Twitch Plays Pokémon

The moment TPP beat generation 1 Image credit: Reddit user Aodyhn

If you’ve been on the internet recently, the chances are you’ve heard of Twitch Plays Pokémon. In this social experiment, an anonymous coder ran an emulated version of the classic Pokémon Red, and linked the main character’s every movement to the chat box on the popular streaming service Twitch. The result: an average of 50,000 people trying to control poor Red at once, leaving him wandering backwards and forwards like a nervous wreck.

What’s astonishing though, is the fact that this ‘hive mind’ actually managed to complete the game. After 16 and a half incredible days, the Elite four were finally vanquished. Along the way, many seemingly insurmountable challenges were overcome. Ledges were unlikely recurring foes, due to the need for several consecutive ‘left’ or ‘right’ commands, with a single stray ‘down’ input sending Red back to the start. Given the 20+ seconds of lag on Twitch’s inputs reaching the game, this seemingly trivial task took seven hours the first time it was attempted. Soon after, an alternative system for movement called Democracy (as opposed to the original Anarchy) was added, to be called on in times when precision was vital.

The interesting thing about this experiment is the lore that the community developed around the characters and events in this story. An item called the Helix fossil obtained early in the game quickly achieved divine status, as the random inputs from the chat led to Red constantly “consulting” it. Since choosing the Helix fossil precluded selecting its counterpart, the Dome fossil, this item became viewed by many on the stream as evil. Many Pokémon were given nicknames such as “Bird Jesus” or “the False Prophet”, and their motivations and allegiances were the source of much debate and fan art. The emotional attachment one felt to these characters was surprisingly strong, and when Pokémon were accidentally released (which happened on several occasions), there was a genuine sense of loss. A mere twenty-six hours after Pokémon Red was completed, the creator started up the second generation with Pokémon Crystal. This type of social gaming experience lies in uncharted waters, and it will be interesting to see where it leads. New adventure awaits…

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