Twitch Plays Pokemon: A 100,000-Man Pokemon Adventure


Let’s Play Pokemon!

Who could have expected Twitch Plays Pokemon to reach the heights of over 100,000 people at once, all blurting out contradictory, often harmful, commands? Or that despite that, we would progress through six gyms and catch a Zapdos? Nobody foresaw a fan-base so large that it would overload Twitch’s servers, nor that the madness would engender so much memetic fervor that would construct a frighteningly intricate religious chronicle of our struggle? No matter what we thought,Twitch Plays Pokemon has exploded, and is making way for a whole new type of play.

An Introduction

For those just joining us, welcome to the madness! On February 13th, 2014, an anonymous Australian programmer launched a massively multiplayer co-op version of Pokemon Red, powered by a combination of JavaScript, Python code, and the Gameboy emulator, VisualBoyAdvance. Twitch Plays Pokemon is a “social experiment”; an on-going live stream of Pokemon Red that anyone can play by simply going to the Twitch Plays Pokemon stream, and inputting different commands, (A, B, Left, Right, Up, Down, Start, and Select,) into the chat function. Each chat function is then received by the game, and immediately enacted. This has been going non-stop for over 250 hours now, and actually ended up overloading Twitch’s servers causing “enormous, (and unforeseen) stress” to the chat system resulting in lag site-wide. This has since been addressed, and Twitch has made changes to accommodate the ever-growing fan-base.


Monkeys At A Typewriter

Comparisons to the “Infinite Monkey Theorem” have been made time, and time again, but something far more interesting than the progress (you can track the progress here with this helpful googledoc) has been created here. TPP hasn’t “written Shakespeare”, but it’s created an entire religious narrative out of itself, and it’s not only probably the weirdest thing the internet has gotten up to lately, but it’s also absolutely hilarious. For example:


All Hail The Helix

From early on in the game, the player obtains and has access to the Helix Fossil or the Dome Fossil. You may choose only one, and TPP chose the Helix. Given that the easiest way to disrupt gameplay, and therefore impede progress, is to press ‘Start’ to open the menu, it’s quite often that the item menu is opened and the Helix Fossil is selected. Having a use option, (that does nothing but tell you that it’s not the place to use it) the viewers had repurposed the Helix Fossil to be a sort of pseudo-magic 8 ball. In fact, there’s even a legitimate Consult the Helix Fossil website now! This begged the question though, “Why is the Helix Fossil so effective? How could it possibly know the right course of action?” Of course this mystery obviously had only one possible answer: The Helix Fossil must be a god. This cemented it as a source of guidance and worship. Comments abound, proclaiming “All Hail the Helix”. Since there was also a Dome Fossil, TPP decided that the Dome would be the Helix’s antithesis, opposing everything the Helix represented. They each even have their own prophets.


A Wild Messiah Appears!

Imagine again the chaos of this process. A hundred thousand voices dictating all at once every action. Now imagine through all this, encountering a pokemon, picking the right attack option enough times to successfully weaken your opponent, (while not killing it) going to the items, successfully choosing a pokeball, throwing it, and actually catching the pokemon. As insanely improbable a scenario one may think this to be given the circumstances, TPP actually managed to capture a Pidgey early on in the game. They saw this as nothing short of a miracle. Indeed, while the rest of the party of pokemon struggled to get by, remaining at the lower levels, the captured Pidgey managed to succeed in battle, again and again against wild pokemon, trainers, and even gym leaders, evolving into Pidgeotto, and again into Pidgeot. (Keep in mind that pressing B just once during the evolution process fully cancels the evolution.) The Pidgeot, named “aaabaaajss” (or Abba Jesus in the human tongue), was recognized for it’s apparent leadership, and power in spite of impossible odds. His miracles, and the fact that he was the only pokemon that could do anything remotely helpful, earned him the status of “Bird Jesus”. To this day, Bird Jesus remains the most powerful, and at the time of this writing is level 60 with Mirror Move, Quick attack, Sand Attack, and Whirlwind.

The False Prophet And The Rise of Democracy

The pantheon rounds itself out with Flareon, the alleged “False Prophet” of the Dome Fossil (I swear, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.) This event occurred when TPP debated this choice: Whether to acquire an Eevee and evolve it into a Vaporeon, or acquire a Lapras. If you’re unfamiliar, there are several moves that must be learned by one pokemon or another in order to progress in the game. One such move is Surf, and can only be learned by a select few pokemon, the most expedient of these being Vaporeon or Lapras. They settled on Vaporeon, and acquired Eevee to that end. Despite their intentions however, dark forces were stirring. Eevee did not evolve through leveling like normal pokemon, but through an evolution stone, and its form was determined by which stone was used.

Given that simply not running away from a random battle is cause for celebration, (Praise be to Helix!) one can guess what happened. They bought a Fire Stone, and turned it into a Flareon instead. This was a major setback, and caused an uproar during which Flareon was labeled the “False Prophet”, and designated as an agent of the Dome Fossil. From then on, Flareon was deemed to blame for every tragedy to come. This includes an instance wherein after about a hundred hours of play, TPP accidentally released (i.e. got rid of) their two highest leveled pokemon after Bird Jesus, “ABBBBBBK(” the party’s Charmeleon (“Abby” in human speak), and their Rattata “JLVWNNOOOO.” (designated “Jay Leno.”) Eventually, fed up with Flareon’s influence, TPP managed to release the beast.


The loss of Abby, and Jay Leno was not the end though. TPP has had to suffer other “ordeals” as well, such as taking six hours to cut down a single tree, spending more hours trying to walk past multiple ledges without someone typing “Down”, dooming them to repeat the journey upward again, and an incident in which the party’s new Rattata, “DigRat”, prematurely used Dig at the end of an important dungeon causing TPP to redo the entire level. This caused the as-now-anonymous creator to implement a new mode of play: Democracy. Viewers can now vote in chat for either Anarchy or Democracy by simply typing them out. Basically, in Democracy mode a chunk of the chat data is read, and the most popular command is done. This was by and large seen as heresy by the TPP community, and in protest some fought back, convinced that anarchy was the right way to play the game. They fought by using “start9” a command that would cause the program to input “start” nine times, hugely disrupting play. This was quickly stopped by instating a throttle on the start command, disallowing this. Lines, however, had been drawn. There wasn’t just religion now, but politics too.

Where Will It Go From Here?

So what began as a social experiment has evolved into something nearly undefinable. With a record of now over a hundred thousand total participants at a time, this could become the most valuable study of organic internet culture, and memetics yet, and it is happening right now. The world wanted it’s Pokemon MMO. Now it has been delivered.