Galway’s best Mario Kart player

By Declan Harte

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule says that “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.” But for Lily O’Connor, a final year Film Studies student at NUI Galway, it only takes 600 hours to achieve greatness… at Mario Kart.

While Mario Kart is something everyone can recognise and enjoy at a beginner’s level, there are those who strive for perfection.

A subsection of the gaming community, known as speedrunners, are people who try to play games as fast as humanly possible. For speedrunners, perfection is never quite attainable, something can always be improved.

Ms O’Connor recently held the world record time on a Mario Kart 8 track and is continuously working on re-earning that crown. The competition is stiff and every millisecond matters. Even earning a world record on one track is incredibly impressive.

Watching her is mesmerising. Mario Kart is a series designed to stop players winning every race by a large margin through the use of silly Mario-based items, like a red shell, a banana peel, or the notorious blue shell – an item that specifically targets the player in first place to slow them down.

But speedrunners care not for your items, speedrunners can outpace your items to the point that it is almost game-breaking. At every corner she somehow finds that extra inch, ducks and weaves past every barrier in her path.

But how does someone get into the art of speedrunning?

“Last year I actually did a semester abroad in England. I found it kind of lonely, which is kind of sad, but I used my grant money to buy a [Nintendo] Switch, so I ended up just speedrunning a bunch of games on that and found it really fun,” said Ms O’Connor.

“Before that I really only played Mario Kart on the [Nintendo] DS, that was fun. I only really came back into it last year, getting pretty good at it now.”

Speedrunning is almost an industry in itself now, with people finding ridiculous ways to speedrun any game they can think of. Mario Kart is actually one of the far more straightforward ones because it involves simply finishing a race as quickly as possible.

So how do people decide what game they want to speedrun? Sometimes it comes from a devoted love to a game, or an innate talent at the controls that only a few can master. And sometimes it’s as simple as that’s the game they own.

“That was the game I bought. It’s the game that a lot of people play. I think it’s the best-selling game on the Switch right now. Also, it’s a very straight forward speedrun, like it’s a racing game, finish the lap as fast as possible. And I just find it really fun, it’s a really well designed game,” she said.

But with all that time and effort that goes into becoming this good, what are the possible rewards to being really great at a video game?

Well the video game industry is now a very lucrative industry to enter into. While many try, only the very best and talented can make it. For Ms O’Connor, the goal is to attain a capture card which helps to upload footage of her performances onto the likes of YouTube and Twitch.

From there, gaining an audience and being able to build a body of work is the first step in being able to start earning money for such talent.

Ultimately, her goal is to perform at an annual charity event known as Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) and its summer equivalent Summer Games Done Quick (GDQ). AGDQ and GDQ are events organised by the speedrunning community to raise charity. The organisation has donated over $25m (€23.12m) to various charities in its 10-year history.

It is a staple event of the speedrunning community and is a shining example of the good it can do.

“Speedrunning is really good like that. You’ll find that, if you watch AGDQ and GDQ, which are annual speedrunning events, you’ll find a lot of streamers are from minority groups,” she said

“Like one of the first trans people I saw on Twitch was a speedrunner, purely because if you play a multiplayer game and you’re openly trans, you tend to get a lot of hostility, but speedrunning generally is single player so you kind of just do it by yourself.

“I don’t know if people are familiar with GDQ, but if you watch it they’re all about [inclusivity]. You see people of colour, trans people, people from sexual minorities.

“There was one guy who ended up getting an American visa called TheMexicanRunner, he speedruns Cuphead, he’s fantastic. He ended up getting really big on Twitch because of his runs on GDQ. He’s also very funny for anyone who wants to watch him, brilliant at Cuphead as well.

“I think I can get good enough at Mario Kart, like I’ve been practicing for a long time, so I’d love to eventually get to GDQ.”

Based on the talent she displayed during my races with her, it won’t take another 9,400 hours to get to GDQ.

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