How Twitch Plays Pokemon restored my faith in humanity


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You could be forgiven for thinking that democracy is a failing system. With revolutions in parts of Eastern Europe, America turning into a George Orwell novel and the global banking system falling around our ears, it’s easy to be cynical about our system of government. It’s enough to make you think maybe we should go back to a feudal monarchy, like the good old days.

Yet there’s a ray of light shining through our dark dystopian times, proof that despite the North Korean death camps and NSA dragnets there is still hope for humanity. It comes in the most unlikely form, but can still inspire hope in even the most jaded of bedroom activists. It’s a shining example of how humans can overcome their differences and work together to overcome the myriad of problems that threaten our world, how we can work together to overcome any obstacle. And that bright fragment of hope is TwitchplaysPokemon.

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From the outside, it seems like an absurd plan. A ROM of the first generation Pokemon game, streamed out over Twitch and controlled entirely by inputs from the channel chat? Twitch chat is a cesspit of Kappas and copy pasterino at the best of times, so how could thousands of people (over 90,000 at it’s peak) work together in order to defeat all eight gym leaders, defeat team rocket and battle the elite four to be crowned the Kanto region Pokemon champion?

The play through wasn’t without its pitfalls. There have were a lot of Pokemon accidentally (or not so accidentally) released, aimless wandering and bumping into walls, Helix Fossil veneration and general time wasting. But, ever so slowly, progress has been made. Despite so many commands being spammed that it crashed Twitch’s chat, as well as people actively working to derail the game. Due to so much wandering and random encounters some of the party Pokemon are way over leveled meaning that battles haven’t been too much of a challenge. Especially thanks to a grossly powerful Pigeot known affectionately as Bird Jesus. That is, when the Pokemon can actually get off an attack.

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Although there are a myriad puzzles and difficult paths to navigate, the Twitch community has somehow made it through. Getting to Lt. Surge can be tough at the best of times searching through garbage cans for the right switches to let you through. Hell, the very first time I played Pokemon Red I got lost in Viridian Forest, even though it’s a linear path. To be fair I was seven at the time. So the fact that tens of thousands of people working independently, and in some cases contrary to the ultimate goal, can make their way through this game is nothing short of inspirational.

Of course, there’s that saying about 1,000 monkeys and 1,000 typewriters creating a work of superlative art. Could a similar mass of disparate viewers defeat a Pokemon game in a similar way through brute force? It’s uncertain whether a second play through would yield similar results, and it would be unlikely to draw as many viewers as the channel reached at its peak. However a similar experiment has been run using a random number generator to generate input instead of users, and it was quickly became stuck having released all of its Pokemon except for a  lone Magikarp. There are plenty of ways that a Pokemon adventure can go wrong. A legion of monkeys bashing away at their typewriters are going to produce a lot of garbage before they finally produce that masterpiece. It took just one run for the viewers of Twitch to become a Pokemon champion. I choose to believe this has more to do with the can do attitude and power of humanity working together than the difficulty (or lack of it) of the Pokemon series.

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When most people look at the strange social experiment that is TwitchplaysPokemon, they see proof of the inherent chaos that bringing vast numbers of people together over the internet creates. I never expected Red to get far. Watching him spin around, bump into walls and constantly check his inventory didn’t do much to change my mind. But despite the overwhelming odds the Twitch community came together and kicked Blue’s ass. Together we have risen above the anarchy and triumphed over every obstacle that the GameFreak of 1996 could throw at us. With a final time of just over 16 days it might not be the fastest play through of Pokemon I’ve ever seen, it was certainly the most inspirational. Make sure to stay tuned for the next project, Twitchcurescancer, where the Twitch chat determines what avenues of research scientists investigate next.

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