Throughout his many, many lives, Red has never had an adventure quite like this. The streaming website Twitch.tv was recently home to perhaps the strangest game of Pokémon this side of a creepypasta. A Generation One Pokémon playthrough was given a live feed with a simple twist: Anybody could input a command via the chat log.
Basically, the Internet exploded. The number of people playing the game was consistently greater than the population of small countries. If you ever talked about the game with players, they referred to themselves as “we.” “We” caught Zapdos today, or “we” are stuck in ledge hell. When checking up with a fellow player, I caught myself asking, “What did we do today?”
Since there was roughly a 30-second delay between a command’s input and execution, there was no way of knowing exactly what you had just done. This led to chaos. Red was often stuck in corners for hours at a time.
The stream’s creator implemented a new system a few days into the game. Players could vote in Anarchy, in which the game continued chaotically, or Democracy, which executed the action with the most inputs over a certain amount of time. The theory was that Democracy could be implemented to navigate through tricky areas like the Safari Zone. Democracy was used sparingly and some of the major advances in the game occurred under Anarchy. The fact Twitch Plays Pokémon (TPP), the name of the playthrough, beat the first gym is, to me, miraculous.
While TPP wasn’t purely random, it was purely chaotic. The inputs were not truly random; the input stream confirms this since B and Start were used far less than the directional buttons or A. It was chaotic, though, because there was no cooperation in terms of button inputs, and the aforementioned inability to know what your input would actually do for the next half minute.
Theoretically, this game could have never ended. This sometimes seemed to be the case considering the hours stuck in certain locations.
TPP has implications in various academic and creative fields. For example, how did TPP complete the game? The community gathered together to create short-term goals, but this doesn’t guarantee success. This is proven in the creation of “the False Prophet.” The community decided to get an Eevee and evolve it into a Vaporeon so as to eventually teach it Surf. They created a Flareon instead, and the resulting confusion resulted in the release of two beloved Pokémon on the team.
Flubs like this prove that merely having a stated goal, such as “beat the Elite Four,” wasn’t enough. Yet TPP did it. Was this an exercise in group psychology or game design? If you create a hivemind with an understanding of basic mechanics, will it always eventually reach its goal? Or is this a statement on game design wherein games are, accidentally, impossible not to beat if given a continuous stream of chaotic commands?
To me, the most fascinating part of TPP is the re-confirmation of humans as creatures of stories. The community took the meandering Red at face value and asked why someone would act like he did. From this simple assumption sprang narratives that ranged from mythological to post-modernist.
Religious narratives about the Helix Fossil and BirdJesus were born. Fan art and stories ran rampant. Stories were created towards the end to directly subvert previously written, widely accepted mythos. GIFs and comics told Red’s stories from the perspective of other characters in the game. This speaks to our need for stories. From the inability to throw away an item, we create a god. From an accidental evolution, we create a false prophet. From chaos, we create narrative.