Patrick Hope: When more than one gamer is in control
Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from writing about specific games and discuss a gaming-related event instead. This week, it’s … well, I don’t how to describe it exactly. You know what? Let’s just get into it. We’re talking about “Twitch Plays Pokemon.”
On Feb. 12, an Australian programmer came up with a brilliant idea: He would stream a game of “Pokemon Red” on game hosting site Twitch. But this game would be different. Twitch would collectively control the action through the chat function. If you enter “up,” the character moves up. If you hit “start,” then the menu opens. Now realize that thousands of people would be entering inputs at any given time and you’re well on your way to seeing why this was such a different idea. Actually, Twitch estimates that at any given time, 80,000 people were watching, with at least 10 percent of the viewership participating. So you really would have thousands of people entering inputs at once.
There was a lot of walking in circles, opening and closing the menu repeatedly, trying to buy items, and unsuccessful attempts to switch battle order. It also resulted in some really useful Pokemon getting released into the wild, though somehow it never resulted in the Master Ball getting thrown away. It got bad enough that after a dedicated group of trolls got our intrepid trainer Red stuck in the Rocket Hideout for a couple days — and I mean days, as in 24-hour increments — that a system entitled “Democracy” was allowed to be enacted. Instead of the usual “Anarchy,” which could get you stuck navigating a ledge for an extended period of time (this actually happened; it took everyone 16 hours to navigate one ledge), Democracy tabulated votes over a period of a few seconds and entered the most popular result. To be honest, that was the only way that certain areas of the game were ever going to get completed. And let’s not even get into Twitch battling Pokemon. Actually, let’s do that right now.
Battles were, for lack of a better term, a total clown show. Did you know that you can’t run from a trainer battle? Because if not, get ready to have that fact drilled into your head over and over and over. Due to the limited number of options in battle and the incredible number of inputs, players did very silly things a lot — like try to run from trainer battles, use worthless moves, not learn useful moves and, most famously, repeatedly trying to use an item, instead using the Helix Fossil, which will be discussed later.
Most battles, especially against the Elite Four, which — if we’re being perfectly honest — aren’t regularly that hard, were white-knuckle affairs, like the battle against Giovanni that resulted in hours of lost progress because a non-damaging move being used by Bird Jesus.
Oh, right. You should probably know who Bird Jesus is.
Like anything that is thrown onto the Internet for any appreciable amount of time, “Twitch Plays Pokemon” developed its own lingo and mythology. The Helix Fossil that got “used” all the time in the menu? People decided that ol’ Red was consulting the Helix Fossil for advice, and thus the Modern Church of Helix was born. All of the party Pokemon had nicknames, like Bird Jesus, the extremely high-level Pidgeot that was used to steamroll much of the game, or All-Terrain Venomoth, the Venomoth (it’s a moth!) which, due to a logic bug, defeated a freaking DRAGON by poisoning it during one of the Elite Four battles.
And the day which resulted in a ton of Pokemon getting released was known as Bloody Sunday. There was even an entire religious struggle between Lord Helix and his rival, Lord Dome, involving the False Prophet Flareon, which was developed in more depth than 99.9 percent of all Pokemon fanfiction, all arising organically from the event.
On March 1, after 391 hours, Twitch beat Pokemon when Zapdos, aka Battery Jesus, defeated a Blastoise and Red became Pokemon League Champion.
The Internet, as a hivemind, beat a video game. I don’t know if there’s really anything useful to be gleaned from this so-called social experiment. But I can say that it was, well, an experience to watch it. Twitch has since moved on to playing “Pokemon Crystal,” but it can’t match the first time, with all of the craziness, the tense moments and the silly memes.
I can safely say that if I ever have kids, I will tell them about “Twitch Plays Pokemon.”
All hail Lord Helix.
To read more of Hope’s video game columns, visit http://bonusstage.areavoices.com/