By LIA WANG ’16
On Feb. 12, an anonymous Australian programmer launched the game Twitch Plays Pokémon on Twitch.tv, a video streaming website that focuses on e-sports and video games. Twitch Plays Pokémon (TPP) is described as a “social experiment” that aims to see how well the masses can coordinate to play one game of the original Pokémon Red together. Created using the programming language Python and the Game Boy emulator VisualBoyAdvance, the description on the website states that this game was developed “as an experiment to test the viability of this format, the way people interact with the input system and the way they interact socially with each other.”
Users watching the stream can input commands such as up, down, start, a and b into the game using the chat box, which translates the commands into code within the video stream, controlling the actions in the simulation. There’s considerable lag between the inputs in the chat box and when those commands actually happen, but the actions do come to fruition eventually. Though it seems simple, the reality is like playing Flappy Bird on a faulty touch screen with ten thousand other people tapping the screen at the same time.
At one point in the game, Red was stuck in the Team Rocket hideout for a good few days, frustrating everyone. After many hours people were able to reach and defeat the boss Giovanni, but one black-hearted soul, before reaching an item needed to progress, made use of the Start button. This user decided to use Dig, bringing Red back to the entrance of the hideout.
After that incident, the creator established an Anarchy versus Democracy system, which changes the gameplay according to a series of inputs. If the game is in Anarchy mode, then it’s played traditionally, with the inputs applied immediately. Democracy mode establishes a 20-second voting period during which the most popular input within that span is used.
Since the creation of the game, over 16 million people have watched or played the stream, peaking at 120,000 viewers at once. Because of the game’s viral popularity, groups dedicated to it have emerged on other websites, including Reddit, where many of the memes and jokes regarding the game have originated.
So what happens when the masses create a fanbase for one game of crowdsourced Pokémon? Religion. After hours of bumbling through the game and chronically opening the Start menu, users were finally able to catch their first Pokémon, Pidgey.
Pidgey quickly became the most useful Pokémon in the party, evolving into Pidgeotto and then Pidgeot. Because of his almighty powers and Leadership with a capital L, Pidgeot was dubbed “Bird Jesus” by the TPP community. His fellow deity is the Helix Fossil, which revives into Omanyte and is found relatively early in the game and cannot be discarded. Since abusing the Start button is a favorite pastime of trolling players, the Helix Fossil is often “used” with no effect—except maybe on a spiritual level to boost the morale of the TPP community
Every religion has to have an antithesis to their god. The TPP devil is the Dome Fossil, which revives into Kabuto and is the fossil opposite the Helix Fossil, and thus the incarnation of evil. The Dome Fossil’s right-hand man, opposing “Bird Jesus,” is the “False Prophet.”
The “False Prophet” is a Flareon that was called such after players accidentally evolved Red’s Eevee into Flareon instead of Vaporeon. Because of the very few water Pokémon early in the game that can learn Surf, an essential move to progress forward, users desperately needed a Pokémon that could learn Surf; they ultimately decided on Vaporeon. However, instead of buying a Water Stone, players bought a Fire Stone. You would think they could buy another one, but no—they wasted all their money on Pokétoys.
Eevee’s reign of terror culminated with the releases of “ABBBBBBK(” and “JLVWNNOOOO,” Red’s Charmeleon and Rattata. Those two Pokémon, nicknamed Abby and Jay Leno, respectively, were two of the highest-level Pokémon after “Bird Jesus.” In the process of trying to deposit a Pokémon into the PC to make room for Eevee, users eventually bumbled through the menu and released Abby and Jay Leno on the fourth day, after around 100 hours of gameplay. Convinced that this was the doing of the devil, the TPP community rioted and Eevee was established as an agent of the Dome Fossil. The Fire Stone was used on Eevee, and the “False Prophet” evolved into Flareon. A day after these horrific events, Flareon was released into the wild.
As of Feb. 23, 10 days have passed and Red has six gym badges. Miraculously, players have been able to catch Zapdos and are slowly progressing forward towards the Elite Four. Watching this progress is like watching a train wreck, but one with a hopefully happy ending. The community that has arisen from this game is hilarious and entertaining, and unites players from all over the world who are trying to achieve Red’s dream of becoming a Pokémon master.
Twitch Plays Pokémon is partly a study in coordination and social interaction, but mostly it’s just a beautiful, chaotic mess. Godspeed, Red. May the power of the Helix Fossil guide you on your way.