the public), or approached by the organizers at the event with rather authoritarian warnings.

In the most recent AGDQ 2017, a runner made a joke about Air Canada and his flight to the event. The GDQ organizers not only banned this runner from future events, but they went to Air Canada's Twitter feed and apologized (without even mentioning what they were apologizing for). Air Canada responded with "Hello, we're not quite sure we understand what you mean." They had no idea what the GDQ organizers were talking about. GDQ still banned the runner from future events, even though this was a clear case of complete overreaction and hypersensitivity for a rather innocent joke.

Another runner was banned because one person on the couch wore (what looked like) a pro-Trump hat. To clear any misunderstandings, GDQ has banned all political opinions from their events, not just pro-Trump ones. However, the disgrace here is that the runner was banned because somebody else behind him wore that hat for a minute or two. The runner wasn't even aware of this happening because it happened behind him. Why was he banned for something that somebody else did? Who knows.

There are lots of people, both runners, physical visitors, and online viewers, who are complaining that "fun" is not allowed anymore at the GDQ events, and that it's all so sterile, bureaucratic and even totalitarian.

And commercial. This is also one of the major complaints people have. Sure, it's nice if some corporation is sponsoring the event, but viewers really get sick of those corporations, or their products, being promoted over and over, sometimes even many times during the same speedrun.

Sure, prior to all this authoritarian bureaucracy sometimes some controversial things did happen, from the runners, from commenters on the couch, or sometimes even the public at the event. Sometimes the runner would make some very inappropriate jokes. Sometimes somebody went to the couch uninvited (something that has since been strictly banned and enforced, in this case perhaps arguably for good reason) and started making inappropriate or just cringeworthy comments that ruin the run for the runner himself and the viewers.

However, it seems that GDQ has gone to the other extreme in order to weed out these (quite rare) happenstances, and are extremely trigger-happy in banning runners and visitors who step even slightly out of bounds (or sometimes even without having done anything, as has been several times the case.)

The fun of the initial years has been largely replaced with dry commentary (although don't get me wrong; in some cases the commentary is extremely high quality and interesting; but still very dry) and cringeworthy forced memes (such as shouting "hype" or making the Wario sound; they might have been fun a couple of times, when done spontaneously, but when you hear it for the twentieth time, and it feels really forced and artificial, it's more cringeworthy than anything else.)

Many people have commented that they have lost interest in the GDQ events. They were fun and interesting in the early years, but now it just feels mass-produced, sterile, on-the-rails, unfun and way too commercialized. They are more interested in getting donations and pandering to their sponsors with a sponsor-friendly and kid-friendly show, than making an actually fun event to watch.

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