An Internet Phenomenon

Eight days.  Over eight days this madness has gone on.  Eight days of fifty thousand people trying to play one copy of Pokemon Red, inputting basic commands and moving Red around like he’s an hyperactive child on a sugar rush, randomly looking at items in his pack and commending his Raticate to dig through floors of buildings to the exit.  It’s a crazy concept, but one that is so intriguing, so abnormal that it has gamers enraptured, having them type in commands in chat and argue amongst themselves whether cutting that tree again is really worth the effort.

It’s impressive that the collective whole has gotten as far as it has; about now the collective effort has gotten the group through the Safari Zone and Koga’s gym.  Eight days of playing Pokemon Red straight would certainly yield more than that for the single, normal player, but the chaos of a slurry of commands makes even healing your Pokemon at a Center a monumental task.  The stream has seen Pokemon aptly named AATTVVV, AAJST(????, and DUX (hey, for a Farfetch’d that’s pretty good).  Gamers have mercilessly released Pokemon back into the wild and shun the Master Ball like it was nothing more than a toy.

I can say, without a doubt, that this is the single most interesting playthough of Pokemon that I’ve ever seen, and the fact that more people are watching this than League of Legends matches makes me think I’m not the only one.

Twitch Plays Pokemon started as a small thing; a simple game ROM hacked to take inputs from the viewers as opposed to the player.  However, once a few big name gaming websites caught wind of the stream and advertised it, Twitch Plays Pokemon exploded into an Internet phenomenon.  When thousands of people get together like this, trolls are rampant, inspired people make art, and a slew of memes are created to honor… well, the craziness of it all.

Even amongst this mass confusion of button presses, people get together and plan, mapping out the best routes for success and trying to achieve it.  It’s an admirable effort, and certainly one to keep serious player morale up when they’ve jumped over the ledge for the twentieth time, but a playthough like this thrives off its chaotic nature; it’s more interesting when things don’t go as planned.  In fact, that’s when the players seem to get the most excited.

Now we have an over-leveled Pigdeot so powerful it’s dubbed “Bird Jesus”, an All Terrain Venomoth, and of course the BigDig Rat.  The players’ accidental usage of the Helix Stone over the course of the game have given it an allure of a religious object.  There’s not even different sects of users, dividing themselves amongst their ideals and Pokemon mascots to simultaneously add both more order and chaos to the entire ordeal.

Some people even view this as a social experiment; can these many strangers really coordinate long enough to beat a game of Pokemon?  Given the arguments and different ‘factions’ of people adhering to Anarchy and Democracy to the point of reverence, there’s certainly a few things to be learned from watching this unfold.  All colors of the Internet have gathered here, from trolls to overly serious types to those that just want to have fun, and watching them try to play a game of Pokemon Red together can lead so some intriguing discussion… well, if you could parse it out amongst the flurry of input commands.

The whole ROM hack itself has been becoming more sophisticated during the duration of this, adding an “Anarchy and Democracy” system to help players progress in more maze-y areas.  Anarachy is, of course, the normal mode of chaotic button presses, and Democracy has a voting based system where the majority rule of button presses decides which way to go.  By nature Democracy is slower and a tad on the boring side, but practically a necessity for the Step limit of the Safari Zone or Silph Co.  Other little sophistications have been added too, such as arrows instead of the words for directional arrows, and the ability (in Democracy mode) to vote for multiple button presses at once, such as “left3up2”.  Even Twitch itself had to work out some errors, as the popularity of the stream caused some major chat lag, and Twitch Plays Pokemon had to be moved onto its own server; and on top of that, chat tweaks had to be made to keep it running smoothly.

This playthrough of Pokemon Red isn’t even alone, though it is by far the most popular.  There are also similar streams of Blue, Yellow, and even Crystal.  These tend to have a bit more sophisticated layouts, including current objectives and the current party, but the lack of viewers (and by extension players/inputters) doesn’t make the other games as interesting to watch as the original read.  Of course, it’s also worth noting that the Blue and Crystal runs are much farther along than the Red run, but that is due for the most part due to a smaller, and more serious, group of players controlling the protagonists.


It’ll be a while before the stream can beat the game, but when it gets there, it’ll be a sight to behold; the result of probably a million people over the course of weeks slowly progressing through a Game Boy game together.  Maybe someone other than Bird Jesus will lead the way.  Probably not, though, it IS the only high leveled Pokemon they got.

Maybe the sacred Helix Fossil has something to say about it.


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