For nearly an entire week, a growing number of strangers from around the world (reaching as high as 100,00 people) have shared one common goal: becoming a Pokemon master on a specific game of Pokemon Red Version.
What makes this specific game so unique and so difficult is that anyone can control the game at any given moment. By entering either “a” “b” “start” “right” “left” “up” or “down” into a chat box, you too could influence the decisions of the titular playable character, Red. Of course, due to difficulties in coordination, a 20-second lag time between commands and execution, and the ever-present internet trolls, what has resulted from this experiment is nothing short of chaotic frustration. But the popularity of the game is only continuing to grow, even spawning spinoff game-plays of different versions of Pokemon. There are currently over 14 million people watching Red run himself in walls and walk in erratic patterns. The comment board is always filled with exclamations of frustration, as it takes extremely long periods of time to perform very simple actions. So why are we still watching?
Small Victories: Overcoming Obstacles
From my understanding, the main reason more and more people will watch the infuriating nonsense is for the small victories of finally doing something right. Although it has taken nearly a full week of nonstop gameplay, the players have managed to obtain four of the necessary eight badges and navigated some tricky mazes. Of course, players celebrate these successes with fervent exultation, but even navigating Red to the correct stairway or to talk to a certain character receives accolades and pride due to the relative difficulty of these normally easy tasks. Once you open the livestream and understand that the players are trying to make Red pick up an item or walk into a specific building, it is nearly impossible to stop watching until he completes the activity, even if it takes 15 minutes of grueling turning around and start menus.
In fact, some of the most difficult moments in the gameplay have been tasks that are pretty simple when playing on your own. An event known now as “the ledge” necessitates the the character walk in a straight line and then up around a mound . If the character moves down at any point, he has to begin the process over again. Below is an image of “the ledge.” While normally this it is simple to pass this, it took the Twitch team a whole day to finally enter enough “right” commends without someone entering “down” to ruin the whole thing.
Another major hurdle has been trees, which are a common obstacle at the beginning of the game. To get past trees, the character has to command one of his Pokemon to use the move “Cut” on it. This is easy playing alone, but it requires a lot of the Twitch players, who must be facing the tree, press “start,” navigate to the “Pokemon” menu, select a Pokemon that knows the move, and select “Cut” in that Pokemon’s individual menu. It’s no wonder it has taken hours to cut down each tree that has been encountered.
Unfortunately the maze in Team Rocket’s headquarters – the villains of the game – proved too much for time and patience to prevail against. After a day of Red being unable to navigate the slide panels which require precise steps (not a forte of the Twitch players), the game admin introduced two new input commands “democracy” and “anarchy.” If “anarchy” received more commands the gameplay would continue unchanged with every input command being executed by Red, but if “democracy” received more then the game Red would only execute the command entered the most in each 20-second period. It was this usage of “democracy” that allowed the players to complete the maze, but it is still wildly unpopular among the players.
There are many more obstacles to come for the players, such as the always difficult Victory Road and the Safari Zone, which only allows Red to move a set number of steps, but if the past has any indication on the future of the game, these obstacles will only draw in more people who will wait with baited breath (and gnashing teeth) for this perverse modality of teamwork to conquer.
Banded Together: Cult Worship
The fact that hope is what draws people into the game and the long hours spent watching has spawned an unexpected phenomenon: cult worship within the Twitch player community.
Paramount among the many in-jokes that have arisen from the gameplay is a new Christianity-modeled religion the players jokingly invoke based on the events of the game. Here’s the rundown before I get into specifics: Helix Fossil = God, Dome Fossil = Satan, Pidgeot = Messiah, Flareon = False Prophet.
Due to the amount of times the start menu gets selected (and the “Items” menu when in battles), Red will often attempt to use the items at the top of his list. Normally this results in the item being used or tossed, and thereby disappearing from the bag, but since the Helix Fossil cannot be tossed or used (until reaching the final town of Cinnibar Island, where it can be revitalized into the Pokemon Omanyte), it is always at the top of Red’s items list. This means that it gets selected a lot, but cannot be used. The Twitch gamers have given meaning to this fruitless action and dubbed it as “consulting the Helix Fossil.” Likened to prayer and divine guidance, consulting the Helix Fossil has placed the item on a godlike pedestal among the players, and has by opposition damned the Fossil’s counterpart, the Dome Fossil, to the role of Satan.
With the Helix and Dome Fossils making up the two polar deities of this religion, the Twitch gamers also assigned them their primary disciples: Pidgeot for the Helix and Flareon for the Dome. Pidgeot is the highest-level Pokemon on Red’s team and is thereby the strongest. It has easily defeated opponents that none of the other Pokemon could.
Flareon’s story is a little more complicated. The players decided to obtain an Eevee in Celadon City to evolve it into a Vaporeon so that it could use the move Surf later in the game (an essential function to completing the end of the game). However, since Red can only have 6 Pokemon at a time, the players had to deposit one of their current Pokemon into a PC before getting Eevee. This is a dangerous task since the PC contains the “Release Pokemon” option, which loses the Pokemon forever. In the end, it was that option that was selected for both Red’s Charmeleon and Rattata, and in an act of sacrilege, the Helix Fossil was deposited into the PC, although later retrieved. It was the Eevee that was blamed for these actions, and in the end it was evolved into a Flareon (which cannot learn Surf). This string of ruin caused the Twitch players to conclude he must be sided with the Dome Fossil.
Of course, this “religion” is all just in-jokes resulting from the extended period of time together and the intense investment in the game. And this type of response is not at all surprising coming from the fandom culture present in today’s internet-savvy teenagers.
As the game goes on, there is sure to be more additions to this “scripture,” and perhaps that is another reason we are still watching: for the story rather than the game.
All I can say is this: HOW THE F*** ARE WE STILL IN LAVENDER TOWN!?