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Saving frames and saving lives at this year’s AGDQ, a week-long charity gaming marathon

Looking for something to watch online this week? Look no further, This year’s AGDQ marathon is back, a seven day extravaganza, featuring 130 different games across more than 150 hours of non-stop gaming. Here’s everything a noob needs to know about the week-long game marathon, like what it’s raising money for, and all the crazy stuff going on during the live-streamed charity event.

What in the world is AGDQ?

AGDQ stands for Awesome Games Done Quick, a bi-annual meetup for speed runners all over the world. Speed runners do one thing and one thing only: complete video games as quickly as possible, by whatever means are available. Speed running involves intentionally breaking, abusing, and utilizing all possible game mechanics, glitches, and exploits to get to the finish line in the least amount of time possible. It’s a lot like watching anyone else play their favorite video games on Twitch or YouTube, but a whole lot faster and crazier.

Think of it like a crazy, gaming version of those TV telethons

This January speed running marathon is in many ways the Mecca for speed runners and their fans all over the world. Hundreds of speed runners practice year-round to either visit AGDQ or show off their skills as a speed runner at the marathon event. There’s also a summer version of the event, Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ), which took place in St. Paul, Minnesota this past July. Thousands of people make their way to AGDQ and SGDQ each year, and at peak hours more than 120,000 people watch live across streams in five different languages. Some viewers call in sick from work all week to watch the stream.

AGDQ is all about speed running games, but another core part of the event is its fundraiser. In recent years AGDQ and SGDQ have raised money for the Prevent Cancer foundation and Doctors Without Borders, respectively. The marathons raise a ton of money for these charities: AGDQ 2015 raised more than $1.5 million for Prevent Cancer, and SGDQ 2015 raised over $1 million for Doctors Without Borders. All of the speed runners participate in this charity event as volunteers, and the vast majority of money is raised from individual donators who watch from the live stream on Twitch. Think of it like a crazy, gaming version of those TV telethons.

AGDQ is going on now until Midnight on Sunday, featuring all of your favorite games of yesteryear across a plethora of consoles. Here’s a look at the full schedule to see when your favorite games are being played, but be warned: once these runners are through with your favorite games, it can be hard to recognize it as they run through at break-neck speeds.

Save animals? Kill animals? What’s going on?

Like any tradition, AGDQ has its own culture, and frankly a cult following of sorts among its most loyal viewers and speed runners. This brings with it all sorts of fun and interesting quirks. As donations are read live during the marathon, you may notice the announcer talk about killing or saving animals.

Now before you grab the phone to call PETA, there’s no real animals harmed in the making of AGDQ — as far as we know. What’s really going on is a week-long charity fundraiser for one of the final games in the AGDQ marathon: Super Metroid.

In the classic Super Nintendo game, Samus Aran eventually makes her way to the Mother Brain, where in the final mission she must escape from the planet undergoing a self-destruct sequence. The player can encounter a room full of animals and, if they wish, take a detour to help them escape from self destruction. This costs precious seconds in a speed run, but for many feels like the right thing to do.

This is one of the biggest charity events in the marathon, as viewers literally put their money where their mouth is, voting with donations to either “kill the animals” and save a few seconds, or “save the animals” and sacrifice the precious time. This bidding war alone raised over $350,000 during AGDQ 2015 as viewers tried to tip the balance for saving or killing the Super Metroid animals.

This is also where the whole “save the frames” saying comes to mind. Every frame counts in a speed run, and last year the animals were saved by just over $4,000, or by a little more than one percent. Who knows whether the animals will be killed or saved at this year’s AGDQ.

Breaking games in the most amazing ways

AGDQ brings out one of the most interesting things in gaming, where players intentionally break games to finish them as quickly as possible. This is hardly the way developers expect their games to be played, and what was once a bug that would ruin a casual player’s experience becomes a crucial way for speed runners to finish games as quickly as possible. With some games, such as Battleblock Theater, the developers joined the event via Skype and watched with shock and amazement as the game they made was torn apart by the speed runners, performing glitches they hadn’t even realized existed.

Some speed runners go so far as to rewrite the games they play in order to beat them as quickly as possible. Warping is a common term in speed running for exploiting glitches and other game activity in order to teleport to the end of the game. For some games, such as Super Mario World and Pokemon Red, this involves rewriting the game’s memory to change the game state and give you powers you otherwise can’t have, or to teleport you to different parts the game world.

This sort of exploit can be abused to do even crazier stuff. Last year, a few coders managed to turn a running version of Super Mario World into, well, see for yourself:

We’re expecting even more of the same shenanigans this year on Saturday, during the “TASbot plays” events on Saturday.

All of this is happening live right now on AGDQ’s Twitch Channel. It runs non-stop through Saturday with all of our favorite (The Legend of Zelda and Goldeneye) and most hated (Ecco the Dolphin and Battletoads) games being played by speed runners from all over the world.

If you miss anything during the week-long marathon, don’t worry. Everything  played during AGDQ is available on Twitch for later viewing. See here for /r/speedrun’s growing list of the latest speed runs now available for on demand viewing. It’s just a taste of the thousands of videos available from speed runners who play these games year round.

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