The Internet is a weird place.
Sometimes, those oddities give birth to something that is nothing short of amazing.
I give you, Twitch Plays Pokemon.
For the uninformed; Pokemon is a game for Nintendo’s handhelds that involves a character traversing environments, catching creatures, and battling them against other trainers to gain badges. It’s a classic role playing game in every sense of the word. Despite numerous side quests and grinding, it is a pretty straight forward gaming experience. It’s actually not that hard when playing on your own; but when it’s over 100,000 people, that’s a different story. But we’ll get to that.
Twitch (or Twitch.tv) is a video streaming website where game players can go and stream their gameplay live. It’s amassed millions of viewers and much like YouTube, has it’s own batch of celebrities and high profile streamers that people will tune in and watch. You can find just about any game being played and watch for hours; while chatting with others enjoying it at the same time.
Which brings us to Twitch Plays Pokemon.
What at first glance seems to be one of the worst games of Pokemon Red being played ever, is actually one of the greatest social experiments of our age being played out on the internet. Unlike every other stream out there, it’s not just one person playing the game. It’s actually everyone in chat who has control over what the character does.
Instead of talking about the game being played, the entire chat window is filled with, “up, down, a, b,” etc., as all the viewers try to push the character through the game. As I said earlier, this would be no big deal if it were one person playing the game. Yet, in this case there are thousands, and some of those people have other goals in mind.
Yes, there are thousands of players trying to play the game properly, but for every one of them there is another who is trying to keep them from progressing. Thus, the game becomes one of the most infuriating things to watch on the internet. The character spins around, goes back and forth, lets go of important items, releases pokemon, and so much more to its detriment because of these players. Yet, it is this back and forth that makes this game so interesting to watch.
Despite all odds, and maybe in spite of some players, Twitch Plays Pokemon actually completed Pokemon Red. It’s an incredible accomplishment considering how the game itself was being played. It took the crowd 16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes, and 30 seconds; and at its highest 121,000 players were participating. According to Twitch, more than 122 million commands were entered in, with over 9 million onlookers and more than 36 million views. All of that combined equals to about more than 1 billion total minutes of the stream being watched. Just to show how big that really is; there were more onlookers on the stream than the population of New Jersey.
Yet, this is not the most interesting story to come out this. That honor goes to the overarching meta-narrative that the players themselves created along the way.
Because there are so many people playing, the character does things which he wouldn’t normally do and the community has taken upon itself to explain these things in some of the most hilarious ways. Certain items have become divine relics, mantras have been created, and when a pokemon is released, a different pokemon is then blamed for the action.
This user generated narrative is what makes the stream so intriguing to watch; especially from an outsider’s perspective. The cries for “Lord Helix,” and battle between “democracy,” and “anarchy,” have nothing to do with Pokemon Red; but have everything to do with the stream. The player base is adding an entirely new layer to the game, and bringing out new facets of gameplay and design that may or may not have been examined all that closely before.
Twitch Plays Pokemon is seemingly more akin to games like Rust and DayZ than to the Pokemon series proper. It is not about the mechanics or the design, but the player driven stories that come out of the world. No one watches or takes part in the stream because they want to experience Pokemon.
They do it because they want to be a part of that player crafted narrative. They want to be a part of that story. In the world of Twitch Plays Pokemon, there are heroes and villains, and as a player you can choose which side you wish to fall on. Your actions can help craft the greater story of the game for the other players, and that is something that is not offered by many games currently.
Now that Pokemon Red has been completed, the stream has moved on to Pokemon Crystal. There are already new stories that are forming about “Lazer-dile,” and his mighty eyebeams, and speculation about what new god this world will bring. It will be interesting to see if this second game will have the same impact as its predecessor; and if the players will bring the same level of excitement all over again. As of this writing, there are currently 80,000 players on the new stream, so things are looking pretty good for another absurd adventure.
Twitch Plays Pokemon may be just a flash in the pan, but even if it is, the stories it gave us were magical. Many of us won’t forget the adventure of “Bird Jesus,” the betrayal of Flareon, and loss we all had on “bloody Sunday.” Yet, that was the past and we now have new adventures before us. So, regardless of your feelings on Pokemon, Twitch, or internet “trolling,” you should give the stream a watch. If only to see how long it takes for one character to get around a wall.
You can watch it HERE