Full Force is GFN’s weekly look at some of the biggest news in geekdom, from video games to anime to movies and everything in between. We also welcome your comments below, if you want to join the conversation. This week, our panelists take a look at the phenomenon that is Twitch Plays Pokemon.
Twitch Plays Pokemon managed to beat Pokemon Red, a feat that took about 16 ½ days and more than eight million button inputs. What did you think of the social experiment (anarchy/democracy, working together, etc.)?
Chris: When I first heard about it on day three, I thought it was silly. Just another way to waste time on the internet, I figured. But I underestimated the community that built just about as quickly as the stream went viral. Inside jokes and religions sprung from nowhere. Even in times of strife (like the epic battle against Misty, for example), the collective somehow managed to string together the correct inputs. Whatever data the creator was searching for when he first created the Twitch channel, even he had to have been surprised by the end result.
Chip: Generally speaking, I cannot stand the mindless flow of comments that comes from Twitch chat. During Awesome Games Done Quick, I couldn’t fully enjoy the stream when watching on a mobile device since the flood of inane chatter took up half of my display. That being said, I think Twitch Plays Pokemon has shown that there is a demand for this sort of gaming.
What I would like to see spring up from Twitch Plays Pokemon is a sort of competition or challenge-based livestream where random “players” get dropped into groups to square off against each other. Twitch Plays Pokemon took so much longer to play through the game because there was so much purposefully antagonistic input, but imagine an uncoordinated team working together to finish a game in a race against other random groups of players. Almost like a speed-run challenge, but with the random element of TPP.
Cary: I tuned into TPP a handful of times, and was utterly mesmerized by what I saw, from the stream of inputs to the bizarre actions happening in the game. I can’t speak to the anything specifically Pokemon-related, but watching a collective attempt to progress in a meaningful fashion was really astounding. In my mind, it’s akin to comparing, say, the activities (physical or otherwise) of a single person to the output of an entire group. Sure, we’re all going remember people like Einstein, Tesla, and Abraham Lincoln for their individual contributions to history (just as we remember our friend who beat Super Metroid in less than an hour), but we also have a lot to appreciate from the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement and the inventions of ancient civilizations. True that the output of TPP was the completion of just a single video game (not much when compared to the Mayans), but it proved that when people have their minds set on a singular task and work together, things get accomplished, and this despite the naysayers and inputting troublemakers.
Shaun: Knowing what goes into it a little bit, and considering things like trolls, conflicting inputs, and lag, I’m just amazed that they managed to make any progress, at all, let alone beat the game. It might not be a feat of much importance, necessarily, but it’s a pretty amazing feat nonetheless.
One of the most interesting aspects of Red’s adventure turned out to be the multitude of memes and references that sprung forth from the community. What was your favorite inside joke from the series?
Shaun: I think the early memes were the best, mostly because they took me by surprise, as I had no idea what to expect here. And because, for whatever reason, the events spawned a sprawling religious epic narrative, rife with overseeing gods, false prophets, and the consequences of giving into temptation.
The funniest one for my money was the early story of the Helix fossil and Bird Jesus, culminating in the false prophet Flareon banishing Jay Leno and Abby into exile. The images and jokes created from this phenomenon were hysterical, sometimes simply in the fact that the scenes they were reflecting are depicted with such solemn sincerity and heartbreak.
Chris: In general, I agree with you, Shaun — the earlier stuff was more funny in general. I especially liked the devotion to “consulting” various things; that’s what spawned the Helix devotion in the first place, but we also loved the Secret Key and the Coin Case. Plus, every time they accidentally played the Poke Flute, the chat rained down a slew of “THAT’S A CATCHY TUNE” comments.
Still, I think the highlight of the entire stream for me was everyone’s favorite All Terrain Venomoth (from his name AATTVVV) and his underdog battle against Lance’s Dragonite the first time Red fought him. With the rest of the team dead, things looked bleak. Venomoth had a terrible moveset with only one attack (the pitiful Leech Life) and was 25 levels below. One Hyper Beam and the Elite Four was over. But no! He poisoned Dragonite, and thanks to a little-known glitch, Dragonite was unable to use any attack moves — he kept trying to use Psychic moves for a super effective hit, but they were Barrier and Agility! From then on, our hero became known as All Terrain Venomoth the Dragonslayer.
Now that TPP’s original run is done, the next step was Pokemon Crystal and Emerald. If you were running the stream, however, what video game would you most like to see the collective tackle?
Chip: I am not sure that many other genres outside of RPGs would work for something similar to Twitch Plays Pokemon. I cannot imagine the difficulty in hundreds of people trying to play through a platformer or something with more than six buttons, let alone the programming effort behind the scenes. Additionally, I think what made Pokemon such a good choice is the fact that this series is already strongly tied to a wealth of inside jokes and memes across the internet. From a perspective of just keeping the theme as a sort of online drama, Pokemon Gold was a solid choice.
However, I wouldn’t mind seeing other old RPGs get some time to shine. The key would be picking a title with a limited number of commands, so the amount of options would not be overwhelming. Maybe the original Dragon Quest would work, either the NES version or the remake for Game Boy Color.
Cary: I’m with Chip in thinking that RPGs are probably best suited for this kind of play, maybe a simple (control-wise) one from ye olden days like Dragon’s Lair. But I think it’d be really interesting to see if an old-school shooter like DOOM or Wolfenstein could be played collectively. I imagine it’d be horribly frustrating, but, again, the key inputs would be pretty simple. Oooo, even worse, how about a text-based game? Questprobe or Mystery Mansion? The number of commands would be outrageous and the chances would be extremely high that the game would get completely stuck, but that’d be something to watch.
Chris: Yeah, it’s difficult to imagine this working too well for many other games. Twitch Plays Pokemon was something akin to lightning in a bottle. There will be derivatives, and the original stream itself is going through Crystal as we speak (although it’s nowhere near as good). An original Legend of Zelda stream popped up around when TPP was finishing, but even that required exceptions like infinite health to have a chance.
I think something like Dragon Warrior would be a good fit, but the key is that whatever game it is has to be forgiving to mistakes. That’s what worked so well with Pokemon — suboptimal play very rarely resulted in an impossible situation (except Safari Zone, Rocket Hideout, releasing 12 Pokemon on Bloody Sunday, etc.).
Shaun: Pokemon was sort of the perfect play here. Tons of recognition, so the memes could really catch fire, and the stream could attract a lot of attention. Simple inputs, relatively simple gameplay and progression. Not a reliance on reaction times or active health. Plus, punishment for failing wasn’t severe — you go back to the Pokemon Center, sure, but most importantly, you don’t lose the levels or experience you gained. That’s HUGE to a series like this working. I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could give you another game that could work, but until it happens, I’m not really sure we can find one that will match this phenomenon.