ATV, you blessed underdog.
Some Thoughts on Twitch Plays Pokemon.
There are some things that instantly and drastically improve your quality of life. For the last few days, Twitch Plays Pokemon has been one of these things. I have been somewhat obsessed with this crazy playthrough, and here are some quick thoughts on why I am so smitten with it.
In “playing” Twitch Plays Pokemon, viewers of the stream type commands in the chat window, and through some magical power of selection the hacked ROM chooses inputs out of the stream of noise. But because there is a 20-30 second lag, because some people troll, and because of the sheer cacophony of typing, the button presses become almost random. Twitch Plays Pokemon sometimes feels like what would result if the original @horse_ebooks played a Pokemon game. In many ways it fires the same cylinders for me as that famous Twitter horse, a strange mix of human and nonhuman coming together to make something strange and exciting. But this comparison with @horse_ebooks isn’t quite exact: through the chaos of typed commands, there sometimes emerges something close to “intent,” some line of action chosen by the collective will of the mob. To be sure this collective will is often sidelined and detoured by the general confusion of the chat window, but given enough time it peeks through. Even though events often happen almost randomly in Twitch Plays Pokemon, some guiding genius begins to manifest itself and slowly moves the game forward. The livestream is a volatile mix of randomness and agency.
And there is another factor: midway through the game, the creator allowed the crowd to choose between “anarchy” (the default mode listed above) and “democracy,” where, instead of choosing button pushes determined by some hidden secret sauce, the players get to vote on the next move. While some people were offended by this, the change was introduced when the game was stuck for 48 hours in a maze in Team Rocket’s HQ. It was only through a selective use of democracy mode that it eventually got out of that wretched maze. I suspect Twitch Plays Pokemon even in anarchy mode would have eventually gotten out of that maze , but it might have taken weeks and been boring as hell to watch. So “democracy” may compromise what makes the game compelling, but I think it is a necessary compromise. And players themselves appear to prefer anarchy; every time I have tuned in since the change, the stream has been consistently in anarchy mode. I think most viewers recognize that democracy mode is a last-resort, a fudge to make sure the game keeps going. Anarchy mode remains the soul of this livestream.
(One experiment I would like to see is someone hack a ROM of Pokemon Red that is completely random button presses. I wouldn’t want to watch a game being “played” (since it would be terribly tedious and dull and would take years to complete, if ever) but it would be interesting to see how it compares with Twitch Plays Pokemon.)
A Confederacy of Dunces:
The team in Twitch Plays Pokemon is of writing the following: there’s a Raticate named “AAJST(????” that mysteriously knows Dig; an Oddish named “x(araggbaj”; a Farfetch’d named “Dux,” who stands out more because of the sanity of his name than his moves; a Drowzee; and now a Gastly. The star of the team is an overpowered Pidgeot named “aaabaaajss.” I don’t think you have to know much about Pokemon to realize that this is not a good team. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a much worse team to play Pokemon with. Any “Scooby Gang” that Joss Whedon has cooked up pales in comparison to this team of misfits and fuckwits. Furthermore, the dated art makes the team sometimes look more ridiculous than they are. For example, the Pidgeot’s long-streaming hair has resulted in him being called “Bird Jesus.” But what is amazing is that these scrappy underdogs are somehow, in some way, progressing through the game. It ain’t pretty, but they are doing it. And that is what makes the livestream compelling. Because of the mayhem of the input system, even the simplest navigation of the menus become a Herculean feat. Accomplishing the most basic of tasks, like teaching a Pokemon “Cut” to take down some nearby shrubbery, feels like some victory over the forces of chaos and entropy. Visiting the Pokemon Center becomes a moment of danger, as it is the only time you can release Pokemon at a PC and lose them forever. And the randomness of the stream has produced its own hilarity: because of the unpredictable button-presses, players keep “consulting” items that they cannot use. The whole “Helix Fossil” meme plays off how many times the livestream has accidentally selected the Helix Fossil, an item that is worthless at the current point in the game. The game increasingly becomes a Comedy of Errors wrapped up in a Confederacy of Dunces, and that’s what makes it captivating.
It would be interesting to learn more about the makeup of the audience. Are these mostly nostalgic adults reliving their childhood vicariously, or people coming across the original Pokemon games for the first time? I assume most players have played some form of Pokemon, but it would be nice to see if others were interested in the stream, and how comprehensible it is to non-trainers.
Also, where is Nintendo in all this? I see ads every time I check the stream, so I know that somebody is getting ad revenue. Who? Twitch? The creator of this stream? And is Nintendo getting a cut? And if they aren’t, why is the stream still up? Nintendo has been notoriously against letting others monetize live plays of Nintendo games.
The conversation of what is and isn’t a game is often, intentionally or not, used to assign value to already established gaming conventions that benefit the established system and marginalize works that do not look like it, and therefore threaten it.”
Instead of buying a slice for $1, Demeter is selling a one ounce bottle of pizza-scented cologne for $20. The fragrance company, with 250-plus scents, prides itself on being the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans of the aroma-world. And now, you can smell like your lunch all day.