For more than a week now, the video game streaming site Twitch has played host to an interesting social experiment: tens of thousands of viewers of the channel TwitchPlaysPokémon are all attempting to play the exact same emulated game of “Pokémon Red” at the same time.
Twitch is a site built to allow its users to stream live gameplay of any game they’re playing to whomever happens to be watching. A video game-centric offshoot of the site Justin.tv, Twitch launched in June 2011 and has since grown to take up the fourth largest bandwidth share of any site on the Internet at peak traffic hours, trailing only behind Netflix, Google and Apple. Getting more than 45 million visitors per month, it manages to beat out popular sites such as Facebook, Hulu and Amazon.
But TwitchPlaysPokémon is something new to this site and the greater web as well. The Australian creator, who chooses to remain anonymous, designed a bot that takes the input from Twitch’s chat function and translates that into the input that would have been available on the original Nintendo Game Boy (Up, Down, Left, Right, A, B, Start). Anyone can comment, meaning anyone can input commands, and with the amount of viewers at any given time ranging from 60,000 to 100,000, the result has been widely compared to thousands of monkeys all trying to use the same typewriter. Alongside a 20-40 second delay between commands being input and commands taking action, the resulting chaos is often unwatchable. One example of the resulting challenges is how more than 14 hours were spent trying to conquer a small cliff that would have taken a normal user a second or two to bypass.
The chaos became a bit too much, it seems, as after several days, the creator set up a system allowing for users to switch between a control scheme of anarchy, the basic setup in which every command input is implemented, and democracy, where the inputs are aggregated every 5 seconds and the control most inputted is the most implemented. While an anarchic control scheme quickly became the default choice as users decided that the democratic process was too slow and impure, the latter process continuously proved useful as certain puzzles requiring precision movements were virtually impossible under an anarchic control scheme.
Surprisingly, even through all the chaos (even before the implementation of democracy was allotted) users were and still are making progress. Currently, after more than 11 days of nonstop streaming, the community has managed to obtain six of the eight badges in the game and is closing in on the seventh.
This is not without losses along the way. In “Pokémon Red,” players are allotted 6 Pokémon to carry around with them at any given time. Knowing they would need a Pokémon that learns Surf to bypass obstacles down the line, the players began a debate whether they should leave that spot open to get Lapras — a Pokémon who can learn Surf — later down the line, or whether they should pick up Eevee — who was available to them at that time — but could only learn Surf if evolved into a Vaporeon.
They inevitably decided to take the Eevee, but while attempting to buy a Water Stone to evolve it into Vaporeon, they instead hit down one too many times and bought a Fire Stone instead. Thus, they were unable to have a spot for a Pokémon that learned Surf unless they placed a Pokémon into the PC, a storage system for Pokémon outside the six on any given team. However, in the attempt to place Flareon within the PC, they instead managed to release Charmeleon, their first Pokémon and second strongest, alongside a Ratatta lovingly nicknamed “Jay Leno” (real name: “JLVWNNOOOO,” because typing out an actual name in this game is impossible). Because of Flareon’s part in this catastrophe, it was dubbed the “False Prophet,” and was subsequently released by the community a few days later.
This community is far and away the real reason TwitchPlaysPokémon has gotten any traction at all. The smallest of occurrences within the game become increasingly interesting whenever the community gets ahold of it. When anarchic controls cause the player character, Red, to continuously attempt to use the Helix Fossil item during battle — something the game doesn’t allow the player to do — the community took it as Red attempting to consult the Helix Fossil for guidance. From this inference sprouted a pseudo-religion based off the Helix Fossil. The Flareon causing the release of several important Pokémon was dubbed the “False Prophet” in reference to this idea, and the strongest Pokémon in Red’s party, Pidgeot, eventually became known as “Bird Jesus.”
Alongside Twitter parody accounts and its very own subreddit, the community has expanded quite a bit since the stream’s inception Feb. 13. There’s a whole lot more hilarious and interesting incidents and related media worth looking into. If you’d like to check in on the stream’s current progress, you can do so here.