A Screenshot of the Twitch PlaysPokemon screen
A Screenshot of the Twitch PlaysPokemon screen

Twitch.tv is a gaming website where users can upload video of them playing a game and see live comments from viewers. The site is widely popular amongst gamers and sees viewers in the millions logging in daily to the site, which can be streamed on smartphones, tablets, computers, and even game consoles.
The site recently published a stream for the old Pokemon games, Red and Blue. The stream was unique, however, in that viewers were not just watching someone play the game. Rather, they were controlling the character themselves. The creator of the stream established a program that turned user comments into commands for the main character. Users quickly converged on the stream, and shortly thereafter 50,000 people were controlling a character in a single-player game.
The game quickly proved to be a massive challenge. With 50,000 people trying to guide a single person through buildings, mazes, caves, forests, and battles all at once, much of the stream involves the character walking in a circle and accomplishing nothing. However, within a week of the start of the stream, players managed to get through 4 gym battles and complete a solid half of the game.
The folks over at reddit dedicated a subreddit to the stream as a place to discuss strategies and also as a way of preserving the history of the game for those who were late to the party, so to speak. However, as things typically do on the internet, the subreddit evolved into something more. Users began forming a sort of religion based off of a fossil found in the game—the helix fossil. They began calling it “Lord Helix” and each of the Pokemon in their collection shortly began getting names associated to them as well. For example, a Pokemon named JVLNNNO was known as simply “Jay Leno.” Other Pokemon took on more religious names such as “Bird Jesus,” “the False Prophet,” and “the Keeper.” The subreddit, which was originally intended as a community discussion of the game turned into a cult of sorts, but it has its own story and gives the stream itself a totally new light.
Users rejoice together when amazing things happen—like completing a maze after 48 hours—and they cry together when sad things happen, like releasing Jay Leno into the wild. The game developed a new mechanic: The Democracy System. A bar appeared on screen, and based on user comments, would shift between total anarchy (each player controls the character) and democracy (where a vote system was implemented). The goal of this was to get through difficult situations in game, like the maze. This, of course, developed another debate amongst the subreddit: those who “worship” the helix fossil and anarchy, and those who “worship” the dome fossil and democracy.
The story of the game lies not in the world of Pokemon, nor does it lie within the stream. The story of the game comes from the unity formed by each and every person who plays it. The sheer difficulty of accomplishing even the most basic task makes every victory so much sweeter. Indeed, the game has taken on a story of its own. Perhaps one day, we may see more games like this. The success of “Twitch Plays Pokemon” was unpredicted, but nonetheless it has created a unique experience for every person that has contributed to the game. And better yet, it’s still going on! So check it out here.
Praise Lord Helix.

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