"Twitch Plays Pokemon" is Either the Best or the Worst Thing to Ever Come Out of the Internet
The Internet has produced some frankly bizarre things—like putting Nicolas Cage’s face on everything, and that time everyone was wearing horse masks, and something with goats. But this time it’s barfed up a phenomenon that could be either awful or fantastic, there’s just no telling.
"Twitch Plays Pokemon" is a livestream of the Nintendo game Pokemon Red Version, except that it’s being controlled by its viewers. That’s right—there are upwards of 70,000 people choosing commands for the character at any given time, with the result that progress is at best very slow, and at worst a comedy of errors. If you were born approximately two days ago and have never played or heard of the Pokemon games, the premise is simple: embark on journey, catch Pokemon, fight battles, accrue gym badges. This relatively simple premise, however, has rapidly spiraled downward into a disaster of epic, undignified, erratic proportions. It's like watching the seemingly aimless zigzag route of a bumblebee, except the bumblebee is being controlled by equal parts well-meaning, earnest people who want to play the game, and also dastardly Internet trolls who just want to watch the world burn, and everyone's screaming.
As I’m typing these words to you, 75,000 people are typing the words "start" or "A" or "up" or "down" in a deathless battle for supremacy and gym badges. Every minute that passes by generates more random bursts of activity than even I managed to produce on my first attempt when I was seven and didn't understand what I was supposed to be doing half the time.
If you're not yet bamboozled, try this on for size: it has amassed its own extensive online cult following on tumblr and reddit. Guys, there is a fandom. What is essentially chaos theory in motion has generated a fandom.
Even weirder? They are SUCCEEDING. "Twitch Plays Pokemon" has progressed steadily since beginning the game a week ago. They once spent over an hour trapped in the Celadon Gym because there was a tree in the way (to be fair, employing the Cut move isn't so easy when it requires several commands and the general cooperation of more people than there are in my hometown), but they have collected four gym badges at the time I'm writing this article. FOUR GYM BADGES. I watched for forty-five minutes while they floundered blindly in the Rock Tunnel (don't look at me like that! It was a slow night for me! In fairness, most nights are), and it took them about half an hour to buy a soda pop from the vending machine, and they accidentally released Charmeleon into the wild to general outcry, but somehow, crazily, impossibly they are moving forward. Decoding the Rosetta Stone didn't require this much effort. It's kind of like the idea that a million monkeys with a million typewriters will eventually type Shakespeare. It's strange. It's surprising. It's kind of amazing.
It's also quite possibly the weirdest thing to ever become a Thing (and that's coming from an Internet culture that produced everything from the doge phase to "ermahgerd"), but it's a testament to human endurance. Say what you will, but there's something weirdly beautiful about watching the human race band together as one to get a single collection of pixels through a pitch-black cave without the HM Flash.
BOOM. That's gotta be the most poetic, profound sentence ever written about an interwebs video game. Have you gotten caught up in the cult of Twitch yet?