Viral Video: Nostalgia, Memes and Anarchy Collide in Twitch Plays Pokémon
Twitch Plays Pokémon
For nearly a week now, an anonymous Australian programmer has been broadcasting, on Twitch, a play-through of one of the original Pokémon games for the Game Boy. Normally, that would be an unremarkable fact. But this game is being played in real time by thousands of people around the world.
Twitch Plays Pokémon is the Internet at its best, or at least its silliest. Viewers who comment on the live video are remotely telling the game what to do — so, if they say “Right,” the main character moves right. If they say “A,” the game acts as though someone had pressed the Game Boy’s “A” button.
(Players can also vote to enter a “democracy” mode, where each button press is first voted on by the community, leading to slower but more accurate decisions. Most of the time, those who prefer the normal “anarchy” mode vote early and often to keep that from happening.)
The result: Total chaos. Simple acts like walking down a road can take hours as commenters drive the protagonist in circles or accidentally select game options that no rational player would pick.
“This is what the chaos does: it turns everything into a challenge, and every tiny bit of progress into a great celebration,” commenter murgatroid99 wrote in a Reddit thread about the game. “And even when we impede our own progression, we just create stories about what happened. Our repeated useless delving into the start menu didn’t frustrate us into quitting, it started a religion.”
That’s not a joke. The Helix Fossil, an item players may pick up early in the game, is normally useless until much, much later. But the hive mind playing the game has needlessly paused the game, looked at its items and tried to use the Helix Fossil so many times that players have promoted it as their god. When they win a Pokémon battle, it’s because the Helix Fossil has blessed them with good luck. When they lose, it’s the fault of the game’s devil, another normally insignificant item called the Dome Fossil.
And that’s just one of many, many memes that have emerged in the past week. The sentence “Let’s try to put Jay Leno in the day care” may sound like nonsense to non-viewers, but it was a very serious strategy a couple days ago.
It may be especially hard to understand the memetic community that has popped up around Twitch Plays Pokémon if you haven’t played through the original Pokémon games six times like m– uh, a friend I know. If you do understand the games and want a really deep dive into it all, I can recommend the stories by Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez here and here, or the game’s irreverent Reddit community, which quickly racked up more than 50,000 subscribers.
A Twitch spokesperson said more than 658,000 people have participated in Twitch Plays Pokémon so far, with up to 120,000 concurrent viewers/commenters at the game’s peak. The stream is supported by a combination of display ads, preroll video ads and paid subscriptions through the Twitch Partner Program, although the company declined to disclose any subscription numbers.