In a small but significant win for accessibility advocates within speedrunning, it was announced last Thursday that the Metroid Dread leaderboards on speedrun.com will now allow runners to make use of rapid-fire assists, commonly referred to as turbo, during their runs, and that those runs will be placed on equal footing with players who choose to mash buttons the old-fashioned way. Supporters of the change cite factors like increased accessibility and a reduction in the kinds of repetitive stress injuries which can result from pressing buttons really fast all the time.
Sabera Mesia, a moderator on the Metroid Dread speedrun boards, announced the change on Twitter last Thursday, stating, “Turbo runs will share the same leaderboards as non-turbo runs, and will not be hidden by default, but people will be asked to specify on their runs whether they used turbo. I’m very pleased with this outcome; it will mean fewer [repetitive stress injuries] in the community, and allow more people to participate effectively in competing at whatever level of the leaderboards they aspire to work toward. Dread allowing turbo is a huge win, and I’m excited for the future!”
Historically, turbo has not been allowed in most speedrunning categories, with notable exceptions like runs of TurboGrafx-16 games–since the controller that console shipped with had rapid-fire built in, it’s considered standard functionality, and fine for players to use. However, recent months have seen increased advocacy for allowing turbo in speedrunning more broadly. And since Metroid Dread is a game in which one’s ability to mash quickly against certain bosses can make a huge difference in one’s time, there have been conversations in the game’s speedrunning community about creating a specific category for runners who didn’t want to mash until their arm fell off. Some pointed out that certain players may have specific disabilities which could prevent them from being able to mash effectively without assistance. Others brought up the fact that mashing buttons for a speedrun was potentially injurious to every runner.
Vulajin, a speedrunner of numerous games including Metroid Dread known for his involvement with events like Games Done Quick, framed the policy change as a win for accessibility.
“Your speedrunning competition does not need to be constrained by competitive standards carried over from mainstream able-bodied physical competitions like professional sports. We can and should choose a different way,” Vulajin wrote in a follow-up tweet.
The majority of responses to the change are positive, with several players citing hand injury as their primary concern with speedrunning Metroid Dread. However, there have also been detractors who are concerned that “traditional” speedrunners will be forced to use turbo in order to compete, or who feel that mashing is a legitimate skill and that speedrunners who are better at it should reap the advantages over those who cannot mash as effectively.
However, the notion that turbo might give any who use it a true competitive advantage seems debatable. Currently, all of the turbo runs on the Metroid Dread board are within average times for the speedruns submitted prior to turbo being allowed. For instance, Vulajin’s time in the Any% No Major Glitches category for the game, 1 hour 43 minutes 28 seconds, is currently the fastest run to make use of turbo, but only the 20th fastest in that category overall. After all, even if a turbo controller automates the button mashing aspect of a run, it still takes considerable amounts of skill to master and execute the techniques necessary to land a coveted spot on the leaderboards.
Hopefully, other speedrunning communities will consider following Metroid Dread’s example.