Looking Back At The Phenomenon Of 'Twitch Plays Pokemon'
For millions upon millions of gamers, Pokemon is an irreplaceable piece of childhood nostalgia. Regardless of whether or not they still play the games today, just about every kid growing up the in the '90s was a fan of the franchise — be it the trading cards, the anime, the comics or the games, Pokemon Red and Blue were everywhere.
That being said, by the time 2014 rolled around, the first two games in the series were more of an afterthought than anything. Sure, they were fondly remembered, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who was playing through a copy of the original games for fun.
While the games still hold up today, the franchise had come such a long way since 1996 that playing Red and Blue just didn't make much sense.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a stream called "Twitch Plays Pokemon" began taking over the Internet. Not only did it revitalize a love for the first generation of Pokemon games, it created an entirely new way for gamers to interact with one another.
On Feb. 12, 2014, a small Twitch channel known only as Twitch Plays Pokemon began streaming. However, while all other Twitch streams featured a single player controlling the action, TPP gave control to its viewers: by typing a specific command into the chat window, the audience could control the game itself. It was unlike anything that had ever been done on Twitch before ... though, at the outset, few thought it would ever amount to anything.
Actually watching TPP was a trying experience. Most of the playthrough was spent simply trying to get the character walking in the right direction, or choosing the correct menu option — it quickly became clear that, for everyone trying to actually make progress, there were just as many trying to hinder it.
During the early days of TPP, most people wrote it off as an impossible task. Completing a Pokemon game takes dozens of hours, and that's with one person behind the wheel — with roughly 8,000 people trying to play at any given time, even making it through a single fight was a monumental task.
Yet, despite everything, players actually started moving forward.
To be fair, there were setbacks. On a day that became known as "Bloody Sunday," TPP accidentally released several Pokemon while trying to change the party around. For days, trolls seemed to dominate the chat, and progress was almost entirely halted. At one point, the wrong evolution item was used on a teammate, leading to an accidentally-evolved Pokemon.
Even with these hurdles, TPP continued forward. Players managed to catch a Legendary Pokemon, and it would become one of the strongest members of the team. One gym leader after another fell, and soon, players found themselves at Victory Road. Through seemingly countless battles, the Elite Four were also conquered — and then, something that no one thought possible happened.
Twitch beat Pokemon.
Over 100,000 people watched as Blue's Pokemon fell. It was almost like an event unto itself: after more than two weeks of nonstop play, the impossible had been conquered. It felt like a victory — despite the setbacks, the trolls and the general chaos of the Internet, Twitch Plays Pokemon had won.
... but it wasn't just about the game anymore. An entire community had formed around the stream, with seemingly endless pieces of fan art and memes flooding social media sites like Tumblr. An entire backstory was built up around the characters and Pokemon, with names like False Prophet (a improperly-evolved Eevee) and Lord Helix (a powerful Omanyte). Even after the game ended, fans were constantly producing new works.
On top of its surprisingly large fan community, Twitch Plays Pokemon also influenced the direction of Twitch itself. The site soon began promoting other, similarly interactive streams, a trend that continues to this day. At this point, the "Twitch Plays" mechanic is basically its own streaming sub-genre: everything from couches to fish can be a part of the chaotic fun. Considering how popular these streams are, it doesn't look like "Twitch Plays" will be going away anytime soon.
Twitch Plays Pokemon stands as one of the best examples of what the Internet can do. If taken at face value, it was simply a bunch of gamers trying to beat an 18-year-old RPG — but looking past the obvious reveals a moment in which thousands upon thousands of people all worked together toward the same goal. It wasn't just playing Pokemon, it was cooperation on a scale that few would have ever thought possible.
Two years ago, the world started playing Pokemon Red — and no one could have guessed the sort of impact it would have.
If you missed out on the fun back in 2014, Twitch Plays Pokemon is currently playing through Pokemon Crystal as part of its two-year anniversary celebration.