Who remembers Twitch Plays Pokemon? It was exactly three years ago and one of the first massive online events I remember personally participating in.
For those who weren’t there, here’s a quick rundown: on February 12 2014, a new Twitch stream opened up called “Twitch Plays Pokemon” that challenged the viewers to work together to beat the classic Pokemon Red. The game would recognize any commands input into the Twitch chat like “A”, “Up” or “Select” and would execute them in the order they were received. As TV Tropes put it, it was “over 100,000 people fighting over a controller.” And it was awesome. I can’t really explain just how fascinating it was to get to be a part of this playthrough at the time. I originally discovered it when xkcd released this comic, which means I got to jump in right as it picked up steam, and I genuinely don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like it again. There was an amazing mix of familiarity and unpredictability as the dynamics of the game’s difficulty were turned on its head. No longer was even the toughest of NPC trainers a thing to worry about; the surviving members of Red’s team were all horrendously overleveled from dozens of hours running in circles through tall grass. Instead, ledges became one of the scariest enemies, as it only took a single troll posting “down” at the perfect time to send Red jumping back down a leg of the mountain, ruining hours of progress.
But even more scary was the dreaded PC; supposedly the place to withdraw new Pokemon, it instead turned into a black hole of death where random buttons presses would constantly result in Pokemon being released into the wild, never to be seen again. Unpredictable setbacks were the norm, not the exception; my personal favorite was when when the team’s Rattata used Dig after we limped our way through Silph Co and defeated Giovanni but before we could grab the mandatory quest item at the end, forcing us to do it all again.
But the many, many downfalls are only setback by the incredible highlights. Without a doubt the greatest moment in the series was when Red successfully used a Master Ball to catch the legendary bird Zapdos, who later became the most powerful Pokemon in his party. Throughout the play, the Twitch chat was a faceless mass of commands, contributed by all but understood by none, and this was part of why it was so fascinating. At any moment you always had multiple factions vying for control of the game; trolls who wanted to sow discontent, loyalists who wanted to win, anarchists who went against the majority on principle, and wild cards whose motivations were an enigma to all but themselves. On rare moments, these factions could all unite under a single purpose; I remember when an NPC asked cheerily “Would you like to trade a Spearow for my Farfetch’d?” the mob acquiescently marched over to the nearest PC, withdrew a Spearow, marched right back and made a trade. Everybody collectively agreed that we wanted to see that trade happen.
I could go on for hours about the various memes and characters who were born from Twitch Plays Pokemon, but there are other places where you can learn about them. That’s one of the greatest accomplishments of TPP; it took a single-player game and gave the entire internet a collective playthrough that we all got to experience. I bonded with Red’s team as I would the team from my own Pokemon playthroughs, but this time there was a thriving community of artists, journalists, and forumites who were right there with me. And TPP had a big influence on the namesake website: they’ve since added a whole TwitchPlays category to cover the emerging community of crowdplay games following the leader. As the largest Twitch stream in the company’s history, TPP introduced Twitch to a giant portion of internet-dwellers, myself included, and is at least partially responsible for the site being as well-known as it is today.
Twitch Plays Pokemon may have introduced Twitch to the world, but it was also a giant milestone in my personal internet career for multiple reasons. One of the biggest parts of the TPP community were the theorycrafters who attempted to get a majority of players to agree to a battleplan of some sort. These battleplans were crudely drawn up in MS Paint, uploaded to Imgur and spammed within the Twitch chat to get people to see it. I created my Imgur account to upload this:
(A lot of people joined Team Rest and we had a few pushes to go get the TM, but we ultimately weren’t successful.) Later I created a reddit account so I could start upvoting all the memes and artworks appearing on the r/TwitchPlaysPokemon subreddit, the only forum I could find for the franchise. Considering the amount of time I now spend on said sites, I can credit Twitch Plays Pokemon with helping me take some pretty big steps in my online career.
The stream is actually still active if you want to go check it out, but the five-digit-viewership runs of yore are in the past. Personally I only really participated in the first three runs, and I still think it was a once-in-a-lifetime event you really had to be there to experience.
Update: The streamer is also doing an AMA on reddit right now! Go check it out!