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What Is TwitchPlaysPokemon?

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The Internet is a master of creating unexpected phenomena in all shapes and sizes. Whether it is defending the right to have a free world wide web from SOPA or creating silly memes that are just entertaining, the Internet has become the most unpredictable collective being. One of the most recent creations is extremely interesting. It involves a live-streaming channel, Pokémon and a LOT of people.

Let me explain everything from the beginning. On February 12, an unknown Australian programmer set up a channel on a website that allows users to live-stream games and face cameras called Twitch.tv. The channel created was called "TwitchPlaysPokemon," and it was programmed so that if you put the commands to the original Pokémon game (which consists entirely of "up, down, left, right, A, B and Start") into the chat box, the protagonist would act out these commands. It's a simple enough of a concept, but the actual act of trying to complete the game quickly became intensely difficult.

"TwitchPlaysPokemon" quickly became the largest human experiment I have ever seen with my own eyes. The peak of viewership during the first Pokémon game (Pokémon Red) rose to an outstanding 70,000 unique visitors. TwitchPlaysPokemon (TPP for short) became one of my favorite spectator sports because of the concept behind it. You have THOUSANDS of people giving constantly contradictory commands, and yet progress is still somehow made. Of course, you put enough people in a room; someone is bound to want to create as many obstacles as possible. In the chat, people loved creating annoying situations. In the game all it would take is one person inputting "Start" to have all commands after that become menu navigation, which can just be annoying and confusing to get out of. There were so many commands inputted that I if I were to count the amount in the time of ten seconds, it would easily breach 100 commands. Just to make these commands even more useless, there is about a 30 delay between when the command is inputted and when the game actually acts out that command. This unreliability and inconsistency led to some of the most heartbreaking moments of the playthrough.

Throughout Pokémon Red, the community accidentally released about 13 somewhat and very important Pokémon that were held in high regard. I watched the amount of viewers at certain events like these, and whenever a ridiculous mistake is made and the area must be recompleted ENTIRELY; nearly 15,000 people quit the stream in pure frustration. Because the TwitchPlaysPokemon community was very consistently not getting anywhere at the most difficult stages of the game, a new addition was implemented that caused a great amount of distress among the viewers and players.

This new feature created two modes of gameplay called "democracy" and "anarchy." The entire playthrough up to that point had been all anarchy, but of course some order needed to be implemented otherwise the game would never be completed. The way it worked was that the community could choose to vote for democracy or anarchy. If democracy was chosen, the community would chose what the next action should be by voting on each possible action one at a time. Democracy made many players of TPP angry because anarchy was seen as the "right" way to play the game. Regardless of what was the "right" or "wrong" way to play in the eyes of the community, Pokémon Red was (to everyone's shock and awe) completed.

It took TwitchPlaysPokemon 16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes and 30 seconds to beat a game that takes a single person anywhere from 40 to 50 hours to beat leisurely. Along the way they were met with countless obstacles that are usually simple to solve, but when you are met with tens of thousands of people giving incoherent commands, the simple becomes the improbable.

My personal favorite part of this whole adventure is easily the new story created around the events in the TPP gameplay. Websites like Reddit quickly became a hub of fanart and possible storylines for what occurred throughout the game. A new religion with a God, a messiah and even a false prophet was created all based off of the gameplay of TPP. Even just the fanart based off of the protagonists possible mental state, after being fed the instructions "up down left left up right down start" multiplied by the thousands, were surprisingly deep and horrifying.

I believe that while it is kind of a silly premise, TPP may be one of the more strangely informative experiments conducted by the Internet. It started with a simple goal given, "beat the game." As more people joined TPP, the overall investment in the characters and the determination to complete the given goal quickly grew and became much more real. When people got bored of the random chaos, they decided to create a new story totally separate from the original storyline in Pokémon. With this new story, people quickly choose sides and then choose political views to defend. Many people wanted to play the game the "right" way with anarchy, while other wished to complete the game with guaranteed progress with democracy.

Ignoring all possibilities of this being a human experiment, just the simple fact that against all odds and logic, nearly 70,000 people controlled a single character and despite all setbacks COMPLETED Pokémon Red. They have already completed the next Pokémon game in the series and are now making (as expected) slow, but progress nonetheless towards completing their current game, Pokémon Emerald. I hope to see many more amazing phenomena like TwitchPlaysPokemon in the future because I believe it is fraught with possible scientific value in how people interact with each other when there is no established order or system of power; everyone has an equal say as everyone else and they still worked together to completing a very difficult goal.