As a massive fan of twice-annual charity speedrunning event Games Done Quick (GDQ), I’ve seen some pretty wild speedruns over the years. I’ve seen people beat Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Punch-Out!, and Super Mario Bros. 64 while blindfolded. I’ve witnessed Nier: Automata played one-handed. I’ve watched someone go absolutely ham on what looked like a cross between DDR and a washing machine. But this year’s show has a speedrun planned like none I’ve ever seen before.
This year, at Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ), a dog is going to speedrun a game.
Until this announcement, I had never even heard of a dog being able to play a video game, let alone speedrun it. But this year, a Shiba Inu named Peanut Butter is going to beat Gyromite in front of a massive live audience, and we’re all going to lose our minds over it.
Admittedly, the very talented and adorable Peanut Butter (or PB, for short) did not sign up for AGDQ or learn to play Gyromite on his own. He’s still a dog! PB is aided by his doting owner JSR (who goes by JSR_ with the underscore when he speedruns). An electrician by trade, JSR has been streaming on Twitch on his own for seven and a half years, which eventually led him to speedrunning. He runs a number of games, most of them on the older side, and currently holds records in games like Tomb Raider, Link: The Faces of Evil, Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, and The Legend of Zelda in the two players, one controller category, among many others. He’s even made an effort to speedrun a game from every single episode of Angry Video Game Nerd. And he’s had five runs at GDQs in the past, with a sixth planned for this year’s AGDQ of Castlevania 3. But not before he makes sure PB has his own chance to shine.
Peanut Butter, the World’s First Dog Speedrunner
Speaking to JSR earlier this year, he tells me PB was a pandemic pup who he bonded with after being furloughed in April of 2020, which left him desperately wanting a “buddy” to keep him company. He spent some months on a waiting list, patiently reading up on the literature around how to train Shiba Inus, before his turn for a pup came around:
“Initially I wanted to get a girl, and the breeder calls me up in October, and I go down to the house and they have three dogs available, two girls and a boy,” JSR says. “And the two girls were real scared. They were real shy. One of them peed all over me when she got in the little playpen they set up. And I was just thinking, ‘That’s just how Shibas are.’ And then they bring [PB] into the playpen and he’s just the most social, full-of-life dog. He just immediately jumps on me, starts giving me kisses, we start playing tug of war. I knew it right then. I was like, ‘This is the one. I want him. I love him.’”
JSR almost immediately settled on the name Peanut Butter as a tribute to his own love of speedrunning. “Whenever we do the best we’ve ever done, we call it a personal best, a PB,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Well, if I name him Peanut Butter, that means I can have the best PB every day.’ And that’s why his name is Peanut Butter.”
Immediately upon getting PB, JSR wanted to train him to be “good at everything.” And PB learned fast. He caught on to so many tricks and skills so quickly that JSR started looking for more interesting challenges.
One day, while training PB, JSR suddenly remembered Gyromite from an Angry Video Game Nerd stream. Gyromite is an NES game from the ‘80s that makes use of the Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B., accessory. Players use R.O.B. to depress the A and B buttons, which in turn cause pillars to rise and fall and allow the character on screen to progress. At its core, Gyromite is just about pressing A and B at the right time and for long enough to move forward, but the R.O.B. accessory complicated it. But what if, instead of using R.O.B., someone used a D-O-G?
That’s exactly what JSR did.
“I first had to train him to press the buttons on command, and that was easy,” he says. “He’s smart. He picked that up quick. But dogs have the attention span of a three-year-old, so it took about a year of constant daily training, every single day, with me using his food as collateral. And now he’s pretty good. He can hold the button down for 20 or 30 seconds before he starts getting antsy.”
To help PB, JSR had to custom build a controller that a dog could actually use. With a friend’s help, JSR rigged an arcade fight stick to work with a PC GameCube adapter and an emulator playing Gyromite. He also constructed bigger, more dog-friendly buttons so PB could press them more accurately. The resulting controller has a large button each for A and B, plus a Start button. And then, because PB is “a dog and he’s unable to press easily two buttons down because he has no leverage, he’ll fall on his face,” there’s also a smaller button that depresses both A and B simultaneously.
“But to give it a little bit more appeal, because I didn’t want it to be too easy, I made it smaller, so he has to target a little bit,” JSR explains. “So that way people aren’t like, ‘Oh, he’s pressing the yellow button. He’s cheating.’ He only presses the yellow button when he has to.”
For PB to run Gyromite, JSR has to set up the emulator and put the controller in front of him. But after that, PB does every single input in the game himself…with a bit of food motivation.
“Every time he streams, I have to plan his meals, because I don’t want to overload him with snacks,” JSR says. “He gets fed twice a day, so I’ll usually sneak a little bit back his meal so that it’s when it’s playtime. I’ll start with just kibble, and then probably about 10, 15 minutes in, he starts losing interest. That’s usually when I’ll bust out the training snacks. They’re just little cheap small dog tidbits that are like meat slurry. They get his attention for a second or two and then he knows what’s coming…the cheese is usually what we end up going to. String cheese, Velveeta. He loves both. He’s a sucker for string cheese.”
That’s how PB will run Gyromite at AGDQ, with his run currently planned for Tuesday, January 16th at 10:40am PT. But PB can’t attend the in-person event in Pittsburgh, PA – JSR says it’s too expensive to fly him out, as his dog ticket costs more than JSR’s human ticket would.
“But also, I haven’t figured out a way to train him where he’ll be in front of 1000 people,” he says. “At the event, when you’re in that room, it’s bright lights, loud. And he’s social. He’s a social doge. I know exactly what he would not do, and he would not press the button. He would be like, ‘I want pets and treats and toys and I’m going to run around and sniff everything.’ But he does great whenever he is focused and inspired and not super sleepy.”
Instead, JSR will help PB do his run on Tuesday, and then immediately get on a plane by himself to attend his own in-person Castlevania 3 run across the country on Thursday, January 18, at 9AM PT, while PB cheers him on from home.
PB’s run of Gyromite will also stand out in that he’s competing in a speedrunning category built just for him. When PB first started running Gyromite, JSR says, there was no official speedrunning category for the kind of Gyromite playthrough he was doing that didn’t involve R.O.B. But JSR submitted a video to speedrun.com anyway, just to see what would happen. The very next day, there was a new category listed with “dog assistance.” So PB is officially competing in Gyromite category “Game B – Dog Assistance – NES” at AGDQ. Currently, PB is the only runner in this category, and thus the world record holder with a time of 25:29 – which JSR hopes he’s able to beat at AGDQ.
“It’s more like human assistance,” JSR says. “I’m not pressing the buttons. If he says, ‘I’m not going to press the button,’ the run dies. And he’s done that a few times too.”
How to Speedrun, for Dogs
While Gyromite will be the stage upon which PB debuts at AGDQ, it’s not all the pup can play. JSR has been teaching him to play light gun game Wild Gunman, but PB’s pretty far from meeting speedrunning criteria on it due to the required reaction times. JSR’s also working on training PB to play games like Excitebike and Dr. Mario alongside him, in a sort of two players, one controller situation.
“The big restriction with him – don’t tell nobody, it’s a secret – but he’s not really watching the game,” JSR says. “He’s reacting to my commands. All of what he inputs has to be his reaction to my commands, plus my reaction. So games like Mario Bros. or other types of genres like that don’t really work, because then it’s a really complicated, convoluted arrangement for us to do the inputs. And usually by then we’ve already died. But…we’re looking for ideas, and so far we’re still kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel, but there’s going to be some other games. This will not be the only time he makes his appearance. We definitely plan on him being a staple of GDQ going forward.”
At this point in the interview I turned to PB, and asked him if he had any tips for people who wanted to speedrun Gyromite. With JSR’s translation help, this is what PB said:
“Definitely make sure you’re paying attention to which button does which door. It’s really easy for a random sound or a smell, or maybe drooling about that cheese that JSR has in his hand. You don’t want to get distracted by the cheese, as easy as it is. Every good boy knows to make sure you hit the right color…You want to make sure you get plenty of nap time before game time, because it’s a well-known fact that dogs need their beauty sleep.”
As a speedrunner himself, JSR is deeply proud of what PB has accomplished, and throughout our conversation is mostly excited that the draw of a dog will hopefully bring in lots of donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation during the charity marathon. Competitive as the speedrunning space can be, he says, GDQ isn’t really about competition. It’s about raising money and giving the speedrunning community an opportunity to showcase their craft in a way that’s fun and entertaining for a mass audience.
“It’s like a community effort, because speed-running isn’t about me versus you,” he says. “A lot of people think it is, maybe to some folks it is, but I don’t think that’s really what it is. I think it’s you versus yourself and overcoming your own roadblocks, your own mental blocks. Whether it’s just trying to get that PB or trying to teach a dog how to speedrun a game, it’s coming up with creative and innovative and new ways to go really fast in video games. I think that’s what it’s all about and that’s what GDQ has become. And I’m really just happy that I get to be a footnote in what might be the coolest thing at this AGDQ. I’m really excited.”
And as for the Coolest Thing at This AGDQ himself, PB? He gets cheese and attention, so he’s about as stoked as a dog can be.
“We’re partners, aren’t we? Are we partners?” JSR asks PB during our interview. He holds out his hand. PB regards him for a moment, then drops a paw in JSR’s open palm. “We’re partners,” JSR concludes.
Rebekah Valentine is a senior reporter for IGN. Got a story tip? Send it to [email protected].
All slideshow images courtesy of JSR_