Unlike my tendency towards controller-throwing tantrums, each of the guys I spoke with had a Zen-like approach to dealing with frustration. "I can handle stress very well. It's rare that I get frustrated," Andersson says. "I never throw my controllers on the floor or scream out loud. For some records, I have to accept 2000 deaths, and I know that already when I am starting. It is important to never give up if you want to do something more than ordinary. You have to fight for it."
Bert was able to conquer Rare's amphibian torture device without driving himself crazy by exercising some restraint. "The way that I deal with the stress is simply to not overdo it. Yes, you must practice a lot to be able to master anything in life, but just pace yourself so you don't burn yourself out," he says. "These are games, so try to have as much fun with them as possible, even for the 10,000th run through. For me, I was able to achieve this by limiting myself to one try per day."
Cody Miller set the Zen bar even higher when he spoke of his failures during training: "It's not frustrating, because the process is fascinating to me. It's a learning opportunity, and you're still learning right up until you nail the run. If you fail, there's a reason you failed. It could be because you didn't understand the game as well as you thought. It could be because you weren't psychologically prepared. Either way, failing gives you an opportunity for further exploration. Just playing at that level is enjoyable, so even if you fail, it's not like your time was wasted."
Perhaps the most important question of all never even needed to be asked. Why? I wondered at the beginning, as the initial shock of seeing my old favorites spanked so thoroughly had worn off. Why would you put yourself through that? I thought, as I marched through that first night, equally enthralled and confused by the talent on display.
It's obvious to me now why speedrunners practice their craft. They're the videogame equivalent of obsessive mountaineers - the folks who need to conquer K2 and Everest and all of the peaks that scrape the stratosphere. Some do it for love, others for the competition and still others for the glory of knowing that they've achieved a kind of sublime mastery over their chosen world. It doesn't even matter that Battletoads leaves the player with "the crappiest ending ever" according to Bert - because his was the sweetest victory of all.
Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, college professor and avid runner (of the physical sort) who hails from New England. You can find her musings on games, life and geek culture at GameShark.com, Gamertell.com and Logo Online.