Zen and the Art of Speedrunning

Remember that viral web browser game, QWOP? Y’know, the one where you had to press the Q, W, O, and P keys to control a digital runner’s legs and ferry him towards the finish line?

Well, the same person behind that game later went on to release another interactive experience that’s since captured the hearts and souls of gamers worldwide. It’s called Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, and in it you play a man inside of a cauldron, trying to scale a mountain with only the help of a Yosemite hammer.

Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait.

It’s pretty easy and relaxing, as famed YouTuber Markiplier demonstrates:

Okay, so maybe it’s not as easy as it looks. But tell that to this guy:

As a casual gamer myself, sometimes I watch speedruns of a game I’m playing so I can marvel at how master players navigate through it with insane precision and efficiency. And of course, the harder a game is, the more impressive the speedrun.

Not surprisingly, speedruns have influenced my approach to Cardistry, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.

According to the Wikipedia entry on speedrunning,

“A speedrun is a play-through, or a recording thereof, of a whole video game or a selected part of it (such as a single level), performed with the intention of completing it as fast as possible.”

But as we all know, doing moves as fast as you can isn’t the goal of Cardistry. If that were the case, we’d be seeing way more Brian Tudors, and not as many Oliver Sogards:

For me, the core takeaway from speedrunning as it applies to Cardistry isn’t about speed, but about knowing a system so well that you can breeze through it smoothly, without hiccups or hesitation.

“Smoothness creates the illusion of speed.”

Daren Yeow

At their core, nearly every move in Cardistry can be broken down into two components: grips and transitions. So the more comfort you have with a move’s grips, and the less hesitation there is when you transition from one grip to another, the smoother the performance of a move is.

As an example of what not to do, here’s a snippet from the trailer of Cap Casino’s DVD ReCapped:

As you can see, he’s trying to perform this move as quickly as possible, but there’s several moments within the cut that he’s obviously still struggling with, leading to a janky choppiness that makes it hard to watch, regardless of its speed.

By contrast, here’s one of the smoothest in the game, Nikolaj, with his move Lancelot:

Note that even though there are several pauses within the performance of the cut, these are not due to any sort of ineptitude on Nikolaj’s behalf. Rather, it is because he is so adept with Lancelot‘s grips and the transitions between them, he can then make the artistic decision to choose the pace at which to perform this move, allowing for moments of punctuation and emphasis that would get glossed over if he just executed it as fast as he could.

Again, the most impressive part of speedrunning to me isn’t the speed, but that it’s the culmination of someone putting tons of hours into familiarizing themselves so well with a sequence of finger movements, so that there’s as little unnecessary interference between them and the finish line as possible.

And if we can imagine that Cardistry is a similar type of expressive obstacle course, then I feel that our respect for the ones who can also make the difficult look easy is very well-deserved indeed.

4 replies on “Zen and the Art of Speedrunning”

My oh my well said , really gives insights in how to approach a move in terms of practice 🙌 the link from speed running to cardistry is on pt

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