100,000 People Play the Same Game of Pokémon at the Same Time—Twitch Plays Pokémon: The Ultimate Adventure in Internet Insanity
What happens when over a hundred thousand people team up for a crowd-sourced playthrough of Pokémon Red from 1998? Chaos. Chaos is what happens.
If you haven’t heard about it by now, Twitch Plays Pokémon is one anonymous Australian programmer’s idea where people on the internet control one character in one game all at once. If you thought two siblings fighting over a video game was bad, how do you imagine a hundred thousand anonymous players fair?
It’s been described as a social experiment. It works by using the popular game streaming website Twitch, which lets people stream their live gameplay while other people watch and comment in a chat channel. A bot is running the game and interpreting chat text, inputting the translated text as commands in the game. It recognizes the text “up” “down” “left” “right” “a” “b” and “start”; each of those corresponds with the associated function from the original Game Boy game.
It was launched on February 12th, and has since went viral and spawned a variety of popular memes. The game routinely has between 50 and 70 thousand viewers at any given time, and has broken 100 thousand simultaneous viewers multiple times. It has been estimated that at least 10% of those viewers at all times are participating by giving commands.
The channel has since reached nearly 30 million total views since its inception.
As for the game progress, much like monkeys are expected to make slow, forward progress by inputting near-random commands, the internet has managed to snag seven of the game’s eight badges. Some notable obstacles have taken anywhere from 4 to 27 hours to complete.
Unlike monkeys, the human players are faced with obstacles other than just simply not understanding the game—although it’s likely some players are having trouble with that, too, as the game has been going on for so long that players might not know if they are trying to get in or out of a building when they join. The internet’s special breed of trolls has been trying to thwart the progress of the game. One of their favorite tactics is to spam the “start” button, which pops open a menu and halts progress. To counteract this, “white knight” players have been spamming the “b” button, which cancels out of the menu. To counteract some of the ~20 second input lag, the troll-tactic of start was amusingly found to be useful to “catch” the player from moving too far.
As one user put it,
“Man. This isn’t a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters. It’s twenty thousand monkeys at a single typewriter, and half those monkeys are screaming and desperately trying to progress while the other half throw sh*t everywhere. It’s wonderful.”
For one of the obstacles, the character (Red) is supposed to navigate a narrow passageway adjacent to a long ledge. Anyone inputting “down” while walking near the ledge would cause the character to jump down off of it and have to go back to the beginning. The ledge became a notorious obstacle that took hours to complete. What’s worse is that The Ledge is not the only obstacle of its type, and there are far worse ledges to come.
There is a ledge that comes later which will need to be approached by going down, and then to the left. The obstacle of needing to go to the exact point to begin going left without going too far down and jumping over the ledge will prove very challenging—especially considering the latency problem.
The most difficult challenge so far was the dreaded Team Rocket Hideout Maze. Players took 27 hours to complete the first step—getting a lift key. They then took nearly another day to use it to get to an enemy trainer, Giovanni, beat him, and get an item near him before exiting that building.
Unfortunately, after beating Giovanni in an epic, anxiety-inducing array of battle-attempts, one of the players’ pokémon was given the command to escape the character out of the building before retrieving the nearby item. The escape mechanism has been a persistent obstacle throughout their gameplay, getting activated when they’ve almost reached their desired destination. At least until recently, when the pokémon responsible was accidentally released.
While stuck in The Maze, the anonymous programmer decided to implement an alternate method of inputting commands. The bot now recognizes the terms “anarchy” and “democracy”. Each person inputting one of those into chat contributes to a voting system, where 80% of the votes are needed to switch it to democracy or 50% to anarchy. Anarchy is the classic, chaotic, all-commands-recognized system that jump-started the game’s viral spiral. Democracy changes it to a system where users vote on commands over a period of 20 seconds, and the one with the most votes will get executed. It results in a slower-paced game but helped to clear the maze.
Of course, this didn’t sit well with many players. To protest the democratic system, players spammed “start9″ which began to win the votes. This would cause the game to execute the start button command and toggle the menu, halting progress for about 20 seconds per voter victory. The democratic system lets users input command sequences, and adding numbers next to commands will cause them to be executed that number of times.
The game swings between the two systems, but is much more likely to be set to the classic anarchy at any given moment. It seems to be the general purpose mode-of-choice. The anarchy is what has given rise to the magical chaos, psychotic memes, and obsessive strategy-planning. Users have come up with public Google documents to manage common goals, and made detailed maps with numeric, color-coded procedures to clear challenges like The Maze. It is a captivating & beautiful thing to behold.
The Memes, The Religions, The False Prophets
One of the best things that has come out of all of this is the fanatical memes, back-stories, and the player-created comics.
Due to the random nature of commands, the character frequently pops open the item menu and tries to use various items or repeatedly saves the game. Many items have been thrown away, but the few that you can’t throw out have become deities to the player community. The most notable of these objects is the “Helix Fossil,” which is a fossil the character can revive into an omanyte later in the game.
The Internet Hive Mind has decided the true goal of the game is to revive “Lord Helix” who will then lead them to a glorious victory. They have decided that whenever the character tries to use or looks at the Helix Fossil, that he is seeking guidance on his journey.
And yes—the Internet has turned the Helix Fossil into a god.
This has also resulted in a website, where anyone can ask questions of the Helix Fossil to guide them in their daily lives.
Another common action is for the character to endlessly re-check the cries of pokémon in the Pokedex. Particularly, the cry of Bulbasaur—the first pokemon that appears in the pokedex.
One of the controversies in the game was whether to get an Eevee, or if they should wait for Lapras, a pokemon who can learn Surf (an ability necessary to navigate oceanic terrain later in the game). They got an Eevee, but then were faced with the challenge of evolving it into one of its useful forms. They were going for Vaporeon, a water pokemon who they could get well before Lapras who is strong and can also learn Surf. They were willing to accept a Jolteon, a lightning pokemon who can’t surf but is strong enough to be an improvement. They did not want Flareon, a fire-type who is basically useless. Their starter was already a fire-type (Charmander, at the time a Charmeleon named “ABBBBBBK”; nickname: Abby), and Flareon is a weak fire-type.
In order to evolve Eevee, they had to purchase an elemental stone from a shop, and use it on Eevee. They only had enough in-game currency to buy one stone. Can you guess which they ended up with? Yep, the fire stone. They managed to give to Eevee who evolved into Flareon. And in this process, when they went to store Flareon in the PC, they managed to release Abby and a Rattata named “JLVWNNOOOO” (nickname: Jay Leno).
They also managed to deposit their highest level pokemon, Pidgeot (nickname: Bird Jesus, also turned into a god by The Internet Hive Mind), and their Helix Fossil into The PC (both were later successfully retrieved, hailed as having “risen from the dead”). They did not manage to deposit Flareon.
Obviously, Eevee/Flareon became known as the false prophet.
Flareon was later deposited into the PC along with the character’s Drowsee, who then became deified as “The Keeper,” for self-sacrificing and containing the evil.
The players then managed to rescue Drowsee out of the PC and released Flareon into the wild, conquering their demonic foe.
Bird Jesus has been carrying the players’ character, Red, towards victory thus far as Red desperately tries to use unusable items and walks into walls.
Well, at least until Red started to fight ghost pokémon, who Bird Jesus couldn’t damage. But when they stopped fighting ghosts, Bird Jesus was back on top. They even accidentally replaced gust, one if its damaging abilities, with mirror move, an ability that mimics its opponent’s last attack. Quite fitting for a Pokemon nicknamed Bird Jesus, don’t you think?
Against all odds, they have managed to acquire a Lapras and teach it Surf. Oh, and it’s also named “AIIIIIIRRR,” nickname: Air Jordan.
An even more amazing accomplishment was when Twitch made it through the Power Plant to find the legendary bird, Zapdos, and used their only Master Ball to catch it while in anarchy mode.
They then proceeded to release many pokemon and store many more in an attempt to rescue Zapdos from the dreaded PC. Some notable casualties include Dux: Slayer of Trees, Cabbage: The Seed of Hope, and DigRat/BigDig. This event is now known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Most recently, Lord Helix has finally risen and now walks the earth. The Internet Hive Mind even managed to rescue Lord Helix from the PC, with help from The Keeper, who once again sacrificed himself for the greater good and again resides within the confines of the PC. All of this was done under Anarchy mode, too. Hopefully Lord Helix will serve the players just as well in his newly revived state as he once did while fossilized.
And finally, the current all-star roster achieved under anarchy mode:
With Lord Helix’s return, The Internet-controlled Red is likely to attempt to evolve it into its final form, and go on to conquer the Elite Four. It’s likely that they will attempt to capture the other legendary birds and MewTwo.
The anonymous creator has also said that he will continue the Twitch Plays Pokemon series and will stream a game from generation 2 (Gold or Silver) after the Internet completes the current game of Pokemon Red.
Highlights & Memorable Moments
Epic Battle Against Lt. Surge
Here’s a Google Document that summarizes some of the notable events and has a log of all Pokemon, current and released.
You can also keep track of of their progress on Twitter. Summaries have been posted since Day 4.
Reddit also works for keeping tabs and watching the chaos unfold; the Twitch Plays Pokemon subreddit has grown extremely popular in a relatively short amount of time. They even have a timeline for the early days of Twitch Plays Pokemon.
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