you would kill for this, just a little bit, just a little bit you would
the television show Undeclared was short-lived. it debuted on Fox on september 25th, 2001, when america was not quite ready to laugh again, and it had the single-worst opening “credits” sequence in television history. (credits in quotes because the only credit given is to the creator, Judd Apatow; who even cares who the actors are, anyway?) were it not for the rise of the dvd in the mid-aughts, the show would have been lost to history, but then every single show ever made was released on dvd and made extremely easy to consume, and the fact the show came from noted cult hero Judd Apatow was enough to propel the show from “random Fox thing no one watched” to “beloved comedy classic.”
of course, Undeclared being a one-season sitcom, it is not perfect, as no sitcom has ever hit the ground running. there are rough patches, the characters are never quite figured out, and it feels like the show ends right as it was starting to get somewhere. but there are moments of brilliance. there is a moment when one of the character’s philosophy classes has a lesson on existentialism, which sends the character into an episode-long depression, much like all of us did when we were exposed to a philosophy that says “nothing matters.” he despairs; if nothing we do matters, then what’s the point of adhering to societal rules like “get dressed” or “don’t ogle women,” we all just become worm food anyway, why bother.
near the episode’s end, the character walks by a dorm and hears a young woman playing a beautiful violin solo. this young woman was involved in the episode’s b-plot (this character’s journey is the c-story), wherein her loud and constant violin playing is the motivation for her roommate to seek new accommodations (which — weirdly! — leads to her becoming roommates with the two main female characters, thus making her a new series regular!), so we know she is constantly practicing in search of the perfect solo, lamenting that she sucks, re-iterating her need for practice when her roommate complains. but when lloyd walks by her room, he is entranced. he hears her play, and it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard, you can see in his eyes that he’s finding life’s purpose, it’s moments like this, hearing this song, hearing this beautiful thing that life has put in front of him, that make life worth it. he realizes, as most do shortly after accepting existentialism as the only valid life philosophy, that existentialism is bullshit.
he tells the woman that was the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard. the woman flatly responds, “It sucked,” and picks up from the start. lloyd saunters away.
the video game Celeste was released on all major platforms in january 2018. it is a precision platformer developed by Matt Makes Games, Inc, and it is a game designed for speedrunning. typically, games designed around a speedrun are extremely unfun. they have a “This game’s so hard it’ll fuck your wife!” mentality, an in-game timer, and zero character. but Matt Makes Games, Inc.’s previous game, Towerfall, was a competitive multi-player game, which means the devs understood how to design a game around the idea of competition, and it shows. there is no “correct” way to play Celeste; even at the top level, there are notable differences in gameplay, different options for movement, different strats to take in a room. there are elements of the design which make the speedrun intriguing; you keep your momentum and refresh your dash between screen transitions, which gives the run a flow that makes it fun to watch and even more fun to attempt. and the game is clearly difficult, the fact of a high skill ceiling readily evident to anyone who watches one of the top runners perform.
the high ceiling can still weigh on runners, though. because the game was intended to have zero randomness, to have every single screen be completely within the player’s control, every single mistake is indisputably your fault, and if you run the game for an extended period of time, it can begin wearing on you. some runners will scream at themselves over mistakes, and while one can say “you are literally one of the ten best at the game, there is an extremely reliable website that says exactly that,” the point of the game of the speedrun is not necessarily to beat other people, it’s to beat yourself, and if you don’t beat yourself, you’re like to beat yourself up.
Fladervy, as of the morning of sunday 21 october, is the #2 runner on the Celeste any% leaderboards. he is #1 in two Freedom Planet categories and #1 in a Shovel Knight category. he is so extremely good at this game, he is so extremely good at a game where so many people are merely very good, his runs are so expressive. when you tune into his twitch stream, you are going to see the game played at its highest level, and at its highest level, the game is beautiful. a continuous flow, one room leading into another into another, never stopping, and an expressive speedgame at that, Madeline’s movement exhibiting a joy that belies the eternal pain Fladervy feels because Fladervy runs Celeste and Celeste conducts psychological warfare and when Flad makes a mistake Flad mentions that mistake in his chat and laments how poorly the chapter went. he pbs several times over a few months, and each pb carries a caption like “bad” or “ugh” or “i can’t keep doing this.” when he posts a time below 30 minutes, someone congratulates him on his accomplishment in the Celeste discord server, and he responds, “only took a 10-second time save.”
and all at once you understand why flad thinks this way, because no one who settles for ‘good enough’ achieves the things that flad has achieved, and you wish he could adopt a more positive outlook on his abilities and accomplishments, at one point lurking in a stream where flad is racing with friends (you have to pay at minimum $45 to watch the cleveland browns play football, and to watch three of the top four Celeste runners in a pick-up race on a Thursday evening, it’s only suggested you pay one of them $5; supply and demand is the thing that it is, yes, but still), flad is lamenting what he believes to be a poor performance, saying he’s losing time everywhere, and someone shouts something along the lines of, “Flad, you have a fucking sub-30, just stop and admit you’re good, ok?”
think about the young woman playing violin, this fictional young violinist who exists only as a plot contrivance in the context of Undeclared but is still a human being in the context of the expanded Undeclared universe. what is she practicing for? and what happens when she gets on a stage and plays her solo and people applaud? will she realize she’s good? or or or perhaps more importantly or she’s practicing and suddenly she’s satisfied? she hits all the notes correctly, she plays out of her mind, the thing she has done is so undeniably beautiful even she is floored?
there’s a tournament being staged for the any% run of Celeste. it began in july of 2018 as a way to get people motivated to either pick up the run or improve their already-decent times. almost every single player in the tournament improves their personal best, often securing their pb in a tournament race, and some of these improvements are because it’s hard to do worse than a 1:07:34 (just for example) after a not-zero amount of practice, and other improvements result from a good runner focusing on this run and becoming great. fladervy has a 33 when the tournament starts and has improved to a 29:52 by the time their winner’s bracket semi-final match with tgh begins. tgh has a 29:35, is the world record holder, has been the world record holder since march, has become synonymous with the game. and the celeste tournament is a weird thing; the whole point of the tournament is to motivate individual improvement, which is dope, but speedrunning tournaments are still seeking to externalize what has previously been an internal competition, and the transition has not been wholly smooth, but that’s a whole thing to itself, issues with the idea of speed tournaments are not to be debated when they result in races between tgh and fladervy.
the first race is special, but it is entirely forgotten because it was the opener of a three-act play with at least 20 different plot twists and nobody thinks about the set-up when they reflect on the pay-off. tgh wins because tgh had to win to make the next two races mean what they meant, it was the tournament favorite doing what was expected, beating the guy with the (slightly worse) pb. flad has a sub-par (going by his par) first chapter, dying once and flubbing the strat on the chapter’s second-to-last screen, and immediately posts the word “bad” in the restream chat when he gets the opportunity to use his keyboard for typing. both runners make other mistakes, sure, but these are the ones which fladervy comments on.
race 2, as fladervy reveals in the aftermath (and there is an aftermath), he closes chat, so unless fladervy lives with someone or has someone nearby to witness his runs, he has no one to lament to, is able to focus on the video game he is attempting to play. fladervy starts on fire. he nails the first two chapters, he gets the newly-discovered skip in the third chapter on first attempt, he navigates the third chapter’s absurd last section with no difficulty. tgh dies on the last (and longest) screen of chapter three. flad is ahead, and he is on fire. the commentators note this. flad has a sterling mid-game. he avoids the numerous pitfalls the fourth chapter so temptingly presents, and his mirror temple is only blemished by a single attempt at a trick so absurd that tgh does not attempt it in his runs. it saves three seconds but has a three-pixel window. chapter six goes swimmingly, as well, flad playing absurdly well in the fight with the game’s antagonist (which is yourself (a metaphor for both depression and speedrunning)). one commentator notes with the excitement of a seven-year-old realizing the bike-shaped present under the christmas tree can only be one thing that flad needs an extremely doable time in the final chapter to world record. and flad plays the first six sections of The Summit perfectly, nailing all the insanely difficult strats a runner of his caliber goes for, pulling off the tricks, doing the things, and the booth is losing their minds, and tgh is only 20–25 seconds behind while flad is doing his thing, matching flad move for move, still extremely close behind like tgh ended the race with a 30:01 which is fucking stupid good but flad is moving. celeste is a game about movement, and madeline in the hands of a good runner moves beautifully, and fladervy is telling the gods he belongs among them and it is insane, it is just so insane, it is so undeniably good, and then flad takes a death in the final section of summit and the audience collectively seizes in terror because the world record is there but is now much closer, and flad has a save even later in the section and chat seizes up again, and flad flies up the final leg of the run and finishes the game in 29 in-game minutes and 31 in-game seconds and the game has a new king and fladervy asks what happened in the discord and it’s a good question, what did just happen. fladervy, in the biggest possible moment, rose to the occasion and did something masterful.
the third race is just a good old-fashioned slugfest. the two runners enter the final climb in near-perfect sync after 27 (or so) in-game minutes of intense, nigh-on-perfect (but obviously not perfect (but extremely so devastatingly close to perfect) gameplay, and it is unspeakably intense, fearing and knowing one runner will make the last mistake, and it’s TGH, on some checkpoint flag or another, losing only barely enough time to give Fladervy the win, and Fladervy emerges from the smoke the new king, the coronation mitigated somewhat by this being the winner’s bracket semi-final but again that’s its own whole thing, this thing is that on the night of 21 october 2018 fladervy has emerged victorious, the world record holder of a highly-contested game. the late nights, the constant lamentations, the non-stop push, it all has paid off, hundreds of people are celebrating in their individual living spaces, and fladervy chuckles bewildered in the post-race interview. he begins to note some mistakes in his world record run, and a commentator says “Flad? You just set world record,” and flad chuckles again. the run was good. it was so good and it was so basically perfect that noting the death near the end of the run feels like sacrilege, a moment so close to flawless that the flaws can be ignored or explained away, just standard wear-and-tear, we’re not throwing away the banana because it was on the floor for 3.1 seconds, we will not complain that one of the curly fries was not quite so seasoned as the others. this is the one thing in the world that does not suck.
fladervy has the world record in one Shovel Knight category, two Freedom Planet categories, and now one Celeste category. the record in the Lilac category for Freedom Planet was competitive, too, flad trading the record with revolucion for a long stretch of time, and viewing vods of Freedom Planet runs, the similarities are apparent, Freedom Planet being a fast-paced game with a high skill ceiling, and Freedom Planet does not have the hype of Celeste, exists on a much smaller scale, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been here for the last long while, does not mean flad has not been That Dude while the world has been doing other things. this is understandable, because there are constantly other and perhaps better things to do than watch someone you don’t know play some weird game about an anthropomorphic dragon that does parkour, but the point is not that you should have been watching that, how could it be what with every single short-lived sitcom from the early aughts readily available on your Netflixes and whatnots, the point is that flad has been That Dude. flad is patrick mahomes and giannis antetokounmpo and naomi osaka all rolled into one and then multiplied by three because there are like seven or eight “professional speedrunners” and flad has a real life with shit to do, which makes flad more absolutely That Dude. he has been pushing himself in search of something like perfection for years, and this push finally found a moment. months spent creating the sublime and judging it unworthy came to fruition in one moment, the transition being made from flad the violinist disgusted with herself to flad the reforming existentialist wondering how life can be so possible, and then tomorrow it’s back to being the violinist because there was that death in the last chapter, still time to be saved, still an opportunity to play better.
and of course the opportunity was immediately seized, because life is beautiful in ways like this, constantly necessitating edits like this. there can never be a conclusion. fladervy lowered the world record to 29:31 sometime around 7 pm cdt on 21 october. sometime around 5:30 am cdt on 22 october, tgh lowered the world record to 29:25. and maybe in another 12 hours tgh will outdo himself or flad will outdo teej or oddbod will outdo himself and them both or the enigmatic All Red Berries category leader buhbai will at last unloom and sure ok yeah this is ostensibly about the tournament and fladervy did win the tournament set, but the website which saves tournament results is significantly less prestigious than the website which archives times on a leaderboard (the latter asserting its position by being called speedrun dot com, the former is a dumb misspelling of the word ‘challenge’ that only people who care about speedrun tournaments ever use), and fladervy if they were not then awake will eventually wake and see themselves back in second, and what you do after you find your record stood for ten and a half hours is, you pick up the bow, you start playing, and you make a point during your next masterpiece to find only the flaws.