The What and Why of Dumb%


The purpose of this post is to provide a starting point for anyone curious about the particular type of games study I’ve been experimenting with: the Dumb% playthrough. I think I’ve more or less invented the idea, but only say so in case I’m wrong; I’d be very interested in knowing anyone else is doing this. Likewise, if you end up digging the concept and having any suggestions of games to study this way, leave a comment below! If you want to conduct your own Dumb% run, even better–and be sure to let me know if you do!

What is Dumb%?

In speedrunning, an Any% run generally requires the runner beat the game, as quickly as possible. Similarly, a 100% run requires the same, but while also completing all measurable, optional progress as well. In a Zelda game, this includes things like collecting all of the heart pieces.

Now, the Dumb% run of of a game might never reach the end, and often means skipping a good deal of optional gameplay. The cardinal rule of a Dumb% playthrough is this:

Do only what the game has taught you to do.

Teaching may come by way of text, through a cleverly crafted scenario, or via any other means where it becomes reasonable for the player to now know something. Pushing up against what is "reasonable" is part of the point of the study: where does the game draw the line? What's the weirdest, most esoteric thing a game asks of you? What's the game idea of a hint? You're allowed to assume basic knowledge of the controller/input device and how to menu into the gameplay proper, but past that, you should lean on the game for goals and means of achievement. So far, I've excluded the manual from the starting knowledge; lots of old manuals contains so much spoiler-type information as to trivialize the study.

Why is Dumb%?

This write-up comes about nine months after completing the first Dumb% playthrough. I played The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past, with which I had already been deeply familiar. That familiarity drove me (and similarly, some other friends of mine) to wonder and lament about the prospect of playing the game again for the first time. Plainly, no one can recapture the true first time experience, but there remained some interesting questions that I will generalize as the following.

How did we ever beat this game as kids–before the internet and guides and all that?

In a sprawling adventure, or a secret-filled platformer, how does the game guide you through? Does it guide you through? How much does a game trust the player to piece something together–or maybe expect her to simply experiment? These are the answers I seek as I play games the dumb way. So far, it has led to learning new things about old games I love, and realizing that what a game says it’s about isn’t always what gets the credits to roll in the end.

Thanks for reading! And if you've got any ideas for games you think make sense to play this way, let me know in the comments. Cheers!

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