The stupid, mesmerizing beauty of ‘Twitch Plays Pokemon’

Twitch Plays PokemonAn infinite number of monkeys hitting keys at random on an infinite number of typewriters will, given infinite time, produce the works of Shakespeare.

Now, replace the infinite number of typewriters with a single typewriter, replace “Shakespeare” with an old portable role-playing game from the late 90s and have half the monkeys yell and throw their own feces at each other instead of typing.

That about sums up the experience of “Twitch Plays Pokemon,” which has become something of a phenomenon on the Internet.

The concept is simple: button commands for “Pokemon: Red Version” are tied directly to an instant messaging chat as a stream of the game shows what’s going on. If someone types “up” into the chat, for example, then the trainer on screen will take a step upward. It’s a game of “Pokemon” where millions of players are fighting for the controller, and the result is actually kind of miraculous.

Yes, they’ve taken a long time, but this mob of wannabe trainers has actually captured a legendary Pokemon and completed the game.

Along the way, though, the mob forced the poor protagonist of the game to twitch endlessly in the corner of a room or spend hours (or even days) trying to open a door. Even something as mundane as storing a Pokemon into a PC became dangerous, because an important part of the team could have wound up being irreversibly released into the wild, never to be seen again.

Watching as this crowd of thousands tried to get through the game was both boring and fascinating at the same time. Their teamwork was inspiring at times, and yet, when they got stuck trying to climb down a ledge, it was impossible not to shake one’s head in shame.

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The experience really says a lot about human nature. Given the opportunity, there will always be that one person (or people) who decides to press that one button to screw everything up. There will always be people who get pleasure out of watching the play-through get ruined. Half the efforts of the mob revolved around dealing with the trolls who got a kick out of other people’s displeasure.

At one point, the developer of the stream added a system in which players can vote to alternate between an “anarchy” mode, where every input is entered into the game, and a “democracy” mode, where inputs are gathered and voted upon before being entered. It’s spurred a lot of discussion about the eternal debate between order and chaos.

Of course, being the Internet, tons of memes were spawned out of the play-through. An entire religion has seemingly formed around an in-game item known as the Helix Fossil, which was accidentally selected in battle countless times.

Miraculously, the mob finished the first generation game in a little more than 16 days. This writer wishes them the best of luck as their quest continues in the next generation game, Crystal Version, as they attempt to again become the best trainer there ever w