Six years ago, Awesome Games Done Quick started as a small outfit of speedrunners who played games to raise money for cancer prevention. Since then, AGDQ has ballooned into a big event: this year alone, viewers donated $US2.2 ($3) million dollars for a good cause. The added visibility has brought new challenges, as runners and organisers butt heads over rules that dictate what is banned from the event.
Awesome Games Done Quick, along with its partner event, Summer Games Done Quick, are week-long charity events where speedrunners use a variety of strategies and glitches to complete games as fast as possible on Twitch. Beyond sheer skill, part of the appeal of the event are the personalities associated with the runs. Additionally, each speedrun has a small team of commentators sitting on a couch, where they explain the tricks implemented during the stream.
In order to keep the focus on the charity, Games Done Quick has a policy asking that individuals avoid "topics of conversation that are polarising or controversial in nature," including politics and religion. But on the first day of AGDQ 2017, PvtCinnamonBun, a commentator for iongravirei's Ape Escape 2 run, was accused of wearing a hat bearing president-elect Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
The presence of a hat with president-elect Donald Trump's campaign logo got one couch commentator banned from GDQ events.
Following the run, members of Games Done Quick's event staff spoke with PvtCinnamonBun and banned him from attending future marathons for allegedly wearing the hat on the stream. You can hear the entire exchange through an audio recording released online by PvtCinnamonBun. In it, an event enforcer known as Klaige approaches PvtCinnamonBun and other members of the commentary team to inform them of the ban.
"At this point, we can't trust [PvtCinnamonBun] to be on stream again," Klaige says. "He's been warned multiple times."
According to PvtCinnamonBun, that ban was overturned after event staff reviewed footage and ascertained that he had not, in fact, worn a MAGA hat. Regardless, shortly afterwards, PvtCinnamonBun claims to have received a new ban for allegedly unplugging a powerstrip. Adding another complication into the mix, Mega Man X6 speedrunner Cyberdemon531 also got banned from the event over the MAGA hat, which apparently belonged to them all along.
Cyberdemon531 and PvtCinnamonBun were already controversial within the wider speedrunning community before their bans from GDQ. In 2015, PvtCinnamonBun made a tweet about the upcoming AGDQ 2016 that referenced the mass shooting of Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Cyberdemon531 created the r/speedruncelebrities subreddit, a forum that spends an inordinate time obsessing over former speedrunner Narcissa Wright. Wright came out as transgender in November 2015 and has been subjected to harassment ever since.
Games Done Quick declined to speak to Kotaku about individual enforcement actions in detail, stating that it was policy to protect victims and offenders from harassment.
"We find it critically important that we treat each situation uniquely," GDQ representative Matt Merkle said. "This way, malicious actors are punished swiftly and heavily, while also ensuring that accidents are not punished harshly or unfairly. It's a balance, but I'd much rather teach people proper etiquette than jump to banishment."
Cyberdemon531 says that they would not contest their banning if GDQ was clearer about their policies.
"The rules are inconsistent," they said. "The way I see it, they have purposefully vague rules designed to target people they dislike." While the event clearly lists the rules on their website, Cyberdemon531 believes these rules are enforced haphazardly.
The banned runners also claim that attendees in attire showing support for ex-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders were present at the event and visible on stream. However, GDQ's rule for avoiding political material is only listed for runners or commenters, not casual attendees.
In retaliation to the bans, angry community members released Klaige's personal information online. Cyberdemon531 released a blog post condemning that doxxing, but still took the time to attack Klaige over claims that the banned runners brigaded "alt-right crazies" against him. Klaige could not be reached for comment.
Bonesaw577 was given a temporary ban on game submissions after this 2016 run.
Increasingly, some people fear that Games Done Quick events ban runners with little cause. Last year, popular Jak and Daxter speedrunner Bonesaw577 was banned after completing a run at Summer Games Done Quick 2016. During his run, he swore multiple times and told stream viewers to tweet at Air Canada after his keys were lost on his flight to the event. Bonesaw was banned from submitting new speedruns until 2018. He has gone on record saying that he respects GDQ's decision, but members of the community, including controversial video creator and rumormonger Apollo Legend, have used the ban as evidence of perceived problems in the GDQ marathons.
To hear Apollo Legend tell it, Games Done Quick's official partnership with the Prevent Cancer Foundation brought more rigorous standards for runners who do not comply with event rules. The growth of the event and the stricter enforcement has lead some members of the community to grow sceptical of GDQ as a venue to show off runner personalities. Some runners, such as Trihex, have cultivated followings based on their personality, and are known to dazzle viewers with exciting commentary and charm.
Regardless, the event's handling of early events has allowed some brash runners to make nasty statements, such as when Pokémon runner Werster used derogatory terms for black people on stream at AGDQ 2013. He was still allowed to stream at AGDQ 2014 and 2015 but claims to have been banned from future events.
The perception from viewers varies, but some prefer vigorous moderation of runner conduct, especially given the nature of recent incidents. For example, two AGDQ runs drew criticism for comments that some viewers deemed transphobic. In one incident, a couch commentator on benstephens56's Ocarina of Time 3D run feigned indignation when benstephen56 referred to a boss as "she." The comment drew ire on Twitter, because dealing with faulty gender assumptions plague the day-to-day life of trans people.
"I understand people who feel it may have been aimed at their lifestyles may be frustrated by the comment, and to them, I apologise," benstephens56 told Kotaku.
Linkus7's missteps in addressing a transgender speedrunner drew scrutiny.
A Wind Waker run by Linkus7 also drew criticism this year, after the runner referred to Narcissa Wright by her pre-transition or "dead" name. Since using a transperson's pre-transtion name is considered a way to dismiss their gender identity, some viewers were left asking what GDQ would do to curb such behaviour from runners. While the misnaming may not have been intentional, given some of the harassment trailing Narcissa, using her pre-transition name feeds into a larger and uglier situation. Kotaku reached out to Linkus7 but received no comment.
While GDQ declined to speak about specific incidences with runners, they did disclose a list of questions they consider when dealing with potentially disruptive situations. It reads as follows:
1. Was the person aware of the situation?
2. Did it appear malicious?
3. How often did it occur?
4. Does it also violate other rules, such as charity or hotel rules?
5. How serious is the situation? Things like property damage or physical violence are likely to result in immediate banishment, for instance.
These rules can be subject to some personal interpretations by event staff, but they still provide some clarity as to how the event handles enforcement. However, the organisation's lack of concrete responses to the comments in Likus7's run raised concerns on social media. Some fans say that awkward moments or controversial figures drive them away from speedrunning.
"People like [Cyberdemon531] are a part of this community made me hesitant to start following speedrunning at first," commenter GaryOak151 said in a Reddit thread regarding the bans.
"The damage done to marginalized folks is far worse if you say nothing," a concerned viewer tweeted at Games Done Quick's official account.
Adding to the mess, a false GDQ account starting replying to concerned viewers using transphobic slurs. The account was quickly shut down.
Runners like benstephens56 say that they don't think the staff should have to respond to every single comment that viewers take exception to. He also says that viewers tend to latch on to moments of controversy, which alters perceptions of the event.
Comments regarding gender in benstephen56's Ocarina of Time 3D run made some viewers uncomfortable.
"It really makes me sad when I search for AGDQ highlights and all I can find are top "cringe moments" or "awkward moments." I love to see people praising runners for their skill and dedication. That's what this should be about."
Striking the proper balance between runner and viewer concerns poses a challenge for Games Done Quick. Emotions run deep about just how far the event should go in order to cultivate a safe viewing experience, while also staying true to the earlier event's focus on the runners themselves. It may be an impossible balance to strike.
"No one's perfect," GDQ's Matt Merkle said. "We'll continue to adjust our policies and improve down the line to adapt."
Games Done Quick also reached out to Kotaku, responding to claims from banned runners that individuals wearing Bernie Sanders apparel were seen on stream. Their statement is as follows:
One specific reference was claimed to an attendee wearing a Bernie shirt. That claim was brought about on Twitter and was false. The person in question was one of our staff wearing a GDQ shirt, and when we saw people claiming it was such a shirt, he walked right up to the camera so it was clearly visible as a GDQ shirt.