A recent gaming phenomenon occurred over the Internet; a team of over 100,000 players beat the Elite Four from Pokémon Red in Twitch Plays Pokémon. Twitch.tv was host to an Pokémon Red emulation that rather than being played my one player it took commands from the Twitch chat window via the api. This meant that anyone who could chat in that window could give a command to the game. These commands were the basic up, down, left, right, A, B, select, and start, but could also be given the number of times to use the button in a row. I.e. start9 would cause the game to press the start button 9 times in a row. Two other commands were added the first being Democracy and the other Anarchy. Democracy, as it sounds, would have players vote on the action that the game would take, whereas Anarchy would take whatever command came through the window at the time. If the chat window said enough Democracy or Anarchy it would switch to that mode. Democracy had a way of very slowly doing something, while Anarchy had a way of very quickly doing nothing.
Pokémon has always been a special game for me as it was the first game to get me designing and programming. When I heard of it being played in this new, bizarre, and communal way, I had to see it for myself. When I first logged in I watched intently as the player spun in circles, and open and closed the start menu repeatedly. I quickly lost interest and logged out after seeing what the hype was all about. However, seeing my old game brought back memories and from time to time I would check out Twitch to see what hilarity had ensued and hilarity had always ensued. From accidental purchases, and accidentally released Pokémon, to triumphant victories, and repeated consultation of the Helix, Twitch plays Pokémon put a clown suit on one of my favorite games to make me laugh. Though it was funny, it also created an amazing community around it.
First, there is an overwhelming amount of fan art, jokes, comics, and stories circulating the Internet about Twitch plays Pokémon, one popular them is “consult the Helix.” For those who don’t know, the Helix is an artifact that is picked up by the player in the game and can be turned into a Pokémon at a point later in the game, but until it is turned into that Pokémon the Helix sits in the inventory of the player. This can be for a very long time, and somehow, either through chance or due to an unperceivable pattern, the players would constantly check the Helix in their inventory, this had little effect in-game, but in the community it became lore. The Helix became a holy relic to consult when all seemed lost. “Keep calm and consult the Helix,” “Helix be praised,” and “Glory to the Helix Fossil,” became memes and shirts were made.
Furthermore stories began to develop, parallel stories to the actual game story. For example, Bird Jesus spelled Aaabaaajss in-game, a pidgey caught early in the game that eventually evolved into Pidgeotto and Pigeot. Having been used so much and having conquered very difficult opponents Bird Jesus gained a huge popularity. All good stories need a villain, and Twitch plays… has one as well, Flareon.
This is a slightly more convoluted story that started with the players’ need to have a Pokémon with surf, an ability that allows the players’ to ride a Pokémon over water. The players’ were in possession of an Eevee at the time and had decided to evolve it into a Vaporeon and teach it surf thus solving the issue. The problem came about when they players’ attempted to purchase a water stone, a necessary item for the evolution process, instead they bought a fire stone and used it on Eevee. Eevee evolved into Flareon, a fire Pokémon that can’t learn surf. To make matters worse during the entire process, two favored Pokémon were released making it an entirely negative occurrence and a villain was born.
The entire game was deemed a social experiment and had some very expected results and not so expected results. “Trolls”, game players that seek to ruin or lessen the experience for others, came out of the woodwork to cause difficulties and chaos. Arguments about whether democracy or anarchy is better and whether or not democracy defeats the purpose of the experiment were common. One of the most interesting things is that even players that wanted to progress and weren’t trolls could cause a huge mess of things but the game still progressed. Trolls got tired and moved on the collective that wanted the beat the game became stronger. As I see it, the trolls would lose interest because they lacked a direct goal other than to cause trouble, however players that wanted to beat the game had a common goal. I.e. in a group of ten players, five of which were trolls, five of which were win-driven players, all five trolls could have a different plan or idea for screwing with the others, while the five win-driven players had a single goal of beating the game. This creates a whole new layer of flow where the balance lies between the difficulties of playing with the trolls but the common interest being success. This may even be why so many “epic” moments occurred.
Say the win-driven players have a plan, like get to this location or beat this gym. If a troll screws that up early it would be hardly noticed, a flub, restart the plan and execute. However, should a plan be almost complete and a troll or just a mismatch of planning, like left, down, A and down, left, A gets mixed up and becomes down, down, A, extremely crazy, frustrating, edge of seat moments can occur. It evens leans on why randomness is good in games, because it encourages adaptation, which in-turn give a greater feel of accomplishment.
Twitch plays Pokémon finally beat the Elite Four and Pokémon Red on March 1st, 2014, and lasted 16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes, and 30 seconds straight. The emulation was restarted with Pokémon Crystal a couple days later and is still being played. The creator plans to keep the games progressing and running until players lose interest. Twitch plays Pokémon was and still is a cool experiment in gaming and in crowd-sourcing.