Speedrunning and SpaceX: What This World Can’t Lose
On the day that I started writing this, live reports were coming out about the Iranian bombing of Iraq military bases. The memers were all over World War 3, but for the most part, I’m still not convinced that a war is going to happen. However, in case we enter nuclear winter soon and you’re reading this from Low Earth orbit on a 6 petabyte snapshot of Archive.org, I want to share the things that I find beautiful in this world. If you’re not reading this during the apocalypse, I hope you enjoy my insight anyway. Read on about speedrunning and SpaceX.
Speedrunning: Community, Perseverance, and Achievement
If you’re not familiar with the concept of speedrunning, it generally involves a video game and a set of people (speedrunners) trying to complete the game as fast as humanly (and sometimes inhumanly) possible. On paper, this seems like a flat subject— how could I possibly find philosophical beauty or depth in speedrunning? The answer lies in the people and the history behind every speedrunning record. There are Youtube essays detailing the history of speedrunning for certain games, such as Summoning Salt’s videos or more recently, Smallant1's video on Super Mario Odyssey speedruns. The videos detail the passing of the “fastest time” title from player to player, explaining the new game mechanics that are discovered and how they let players complete the game faster. These videos showcase the fascinating communities keeping track of the speedrunning records, sharing the newest discoveries, and challenging each other to be better. You may disagree, but I find this dedication inspiring. In a time of supposed increasing polarity, these people manage to unite under the simple goal of completing a game faster.
Even more impressive than the collective communities supporting speedrunning is the speedrunners themselves: these playthroughs of the game or “runs” often take hours, and as the speedrunners try to beat the world record, these hours are spent performing the necessary gameplay flawlessly. Any mistakes in a run could jeopardize it, and yet the world records are improved hundreds of times, made possible by the thousands of runs that the speedrunners go through. Perseverance certainly had a different manifestation 100 years ago, but these speedrunners doubtlessly embody it now.
So what’s the point? Why does this matter? I believe that speedrunning showcases the best characteristics of human nature. In the Super Mario Odyssey example, the achievement on which everyone had set their targets was a run that was faster than one hour, aka a “sub-hour” run. The way that this achievement was reached was through the altruistic contribution of hundreds of forum-goers and the persistence of speedrunners queueing up new runs every day. This gestalt collection of collaborators is a taste of the defining characteristics of human beings. Some may argue that in the end, all that speedrunning has achieved is some nebulous record on the internet, but many will agree with me when I say that speedrunning, much like the Olympics, is a showcase of humans pushing their limits.
SpaceX: Innovation and Awe
Although many companies are rising in popularity in the commercial space exploration domain, SpaceX is without a doubt the forerunner, in no small part exemplified by the Tesla Roadster orbiting the sun. Whenever I watch a livestream of a SpaceX ship taking off, I realize the sheer amount of work that had to be done for that rocket to exist. There’s the extraction of the materials, the design and prototyping, the actual delivery and assembly, and also millions of lines of software, all for this one rocket fleeing the gravity of Earth. While the scope and implications of SpaceX’s work is undeniably more important than that of speedrunners, I find myself feeling again that this amalgamation of efforts is a showcase of what humans can do. On top of the collaboration, competition and perseverance that speedrunning exhibited, SpaceX shows another defining characteristic of human beings: innovation.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an expert on the technology that SpaceX is using, and I know only a little about the burgeoning commercial space flight industry. The reason I want to talk about SpaceX is the feeling they bring to the table that has been lost in the modern era: awe. The coolest technology we could imagine is being CGIed into the movies we watch but we don’t get to see them in real life. Cancer cures are being put into news articles every day but they are sensationalist at worst, or years away from approval at best. I seldom find myself surprised by technology until I watch rocket thrusters landing simultaneously. I am sometimes asked how I could be both an environmentalist and a fan of space travel when space travel pollutes so much. The answer in my eyes is simple: we save the environment so that we might be enabled to travel to space. Greta Thunberg famously said that our dreams have been stolen and replaced with fear of climate change (paraphrasing). The awe brought on by space travel is the fuel that brings back those dreams.
I don’t mean to pander. I know that a lot of people are fans of SpaceX, and many other people are critical of Elon Musk’s actions. I want to simply bring to attention the fact that a speedrunner streaming to 5 people and a company extending the “light of consciousness into the cosmos” are not so different — and they are both worth fighting for.