How Power Up With Pride is promoting LGBTQ+ speedrunners

by Robin Mosley

Speedrunning marathons are all about community. The bonds created and the memories made can last a lifetime. But what happens when the speedrunning community doesn’t include queer gamers? Well, in the case of Power Up With Pride, you create your own. This past weekend, Power Up With Pride 2021 showcased queer speedrunners and their allies and raised over $20,000 for The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people under 25.

Queerness should be seen and welcomed in gaming spaces, and on their own terms. Power Up With Pride does just that with its summer and winter Pride events.

A part of making queer gamers visible is through building a great admin team, and both Kaylee Maya and Stella “leggystarscream” Mazeika are part of the Power Up With Pride team who ensure each event is successful. Mazeika has a PhD in computer science, while Maya is a web developer and former speedrunner. Both women are trans and lead with the mission to provide a space for queer people to be seen while having fun showing off their gaming talent.

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Recognizing who is in the room

Considering that gaming spaces have been often hostile for anyone who doesn’t identify as a white man, it has been important to create spaces that uplift and promote underrepresented communities. A 2019 study from the Anti-Defamation League reported that 65 percent of players experienced harassment while playing games online, including threats and sustained harassment. As such, marathons like Power Up With Pride become a valuable place for community building and as “a reaction to the more mainstream speedrunning marathons to provide a specific space to highlight and showcase queer speedrunners,” Mazeika said.

To be clear, other speedrunning spaces, at least the physical ones, aren’t all inherently ignoring queer gamers. But it is also true that they aren’t necessarily made with the purpose of representing people from diverse backgrounds either.

“The reality is that [other speedrun marathons are] not a queer space[s], first and foremost, and it will never be that, and as a result, queer runners will never be at the forefront of that,” Maya said. “I think it is very important to have a space where that isn't the case where runners can be front and center.”

This vision is why Power Up With Pride is so successful. The admin team rallies around and disrupts spaces online during their events that attempt to bring any toxicity, and this is done through moderation.

“I think moderation is really important on that front to make sure that this is kept a safe space,” Maya said.

Moderation is there to combat people opposed to anything progressive, according to Maya.

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Although there might seem to be a lack of representation for queer people at speedrunning marathons, what people don’t see is that there are queer gamers in those spaces working to change things.

“There's the presentation side, the side that the public gets to see that showcases the different games. And then there's [the] convention, like the social scene behind it, where it's just full of various runners of all stripes,” Mazeika said. “And for me, personally, that background scene has always felt super comfortable, but an outsider looking in, [it does look like] there is very much a whole lot of straight white dudes.”

Even though there is diversity in the background, what’s on the screen for people means a lot for inclusion. Mazeika, for example, got into speedrunning because she saw other trans women at Games Done Quick (GDQ). So what Power Up With Pride offers is the streaming visibility for queer gamers and viewers looking for representation and gaming talent.

Essentially, Power Up “give[s] marginalized people a place where they can showcase themselves and the results of all their hard work and labor and love that they've poured into learning these speedruns,” Mazeika said.

Community building and marathon logistics

On the back end at Power Up With Pride, there’s a lot that goes into making sure there’s equity and camaraderie during events. And while it might seem like queer gamer communities are finally starting to peak, Maya explains “there have been queer circles as far as games have existed,” so Power Up With Pride is just one of many curated spaces historically that support queer people.

As with any speedrunning marathon, you’ll find that the community as a whole is built through biannual events, and Power Up With Pride is no different. “It's really amazing to see people come together … and it really does foster a sense of community that [ends] up being very important because we can help each other and come together,” Maya said.

The community building doesn’t begin and end with Power Up With Pride. The admins also partner with other marathons to support each other. For example, they work with another group called Edge Case Collective, another queer speedrunning team that also puts on marathons.

During their own marathon planning, both Maya and Mazeika participate in the review of submissions, and even though there is someone whose run won’t make it, there is extra care taken to ensure everyone has a fair shot at getting their run in each event.

“There's always a bit of crunch time where we're reviewing game submissions and then deciding which ones to stay in and which ones must go,” Mazeika explained.

Although it is challenging, what the Power Up admin does is look at the total package before making a decision. The commentary, the game and the timing all matters.

“If they're giving off the impression that they picked up this game like a week ago, then it's probably going to be judged more harshly,” Maya said. “We do want to make sure to get at least some popular games in. But at Power Up we like the weird things people submit. And I think people have started to catch on to that because we've been getting more and more of those in our submissions.”

Unfortunately, it is difficult to squeeze in everything.

“It’s just heartbreaking because you really have been pushing to try and get a particular run in there, but there's just no way to make it work,” Mazeika said. “We look at the availability. It is not only like this massive logic puzzle, but there's also like all of these other external factors that come into play.”

The good news is that even though everyone won’t have the chance to run a game, everyone is welcomed, now and in the future.

“I would love for people to show up. Even if it's just to hang out, cheer people on. We're always raising money for a good cause, and we're always looking for new runners who want to showcase their skills and their love of whatever game they speedrun,” Mazeika said.

Lead image credit: Power Up With Pride

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