How many of us have heard of Pokémon? Some of us? All of us? Whatever your background, you will probably at least be aware of this gaming phenomenon.
Starting, outside of Japan at least, with 1998’s Red and Blue editions, there is no doubt that the series has been a success. Pikachu and friends have been going for 16 years now, not to mention the couple of years before worldwide release. A TV series was created to help sell the games (not that they particularly needed help, but it was pretty good anyway). Most people in their early 20’s and younger will probably have had at least one of the games at some point.
But for those of you unfamiliar with the series, the basic premise is this; starting as a
10-year-old child, your mission is to go out and collect creatures called Pokémon, and to train them until you are the best trainer, with the strongest Pokémon, in the world. Along the way you’ll encounter friends and enemies, including a rival. You’ll have to battle trainers, and beat the leaders of so-called Pokémon gyms, to earn fame and fortune. The gyms are particularly important, as from them you’ll earn badges that ensure your Pokémon will continue to obey you.
There are also side missions as well. In Red edition, the only one of the series I’ve played, after you overcome the final battle, you have the chance to catch one of the strongest Pokémon to have ever existed (at that point anyway): Mewtwo. But in all of the games, you’ll be asked to fill in a Pokédex, an encyclopedia of all the types of Pokémon in the world, by catching the creatures, whilst foiling a criminal organisation (most notably Team Rocket) along the way. All in all, it’s a pretty awesome and time-consuming game.
But in the modern world, internet gaming, particularly Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gaming, seems to be all the rage. The latest consoles connect up to the internet, allowing even those who don’t play on computers to work with, or against, players from across the globe. Pokémon has some international multiplayer functionality, but not as much as some other popular titles.
Which is where Twitch come in. Twitch is an online video streaming website, focusing on games and organised tournaments based on those games. But it has become particularly well-known over the past month or so. On 12th February this year, Twitch launched a game that would allow tens of thousands of users, at the same time, to control the same character. Twitch Plays Pokémon was born. Just imagine; 80,000 players, all trying to control one character. Half of them want to progress; half just want to enjoy the chaos. All have different ideas on what the next move should be.
It was brought to my attention whilst they were about a quarter to a third of their way through the game, gym-wise. They were stuck in the maze in the Rocket hideout in Celadon City’s game corner. This maze, on a normal game, would take 20-30 minutes, tops, and most of that would be spent figuring out where to go. It took them about 21 hours. Many Pokémon were released. 3 hours were required to remove a tree using Cut, which normally takes a few seconds. And don’t even mention the Route 9 ledge.
Yet somehow, despite the numerous and frequent setbacks, they made progress. Lavender Town’s Pokémon tower took some time, but after a few blackouts, they made it. They may have released half of the few Pokémon they actually managed to catch, and given those they kept some weird names (Aaabaaajss, anyone?), but after 16 days, 7 hours and 45 minutes, they beat the game. Well, not all of it. They didn’t catch Mewtwo, but given that they had already used the unique, all-conquering Master Ball on the legendary Pokémon Zapdos (promptly named AA-j), it is unlikely that the miracle of catching Mewtwo would have happened.
And it would have been called a miracle, too. TPP spawned a whole religious context, the main protagonist of which was Aaabaaajss, the team’s Pidgeot, which had, through being massively overpowered, saved them on many occasions, and was thus called the ‘Bird Jesus’. But most religions need an overall focal point, a deity at the top of the list. “Praise the Helix”, based on the Helix fossil that later becomes an Omanyte, soon became a popular phrase when things went well. When you pick up the fossil, it is actually a choice between Helix and Dome, so the Dome fossil, of course, was soon turned into something akin to the Devil, with the received-then-released Flareon (dubbed False Prophet), starring as it’s servant. Flareon was blamed for ‘Bloody Sunday’, when around a dozen Pokémon were released in an attempt to rescue Zapdos from the dreaded PC.
By the end of the game, the Twitchers had just 11 Pokémon; 6 in their party, including Bird Jesus and Zapdos; 4 in the PC, with one of the heroes of the game, the team’s Drowzee, ‘The Keeper’; and finally, one in Daycare, the Pokémon that was responsible for Rickrolling TPP, the ghost Pokémon, Rick Gastly. For all those familiar with Pokémon Red and Blue, it is needless to say that they didn’t even attempt the Seafoam Islands, a move that would surely have been disastrous if taken.
A new game, Pokémon Crystal, is up and running, with new adventures, gyms and Pokémon, but for me Red will be the one that I remember, because of the novelty, the chaos, and the fact it is the one that I played, so I know how tough some of the more delicate challenges are with this many players, and how much of an achievement it is when they are overcome, particularly through the madness of Twitch. The last fortnight has been a truly brilliant social experiment.
It has inspired memes, fanart and songs, but what has it actually taught us? Well, it may not have been an infinite number of monkeys typing the works of Shakespeare, but 100,000 players can beat a game, and in a surprisingly short time, too. They can work together to defeat trollers (responsible for the repeated pressing of Start) and puzzles (Lt. Surge’s door was opened in a much shorter time than anyone could have expected as a group or achieved alone), but most importantly, it shows that no matter how terrible at walking or battling Ash is, Team Rocket are worse.
So we can all sleep a little easier!
All credited pictures from Flickr, used under the Creative Commons license found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode