If you spend any amount of time on the Internet, at some point you’ve encountered some strange things that apparently some people find very funny. But even the most callous of Internet veterans are struck by the immense oddity of the “Twitch Plays Pokemon” phenomenon, which has become one of the biggest sources of entertainment for online gaming communities over the past week.
Essentially, “Twitch Plays Pokemon” is a crowdsourced attempt to play through Pokemon Red, one of the two games that launched the multibillion dollar Pokemon franchise in 1996 and went on to become the “best selling [Role Playing Game] of all time,” according to the 2009 Guinness Book of World Records.
On Twitch.tv, a website that streams live video feeds of video game competitions, users can submit game controls to “Twitch Plays Pokemon” through a chat room. Players can input any command from the original Game Boy: the four different directional commands (up, down, left and right), “A,” “B,” “Start,” and ”Select.” These commands are input into the game in real time.
Since “Twitch Plays Pokemon” launched on Feb. 12, the Twitch channel has received more than 14 million views and has attracted as many as 80,000 active players. You can watch a live stream of the "Twitch Plays Pokemon" below, but beware, it's pretty crazy.
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With that many people controlling the game at once, “Twitch Plays Pokemon” is often complete chaos. Situations like getting through a door or getting past a tree (which would take one player just a second) take hours of work on the “Twitch Plays Pokemon.”
The existence of Internet trolls purposely trying to derail the progress of “Twitch Plays Pokemon” isn’t helping, but what’s amazing is that it's actually working.
According to a Google Doc monitoring the game’s progress, “Twitch Plays Pokemon” has defeated four of the game bosses and has collected 10 Pokemon, through three have been released to the wild and another has been traded.
Given how excruciating it can be to make it past one simple ledge, the whole thing is pretty remarkable. It’s the video game equivalent of monkeys mashing on a typewriter, if some of those monkeys were intentionally trying to prevent the others from writing something.
It helps that the game is 18-years old and extremely popular, meaning players know what is coming, what to expect, and can form strategies. “Twitch Plays Pokemon” users have even created their own strategies to get past obstacles and combat trolls.
There are also two modes of play: anarchy and democracy. Anarchy mode just refers to the live stream on input commands, while democracy mode allows players to collectively vote on the commands input into the game. To switch modes, the inactive mode requires a 75 percent vote.
Even more beautiful than this social experiment actually working is the amount of Internet memes and jokes that “Twitch Plays Pokemon” has inspired in the past week. Players constantly trigger the game character to check the “Helix Fossil,” a game object that is useless until one point in the game. In “Twitch Plays Pokemon,” however, the Helix Fossil has become a sort of divine object.
— ダニエル (@depxaf) February 17, 2014
— TwitchPlaysPokemon (@TwitchPokemon) February 17, 2014
Two Pokemon, a Rattata nicknamed JLVWNNOOOO (which players call Jay Leno) and a Charmeleon nicknamed ABBBBBBK (known as Abby), became Internet-famous, and were mourned on Reddit when the “Twitch Plays Pokemon” community released them into the wild.
Kotaku has a collection of some of the best jokes as well as a more-detailed explanation of how players have actually been able to make progress. You can also see updates of the game's progress on Reddit.