Forge Press: Twitch plays Pokémon

Twitch plays Pokémon started in February and exploded across the internet, attracting millions of viewers and players. For those unfamiliar with the trend, Twitch plays Pokémon is where countless users can control and play the original Gameboy Pokémon games online via a chat box that takes their commands and inserts them directly into the game. There is a live stream of the game (with a 20-40 second delay) which means viewers are free to simply watch the madness or get directly involved in the gameplay.

It started with users playing Pokémon Red, which attracted 1.1 million players, 36 million views and a total of 122 million chat messages. It was (somehow) completed on 1st March, after a surprisingly short 16 days.

It is a miracle the players got anywhere when you consider the vast amount of users, the stream’s delay and the bots that were designed to sabotage gameplay. There were parts that should have been easy but ended up being excruciatingly painful, such as the infamous “Ledge” debacle. It took players seven hours to walk a measly 12 paces in the right direction without messing up and ending up back where they started. The anonymous creator of the programme decided to change the structure of the game halfway through by making it so that people had to vote on the next move rather than allowing everyone an equal right to control ‘Red’ (the trainer), but this caused outrage. The creator then decided to have it so that people could vote for “anarchy” – where everyone had an equal right to control Red, or “democracy” – the ‘vote-for-a-move’ system.

Anarchy continuously reigned and the way players got around the arbitrariness of the system was by organising themselves on social sites such as Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter. This way they were able to communicate and collaborate on the best way to progress and clearly their teamwork paid off. Twitch plays Pokémon has also given life to new internet memes and a mass of online fan art. For example, the Helix fossil kept accidentally getting opened during battle and this became a symbolic joke for the fans. It was taken as though the Pokémon trainer was looking to the Helix fossil for guidance and help in moments of crisis. The internet consequently filled up with hilarious “blessed Helix fossil” memes. There is a Facebook page called “Praise the Helix Fossil” that currently has 29,069 likes and a website called askhelixfossil.com where you can “consult the fossil”, which gives magic-8-ball type answers or random control commands like “Up”. It is amazing how quickly the internet has responded to the craze and goes to show just how popular it has been.

What does this mean for the future of gaming? The anonymous programmer admitted to the Guardian that “when I put it up I was thinking it would peak around 300 concurrent viewers at most, I wasn’t expecting over 100,000!” Its popularity is astounding and addictiveness surprising, leaving us to wonder whether we have been witness to the creation of a whole new genre of online, multiplayer gaming, or whether it is just a fad that will pass in a couple of months. We currently have Twitch plays Pokémon Crystal to keep us entertained (and frustrated), but it will be interesting to see if anything more comes from it and whether bigger, more complicated games could be played in the same way.

Originally posted here for Forge Press.

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