Words Among Friends: Twitch Plays Pokemon

I realized that we haven’t done an entry in our Words Among Friends segment since I posted a preview of our upcoming song review piece – a piece which obviously never actually happened – so I figured now was the perfect time to get a crew together to talk about Twitch Plays Pokemon.

What’s Twitch Plays Pokemon, you ask? Well, as usual, knowyourmeme has a pretty good explanation:

Twitch Plays Pokemon is an ongoing live-stream event hosted by the video-streaming platform Twitch.tv in which any member of the site can participate in a massively multiplayer online co-op version of Nintendo’s 1996 role-playing video game Pokémon Red by inputting various commands in chat.

I rounded up two of our contributors (Richard Dutton and Matt Hunter) as well as professional gamer Collin Finocchiaro (who previously did a segment of Important Questions with us) to try to shed some light on what exactly this phenomenon is. Much like the game itself, the results were muddled and often went off onto some weird tangents, but with some editing on my part, we ended up with a somewhat coherent narrative here.

Joshua: What exactly is Twitch Plays Pokemon and why should we pay attention to it?

Collin: I don’t know, it’s too hard to boil down to words…it’s really just a cultural phenomenon at this point.

Richard: [We should pay attention to it] because it is a comical view into anarchy and internet thinking. It is politics, trolls, religion, a familiar and nostalgic topic, frustration on reaching a goal. Watching 120,000 people try, cheer, and work towards a goal that is, by design, difficult where others try and inhibit the progress for the benefit of their own enjoyment.

The largest issue is actually not the code used by the steamer but the inherent delay in the twitch system. Commands will be given, such as a decision to move upward and many will spam this, but the 20-40 second delay means that it will not be reached and implemented until, say, the character has moved significantly too far away from the target or in the opposite direction from previously delayed commands.

Matt: Primarily today, a lot of time and effort too has been moved from simply controlling the game as well to deciding how the game will be played with the anarchy/democracy system.

Joshua: What drew you to be interested in this project? How do you participate?

Collin: Because it was all over my social media from day 1 and I can’t get away from it, so might as well keep tabs on it. You participate by making basic commands into the chat (i.e. up down left right start select b a) to navigate through the game.


Image from imgur.

Image from imgur.

Matt: I find the culture that has been created by and around it to be entertaining, hilarious, insightful at times, and the game actually delivers some real suspense.

Joshua: Can you explain some of the memes that have propped up? Like the Helix worship, start9, the dome, etc.

Matt: So there’s this democracy/anarchy system and basically as people vote for democracy which is voting for which input should be selected or anarchy which is [where] it just takes the most recent input selected. start9 is a straight up protest vote of the democracy system. The filibuster, if you will…I’m pro anarchy but start9 really makes the stream unwatchable.


Collin: You can find a lot of background on the early parts of the run here: http://steamcommunity.com/groups/childrenofthehelix. Foundation of a lot of the memes are in there somewhere.

Richard: Explaining this many memes, I think, is beyond us just listing them. It is not like a reddit meme which is generally just 1 thing.

Matt: Yeah.

Richard: This is like, 6-7-8 or more.

Collin: Helix worship started from pressing the helix fossil so many times. Whether it be in the start menu or in battle and when I say that… I mean they would try to use the helix fossil, which is a relatively useless item until later, 10-30 times, so the joke about the helix fossil started out as “you must always consult the helix fossil before making important decision.” Just as progress looked like it was being made, someone would press start and we would see helix fossil text for 5 minutes.

Matt:and this is back when you had like [3000 people].

Collin: It’s sacred because when you try to toss the item, [Prof.] Oak tells you that it’s too important to toss, which is how you close prayer in the helix religion. “That is too important to toss. Amen.” Etc. All key items (or items that can’t be thrown away) are bestowed some type of sacred meaning it seems like, except for the lift key… but maybe that’s just because we just got it.

Joshua: What’s the lift key?

Matt: The elevator key for Team Rocket’s hideout.

Joshua: Where do you see all this headed in the future? Do you think they’ll beat the game?

Collin: If we got through 2 hell ledges and managed to get the lift key without some bullshit limiting input thing…we could accomplish anything.

Matt: [I] generally agree…the only thing I honestly don’t see happening is beating the Elite Four.

Collin: I think the game will be beaten eventually, though I’m not sure what happens afterward, if more games will be played or what…but the game is definitely beatable if the step limit is removed in Safari Zone. The progress people made at 30k on day 2 or 3 was unbelievable, but then things started to explode. 50-100k people started being just as bad as when it was 3-20k…. 20-40k people is when magic happened though.

Richard: More games are already being played…there are over 10 other games of similar design being played right now. Viewership will probably drop below 1k before the game is beaten, in my opinion.

Collin: No way…

Matt: Yeah, I’m curious what the shelf life on this is. Granted, twitch has just really defied expectations everytime people think something on it is a fad.

Collin: The channel already has 6 million unique viewers… I can imagine a lot of those people coming back JUST to see it beaten. When that time finally comes, it’s just like a speed runner’s stream. Maybe you’ll have 3k casual watchers who are just dedicated fans.

Matt: Do you seriously think we’ll get past the Elite Four? We need more than Jesus Bird.

Joshua: What is Jesus Bird?

Collin: Pidgeot…our savior.

Richard: It is the highest level and longest kept Pokemon. From what I know, it is the second pokemon after Charmander obtained.

Joshua: So this has been more coherent than I expected it to be, if only slightly, which means it’s probably time to end. Any parting thoughts?

Matt: I wonder what kind of cosplay we see at the next major con.

Collin: If this were any other basic RPG… it wouldn’t be as popular, in my opinion.

Matt: Oh yeah, totally agree.

Richard: Yep, nostalgia.

Matt: Yeah, [Pokemon Red was] the game of the 90s.

Collin: Yeah…that and people just love Pokemon…Nintendo could put a screen on a piece of dog shit… and people would buy it as long as it played the newest Pokemon game.


Although this may not be the most coherent Words Among Friends we’ve ever had, I hope it gives you Baby Birds a starting point to work off of if you’re interested in the project. From all of us here at BPM, thanks to Matt, Richard and Collin for their time. “That is too important to toss. Amen.”

None of the above parties are affiliated with or endorse BoomPopMedia.

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