By Matt Goodman| firstname.lastname@example.org
Nothing screams “internet” more than a thousand people playing the same game of Pokémon at once, in real time.
As the massive “Twitch Plays Pokémon” stream started up the third generation of Pokémon games, I realized how this immense video game experience perfectly exemplifies the younger generation’s internet community. It’s ridiculous, hilarious and astonishing, all at the same time.
Twitch is a website that streams people playing video games. People watch for walkthroughs, tips and entertainment. During Twitch Plays Pokémon, people can type commands into the chat and the character in the game follows those commands after a slight delay. Someone types “right” into the stream’s chat, the character moves right. Someone says “left,” he or she moves left.
The commands from thousands of people lead to absolute chaos, all while being egged on by creative geniuses that form lore around the seemingly random occurrences that happen over the course of the game, and antagonized by trolls that want the game to take as long as possible.
With only a small break between sessions, Twitch Plays Pokémon has completed the first two generations of Pokémon games through 29 days of gameplay.
The stream has been viewed by dozens of millions of people throughout the world, with as many as 120,000 watching at one time. These kinds of numbers are only comparable to the massive eSport competition streams such as the League of Legends League Championship Series (LCS.)
Pokémon’s most recent games are still popular, but the massive popularity of this particular stream can be attributed to our generation’s nostalgia. We were able to play the original games of Pokémon and relive some of the experiences we had as kids in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The popularity isn’t that surprising considering how popular posts on sites like Imgur, Reddit and even Buzzfeed are when they reflect on old TV shows, games and movies.
What is surprising is the surge in impressive original content that has come from Twitch Plays Pokémon. The internet is usually filled with reposted images that have circulated websites for years. For more than a month now, people have crafted incredibly in-depth original stories and content that explain the background of what happens in the game.
The two modes of input, anarchy and democracy, have divided the community, with most favoring anarchy because it’s chaotic and fun. Democracy takes the most popular commands and is often used when the thousands of players get to a point they find too difficult to pass with chaos. Anarchy and democracy are like religions for users, with lots of short writings and diagrams explaining their dynamics.
The Pokémon in the game have ridiculous, random names from the chaotic way they are typed in. When someone comes up with a clever name for whatever a random jumble of letters looks like, the mob of viewers takes over and perpetuates that name across the internet, inspiring more stories and art. For example, a Venomoth in the game was named AATTVVV, which was easily shortened to ATV, and then turned into the All-Terrain-Venomoth.
When the game’s Pidgeot continuously won battles and squashed enemies by mere luck, the group dubbed it “Bird Jesus,” leading to some of the most hilarious, mildly sacrilegious content on the web.
The way the trends spread shows the hive mind and mob mentality of the people involved and of the internet in general. In the same way a fake tweet can go viral and spread a massive lie across the internet, Twitch Plays Pokémon can take one person’s joke and turn it into an epic story of gods, false prophets and Rattatas named Jay Leno.
There are hundreds of truly incredible pieces of original content posted all over Reddit, Tumblr and DeviantART. It shows the communities capacity to create, and to do so in incredibly short amounts of time. The art varies from shoddy and hilarious to absolutely stunning, as with most pieces of art on the internet like rage comics, memes and computer generated speed paintings.
The second run of Twitch Plays Pokémon, Crystal Version, showed some of the more obnoxious sides to the internet. People began complaining pretty shortly after it’s commencement that it wasn’t as fun as the original. Views declined. They began bickering about what exactly “killed the stream.” But even though the number of viewers wasn’t at 70,000 regularly as it had been before, it was still consistently more popular than many of the other games being streamed on Twitch.
A lot of the discussion in the chat reminded me of the kind of dialogue you’ll find while playing Call of Duty online: a lot of young teenage boys yelling about how they had sexual relations with your mother.
Eventually the community mostly agreed on a story to follow and to produce art for it. By the end of the second game, it became apparent how amazing the internet can be at times.
One of the most amazing occurrences happened shortly after the players accidentally used the “Masterball” on a lowly Goldeen. The internet, being an incredible source of everything strange, quickly found a video of a song written in 1999 by an unknown garage band. The song was called “I Wasted My Masterball On Freakin’ Goldeen.”
“How can you describe all these strangers playing the same game, and either working together or against each other?” the creator of the song, Paul Petroskey asks. “You describe it with the word ‘fun.’ As for me, I am very excited that I am inadvertently involved in all the internet culture and mythos that is Twitch Plays Pokemon.”
In just a month, a jumble of hundreds of millions of commands spouted out by thousands of users had managed to complete two entire video games. They will undoubtedly beat the next generation as well. Popularity may rise or fall but the stream’s contributions and those of its users so far are truly remarkable.