A speedrunner’s quest to (re)build the perfect N64 controller

It’s a miracle to witness a good video game speedrun. You watch players fly through your favorite games, making impossible jumps and finding shortcuts you never knew existed. This allows you to see a well-known game in a completely new light. If you’ve never seen a speedrun before, Check out this world record run in the original Super Mario Bros., and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Since, as you know, this is a speedrun, it will take a full five minutes of your time.

But what you habit see (unless you Follow Speedrunners on Twitch) is the hours of work it took to create that perfect run – the thousands of attempts to control a game with perfect precision, cutting out every unnecessary movement and exploiting every strange error. It’s hard work for the player – and for the controller they use day after day, run after run. And all this “grinding,” as speedrunners call it, takes an unexpected toll.

At this episode of The Vergecast, We’re investigating a looming crisis in the Nintendo 64 speedrunning community: players are grinding their controllers into plastic dust at such a rapid pace that optimal N64 controllers are becoming increasingly scarce. We also speak to Beck Abney (abney317 on Twitch), A Mario Kart 64 Speedrunning legend struggling with an even bizarre, more personal form of controller hell.

This is also the first installment of our Five Senses of Gaming miniseries, so stay tuned every Sunday this month for another gaming story about a different sense. And yes, if you read and think this sentence Really? Odor? Taste good!?, Well… buckle up.

If you want to delve even deeper into the wild world of speedrunning, here are some links to get you started:

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