Speedrunning Undertale helped me understand my gender better


I’m a trans girl, and I’m additionally a speedrunner. These two issues could seem disconnected, however enjoying video video games quick has really helped me take into consideration the methods I carry out gender.

Video video games are distinctive in that they allow us to “become” different individuals. When we play video games, we usually don’t simply watch somebody act out a scene — we will actively take part within the eventualities, gaining experiences that could be exterior of our norms. But after I say that speedrunning helped me understand my gender, I’m not speaking about figuring out with fictional characters or utilizing character creators.

One day about two years in the past, on a whim, I made a decision to attempt my hand at speedrunning. I began with Undertale as a result of on the time all I had was an outdated laptop computer, so I wanted a recreation that didn’t require an excessive amount of computational energy.

If you realize something about speedrunning, you realize that selecting the sport isn’t the one choice to make. You additionally want to choose a class, which principally features as a algorithm that outline the parameters of what’s allowed or needed to finish a run. Because there have been a number of main patches to Undertale, I additionally needed to choose which model of the sport to play. I chosen the Neutral class (Undertale’s model of Any%) and the 1.02+ model of the sport, which meant {that a} typical run for a brand new participant was solely about one hour. And, as an additional advantage, there weren’t many tips to study — although nonetheless greater than I initially bargained for!

Two battles within Undertale.

Image: Toby Fox

Somewhat unusually, I had by no means performed Undertale in any capability previous to working it. I’d heard lots about it, although. The guidelines of speedrunning fully remodeled Undertale from the quirky, self-reflexive RPG filled with endearing characters I had been informed it was into one thing that didn’t contain characters, morality, exploration, or plot in any respect. Instead, it concerned working towards frame- and pixel-perfect glitches, resetting time and again (and over) once more, grinding for good outcomes, yelling in frustration after I’d softlock the sport for the 100th time on a “personal best” tempo, and celebrating after I lastly hit my targets after months of failure.

Through this course of (and thru engagement with different queer online game gamers, friends, and students) I spotted a recreation, any recreation, is simply as a lot the software program and {hardware} as it’s the guidelines we deliver to it. We can apply new, distinctive guidelines to a recreation and, within the course of, craft what is actually a totally completely different expertise. This perception was key in framing my perspective of gender.

I’ve had what I’ll generously name an uneasy relationship with masculinity. As cliché as it’s to say, I knew for a very long time that one thing was “off,” however I by no means actually had the ideas or language essential to take concrete motion in regard to these emotions. It wasn’t till a few 12 months and a half in the past that I got here out as transgender. A pair months later, I started medically and socially transitioning. Speedrunning didn’t trigger me to be trans, or something foolish like that, however the classes it taught me concerning the guidelines of video video games offered a framework that I may apply to the foundations of gender and the way I did, or extra importantly did not, wish to observe them.

In the identical method that speedrunners redefine the foundations of video video games, I significantly thought-about guidelines that I used to be unconsciously following. In video video games, as in life, there are sometimes invisible constructions we don’t notice are there. Scroll by way of the feedback part of nearly any video of a speedrun on YouTube and also you’ll see all types of claims that the runner is dishonest or not enjoying the sport proper.

But what guidelines, precisely, are being damaged?

There is clearly a perceived right method video games to play that speedrunners transgress, whether or not that features concepts like “you aren’t supposed to clip out of bounds” or “you should not skip essential chunks of the narrative.” Video video games (in addition to many gamers and designers) attempt to prescribe “proper” methods to play, correct methods to work together with the sport, however speedrunners ignore these calls for. The recreation, for speedrunners, is no matter that neighborhood says it’s. They take the prescribed guidelines, and say: “No thank you. Those aren’t for me. I am going to play differently.”

A glitch performed in an Undertale speedrun.

Image: Toby Fox through Madison D. Schmalzer

This framing of gameplay occurred concurrently with one other realization: I desperately needed to play with gender otherwise too. The invisible guidelines of gender weren’t working for me. All the time, from small interactions with strangers to relationship and relationships, I needed to consciously pressure myself to “be a man.” Performing it was turning into too exhausting. The guidelines of masculinity work for a lot of, however for me, masculinity was a dressing up or a shell I felt compelled to put on. It is tough to place into phrases, however masculinity simply by no means felt pure. Despite feeling deep down that issues needs to be completely different, I however felt compelled to observe the foundations of gender, whether or not that was to present agency handshakes, put on a shirt and tie, care about soccer, or to easily exist in a masculine physique.

On some degree, everyone knows the foundations of gender. They simply change into extra apparent once we break them. These guidelines dictate what garments we put on, how we converse, how we transfer, how we’re imagined to want, and who we will love. They are imposed on us earlier than we’re born and are a key element in shaping who we’re.

But why ought to I observe them? If I can change the foundations of a recreation to create a unique method to play, why can’t I additionally say “no thank you” to those guidelines of gender in the event that they don’t work for me?

The brief reply is: I completely can. I don’t need to play by the usual algorithm if these guidelines don’t work for me. This was a momentous epiphany for me, and speedrunning’s insistence on self-defining guidelines helped reinforce it.

But what makes speedrunning’s guidelines any completely different from the foundations of the unique recreation? While speedrunning classes, like gender norms, are normally already set once we get to them, they’re nonetheless very malleable. Categories can shift to satisfy the wants of the neighborhood, both by modifying outdated outdated guidelines or including new classes to satisfy the neighborhood’s pursuits. The guidelines change because the neighborhood adjustments.

For occasion, Undertale’s speedrun neighborhood just lately found a significant skip that they had been trying to find for years: The Mad Dummy Skip, which primarily skips a whole battle. The factor is, it doesn’t work on all working programs. So the neighborhood has determined, through vote, to permit a patch that modifies the sport’s recordsdata, enabling the skip on all OSs. With this alteration to the foundations, the sport itself has modified. It isn’t essentially the factor you purchase and obtain anymore, and thru this redefinition extra persons are in a position to take part. Speedrunning communities understand that if what we’re given doesn’t match how we wish to play, we will change it.

And if, say, masculinity or femininity don’t be just right for you, it’s attainable to play with a unique algorithm and redefine what we’re enjoying with to start with.

At the identical time, I wish to acknowledge that we will by no means step exterior of the “commonplace guidelines’’ fully. I used to be by no means part of the Undertale speedrunning neighborhood correct, though everybody I’ve ever interacted with there was beautiful to me. I used to be merely a vacationer passing by way of on the best way to different video games that I’m a lot better at and with which I’ve stronger neighborhood ties. Like the act of transitioning, it was a place to begin for me that opened me to new experiences. In the identical method that I waltzed into Undertale speedrunning properly after classes have been outlined by a big neighborhood, I don’t have the facility to fully change any guidelines on a big scale on my own. Taking hormones and transitioning doesn’t undo gender norms any greater than Wrong Warping glitches undoes conceptions about how we should always play video video games.

Like accusations of enjoying the sport improper on YouTube movies, trans individuals sadly get an identical pushback with extra critical implications. Trans persons are informed all too typically they aren’t performing gender the right method or aren’t actually their gender, resulting in harassment and lack of institutional or structural help. All the whereas, many don’t have the sources or help to soundly break the foundations in the event that they wish to. Clearly, the usual guidelines maintain a variety of sway.

Still, I discover it inspiring that on a collective scale, by way of cooperation and mutual help, we will make constructive change. A accomplished run is rarely the work of 1 individual. It is the work of many individuals in a neighborhood sharing info, testing methods, and dealing collectively to enhance a run. One individual expressing themselves authentically is the work of numerous folks that have come earlier than, in addition to those that proceed to supply help, even when it could not all the time really feel prefer it.

With that success comes a variety of inevitable failure too. I fail greater than I reach relation to each speedrunning and my gender transition. I’m properly conscious of the methods I fail to look, sound, or transfer in the best way I would like (whether or not I ought to care about these items is one other story). Speedrunning, in some ways, has ready me for a sure sort of persistence to endure repeated failure, or a minimum of endure the painfully sluggish means of transitioning. Transition is usually characterised as a sudden factor, like a butterfly rising from a chrysalis, however in actuality reaching your purpose is agonizingly sluggish, simply as it’s in speedrunning.

For me to finish my first run of Undertale, I wanted to follow particular person tips just like the Punch Card Exploit (PCE), which is important to performing cutscene skips and improper warps, amongst different tips. Performing a PCE requires a really fast sequence of inputs whereas positioned on a pixel-specific house. On prime of this, for some tips, in case you aren’t quick sufficient, the sport will softlock and it’s a must to begin over from the start of the sport. Building up the muscle reminiscence to carry out PCEs constantly along with memorizing the entire positions to carry out them took weeks of follow.

It was an absolute slog. I tousled a whole lot and a whole lot of occasions, having to start out over repeatedly. And this was all earlier than I even began really working the sport!

When I discover myself mendacity on a stiff desk whereas a girl in a masks zaps the hair off my face or wanting within the mirror wishing the hormones would simply do their rattling factor already, I’m reminded of the painful, incremental enhancements in speedrunning, and the way good it feels to lastly succeed for the primary time. And the attractive factor is, success can imply no matter we would like it to! I haven’t come even remotely near attaining a prime time in most Undertale classes, however I get to outline success for myself, whether or not that’s merely finishing a run or having the braveness to stroll down the road carrying a gown for the primary time.


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