Pokemon makes a comeback

Paul Watson, Campus Carrier Editor-in-Chief

When Nintendo released the “Pokémon Red” and “Pokémon Blue” games 18 years ago, I doubt they thought their games would lead to a pseudo-religion. Yet, with a few modifications, it has become that and much more.

On Feb. 12, an anonymous web developer hacked into an emulator copy (that is, one that can be played on a computer) of the popular Pokémon role-playing video games and created a system in which the actions of the main character, Red, were controlled by a chat box. The developer called this game “Twitch Plays Pokémon” (TPP) and was called a social experiment to see how well people can work together to complete a single game together. The game has had over 600,000 users; some peak hours have had over 120,000 playing at the same time, though the average is about 80,000.

“Twitch plays Pokémon” allows allows over 600,000 users to control a single game at
once.  Users type their command into a chat box and the emulator completes the
action.  Gameplay switches between “democracy” which decides the game’s actions
by vote and “anarchy” which completes actions as they arrive.  To play, users must
register an account with either an email address or by connecting to facebook.  
Visit twitch.tv/twitchplayspokemon. 

Commands in the chat box (up, down, left, right, B, A and start) corresponded with commands one could physically use on a Game Boy, the original medium on which Pokémon was played.

When the game first started, anyone could enter a command into the chat box and the game would follow these commands in order. This caused chaos as more and more people joined the game. The main character would end up going in circles; the start menu would pop up randomly; certain items that Red was holding were selected randomly. One of these items, the Helix Fossil, was selected more than any other item; because of this, many of the users deified the Helix Fossil; over 20 million people claim to worship the Helix Fossil. Some of the Pokémon were also given god-like status, including a bird-type Pokémon called Pidgeot, whom the users nicknamed “Bird Jesus” because of its dominance in battle.

After about a week of chaos, the game developer decided to add a “democracy” option in which a vote for what the next action should be is taken every 20 seconds. For example, if the majority of users select “Left” as the next action, Red will take one step left. The classic mode was renamed “anarchy.” Users can vote in the chat box for whichever setting they like, and it takes a 75 percent vote to change the input system from one to the other.

The addition of “democracy” infuriated many of the users, who thought the option ruined the entire premise of the game. Since its introduction, “democracy” has been enacted very few times, and when it is enacted, the game usually returns to “anarchy” within hours. 

The most surprising aspect of this game is the teamwork that has come out of the pandemonium. Even in anarchy mode, the users have managed to create a dynamic team of Pokémon, including a “legendary” (that is, incredibly rare and powerful, therefore very difficult to catch) Pokémon called Zapdos. This isn’t say there haven’t been setbacks; Red spend over a day in a simple maze because the users could not coordinate his movements like they needed to.

Nintendo itself has not commented on the phenomenon of “TPP” in any capacity. Maybe they think the entire thing will blow over; I can’t understand why they would. “TPP” has created a whole new genre of video games: the crowdsource massive multiplayer online role player game. I see this genre expanding exponentially. The creator of “TPP” has already said he will be making another version of the game with the second generation of Pokémon games.

Though incredibly irritating to watch at times, “TPP” is one of the biggest video game events to happen in a long time. Though there are many factors that could be responsible for its success, any user will give you the true answer: The grace of Helix Fossil, which has evolved into a shellfish Pokémon called Omanyte, has given Red success. 

Leave a Reply