Internet Social Experiment Twitch Plays Pokemon


Twitch, an online streaming service primarily used by professional gamers to stream content to a live audience, has become the focus of a social phenomenon over the past week. A channel on the site was set up under the name Twitch Plays Pokemon, which allows viewers coming to the stream from all over the Internet to participate in a social experiment where button inputs to control an emulated copy of Pokemon: Red Version can be input into the chat box. A viewer simply has to type in a command that corresponds with a button in order to have the action associated with that button carried out in the game, for example typing “a” in the chat will tell the game to press the A button, while typing “down” will cause the character to move one space downward and typing “start” will open the game menu. The social experiment portion becomes obvious when there are upwards of 70,000 viewers attempting to control the game simultaneously.

The stream has been going on for nearly seven days straight at the time of writing this, stopping only for momentary breaks to refresh. In that time, viewers have managed to fumble their way through half of the game’s content. In a perfect world, there would be communication and coordination used to direct the in-game character through the narrative, but that would not make for a very interesting social experiment or an accurate representation of how people on the Internet behave; as the game is currently being played, it is extremely chaotic.

Certain players actively work to sabotage the progression of the game by repeatedly opening the start menu, forcing any commands that followed the “start” command to be applied to the menu rather than the game world. Alternatively, many players attempt to drop important or helpful items, thus stunting the progress even further.

Recently, an additional feature has been added to the experiment, which allows for viewers to switch between two game modes: Anarchy and Democracy. The game mode is decided by a continuously updating poll that will switch how the game functions when one particular side reaches 75 percent of the votes. This feature takes the Internet social experiment that Twitch Plays Pokemon started out as to an even higher degree, forcing people to work together towards a common goal. The Democracy game mode adds a layer of control to the game, by taking the most popular options from the chat and enacting them. This differs from the original format, which has been relabelled as the Anarchy game type, which enacts every single command that is typed into the chat.

The Internet has been so taken by this new gaming experience, that an entire fan community has been born from the experiment. There is a flood of fan art, whether illustrations, digital art, video, or otherwise. Internet memes that were long dead have been revived in order to serve as an outlet for the frustration and malaise that the viewers feel as they play through this chaotic game. Repeated actions in the game have been turned into an inside joke, and the overarching story of Twitch Plays Pokemon has evolved into a sort of lore of its own, aside from the plot of Pokemon.

It is a fascinating testament to what people, when under the guise of anonymity and with no governing power, will do. A religion that governs the world of Twitch Plays Pokemon has been created out of the random events to give explanation to certain inexplicable repetition. For example, the deity of this religion, the Helix Fossil, one of two key items in the early game that the player collects then later resurrects in order to obtain a rare Pokemon, was “discovered” through repeated attempts at battling using the randomly input commands, which would lead the game to open the player’s bag and attempt to use the Helix Fossil. Using an item not designated for battles simply returns an error that tells the player that item cannot be used at that time. This happened so often, that the community decided that it was the Helix Fossil’s will that governed the outcome of the game.

Additionally, the other fossil that was not chosen, the Dome Fossil, was said to be the cause for all the negative things that happened in the game. For example, after spending two days trying to obtain the water-type Pokemon Vaporeon by evolving Eevee, the players mistakenly purchased the wrong evolutionary item and were then forced to evolve Eevee into Flareon. As Flareon is a fire type, and they already had a fire-type Pokemon in their party, they decided to put Flareon away into the storage system for extra Pokemon. In attempting to do so, the players accidentally put their beloved starter Pokemon into the storage system, and upon trying to put it back into their party, the chaotic commands released the Pokemon back into the wild.

It is events like these that have come together to create an ongoing narrative specific to Twitch Plays Pokemon, the social experiment and online phenomenon that the Internet has so readily accepted. The game is still ongoing, and the community is continuing to grow, as word spreads and the fascination with the monotonous process of playing through the game one command at a time continues to take hold of new people. At certain points, there will be upwards of 90,000 people viewing the stream, able to contribute to the progression of the game’s storyline, or work against it. It is a truly mesmerizing experiment that demands to be completed.

By Robin Syrenne