Sanity’s Other Side: Thoughts on Twitch Plays Pokemon

All hail Helix

twitch plays pokemon ms paint

So for the past week or so, the internet has been abuzz with the completion of a very bold social experiment: what would happen if thousands of people tried playing a single playthrough Pokemon generation 1 all at once. Tonight, I the Inverseman will be giving my thoughts on this breaking phenomenon in gaming.

The first thing you will notice is Red’s downright erratic motions, floundering around routes, slamming into walls, and repeatedly talking to NPCs over and over again. The sight of it is rather painful, seeing the menu open constantly, spamming Dig at any time, jumping off the same ledge for the umpteenth time, making navigation a nightmare. At the same time though, it’s somewhat satisfying when you finally get there and hit the next town. To mitigate problems, players could vote to switch from the pure anarchy to “democracy mode” where players would have to vote on the next action taken, slowing the action down to a snail’s pace.

twitch_plays_pokemon_by_darrengeers-d779rns

Art by Darren Geers

And then you remember you have to battle things… Combat is a great hurdle to surmount, so choosing attacks or attempting to catch a single Pokemon takes tireless attempts, but when your salvation comes from a route 1 pigeon leveled to a godly capacity and hilariously nicknamed comrades, it somehow works out when you remember how horrid generation 1’s AI was.

pokemon evil stairs

So far, so good. It’ll take time and many useful items will be tossed but in a game as easy as Pokemon Red/Blue nothing can go wrong, right? Until you get to the PC, a helpful tool to safeguard your reserve Pokemon has become a hellish void with that one little function you probably never used whenever you played Pokemon, “release”. With such erratic inputs and maybe a pinch of trolling, many Pokemon died whenever Red accessed the PC, including “Abby” the Charmeleon and many many more.

all hail the helix

Though there were some hanger-ons. The Helix Fossil, in its divine un-tossable might was always consulted in spite of Oak’s foolish advice. The Messianic Pidgeot learned Mirror Move and in its overleveled might whittled even the sturdiest Slowbro down… With its own Water Gun. The false promise of a beautiful Surfing Vaporeon was revealed by the purchase of a Fire Stone, creating False Prophet Flareon who serves as herald of the evil Dome Fossil and forced the release of many valuable teammates. Eventually, after much pain, loss, idiocy, and the light of anarchy the collective mob defeated the Elite Four after sixteen days of journeying on the morning of March 1st.

all terrain venomoth

Art by Xyrafohoan

Whereas many attempts to play games come from a collective spirit and organized community, Twitch Plays Pokemon thrives on anonymity and mob rule. With a game as diverse as Pokemon where “the right way to play” is so vastly different from player to player we have a huge can of worms on our hands before we even get to the ledge jumping, and that’s not even including the trolling obsession with Bulbasaur’s cry. These differences redefine what masterful works look like. Whereas a well constructed Minecraft server would be stunning to see and play and a well organized guild in an MMO would conduct epic raids, here going to the PC to safely retrieve your strongest Pokemon, let alone win a major battle, is a masterpiece in and of itself. There’s something to be said for the community spirit between the flurry of usernames you probably won’t remember as well as the shocking ability for over a million people to coordinate the successful capture of a Zapdos. It’s those moments of surprise and accomplishment of something so mundane yet now difficult to perform that generate a flurry of Pokemon fan-art and those who root for the underdog. The emotional attachment is very real to an [objectively] low-tier Pokemon  we would otherwise ignore (except that Zapdos).

twitch pokemon final team

The other nuance to this community game is how everyone can be a contributor. No quests or log-ins (bar Twitch) or sign-ups; you can play right now. The ability to open an anonymous community to work towards a goal free of any commitment is like financing a construction site free to build and any passerby can easily sabotage or contribute to its completion. At the end of the day, somehow the building gets raised and somehow stands. Maybe there’s a bold message about infinite possibility, where anything is possible given enough time? Perhaps there’s a hopeful message in all of this? A hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box that lets us be a ten-year-old boy that joyfully runs around alternate-universe Japan with his monster friends spreading the Helix Lord’s glory. Or maybe we’re morbidly curious to bottle lightning twice and now play Pokemon Crystal. Join me next time when I ride an All-Terrain-Venomoth.

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Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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