Online Pokemon Phenomenon Takes Internet by Storm

Over the past two weeks, the Internet has been overtaken by the phenomena that is “Twitch Plays Pokémon.” Billed as a “social experiment,” for those unaware, TPP is a live stream of the Game Boy classic “Pokémon Red.”

The twist is that instead of being played by one singular person, the entire viewership can input commands into the stream’s chat room, which is then turned into buttons to be pressed on the emulator running the game. Add to the fact that the stream averages about 50,000 viewers at any given time, with 20 million total viewers over the entire life of the stream, and you can imagine the chaos that this system creates.  In fact, most of the game is spent walking into walls, stumbling back and forth, and generally failing to complete basic tasks such as walking up stairs, into doors and using the in-game PC.

At the time of this writing, the game’s eighth and final gym has been conquered and the players are preparing to tackle the game’s final challenge: the Elite Four. The community has come a long way in the past two weeks. The game’s first real roadblock came in the form of a series of ledges that can be jumped down, but not climbed over. The players of the game had to coordinate their movements so that they could move across a large area, and if any one of the 50,000 people playing typed “down,” they would be forced to walk back to the beginning. This feat took 18 hours to accomplish.

The players faced many other trials over the course of their journey through the game. However, by far the most interesting part of this experiment has been the outburst of culture that has surrounded the game. Within minutes of any major event, GIFs and other images appear on the Internet commenting on what has occurred, and shortly thereafter, people post well-drawn, elaborated fan art concerning the proceedings. People have also come together to form plans concerning how to proceed through the game, often with humorous titles like “Operation Shoot for the Moon” and “Operation Shatter the Earth.”

The inspiration for all this passion can be attributed to the nostalgic feeling of playing these games that many probably first played as children. Due to the largely random nature of the commands given to Red, the player character, the game does not usually go as planned. Over the course of the game, many valuable items have been thrown away due to an unfortunately timed press of the A button. What’s worse is the numerous Pokémon that have been released into the wild due to the use of the now infamous PC, which is the game’s Pokémon Storage System. The worst of these incidents has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” when 12 Pokémon were released while trying to retrieve a newly caught Zapdos from the PC.

The story of “Pokémon Red” is a very basic story that most have experienced once in their lives, but this time around, the story has been largely fan created. The simplest, most random events have been given significance by fans of the stream, who have created an entire narrative of the journey. Most of the Pokémon in the party have been given nicknames and character arcs based on their actions in the game. When some are lost, many state that they had developed an emotional connection to these characters that the community has essentially created. Such is the magic of “Twitch Plays Pokémon:” 20 million people playing one game, creating one story that will undoubtedly go down in the history of Internet culture.