Writing on the history of video games is not a new field. Numerous books and website have dissected and investigated the nearly sixty years since a group of MIT students created Spacewar! in the early 1960’s. However, the recent phenomenon of Twitch Plays Pokémon (TPP) falls outside the normal realm of video game history.
On February 12, 2014, an Australian programmer created a twitch stream of one of the original Pokémon games (the author used a hacked version of the game that made all 151 Pokémon available so it was neither Pokémon Red or Blue). The creator used script commands that allowed the users in the comments to command the game by entering “a”, “b”, “left”, “right”, “up”, “down”, “start” and “select”. The game gained a MASSIVE audience very quickly. With more than 100,000 people simultaneously controlling “Red” (the main character) at its peak. In all honesty, at the onset it seemed like the game would never be completed as so many people controlling one game made relatively trivial tasks like walking by ledges and using cut half a day events. However, after 16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes and 30 seconds, the hivemind of Twitch Plays Pokémon defeated “Blue” at the end of the Elite Four and beat the game. Taken from a statement from Twitch itself, which I highly encourage reading if just to realize how big this craze became, here are some by the numbers findings on TPP.
“By the numbers:
- The unfolding of the Story: 16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes and 30 seconds.
- Pokémasters who mashed their keyboards: 1,165,140
- Commands issued: 122+ million
- Peak Pokémasters watching: 121,000
- Onlookers: 9+ million
- Total views: 36+ million
- Minutes watched: 1+ billion”
There have been literally hundreds of articles written on TPP and their road to beating the game. This craze has reached huge mainstream news outlets including CBC, BBC, CNN, The Guardian and hundreds others around the world. In terms of sheer numbers it may be the biggest collective gaming experience in history. So how the hell are we going to preserve its memory?
I believe this to be a serious question. More than a million people participated in this at some given point. By comparison, the total number of troops involved in the D-Day landings in somewhere in the ballpark of 200,000. This was a major global event and it doesn’t fall into the normal idea of video game history. In 10-20 years, when people write books on the history of video games, what will their research find on this fascinating event?
The primary connection with the direct stream on Twitch was, unsurprisingly, Reddit. This sub forum is where people have posted fan art, ideas and strategies about the game but like much else on reddit, after a while, items are lost. There are a number of connections to this reddit that have managed to log key events or give written histories with fun narratives about the events of the first Generation of TPP. Dorkly, a video game humour site run by CollegeHumour, has an excellent rundown of the events, facts, characters and timelines of TPP, which includes fan art and other fun pieces. There is also another small post on their site dedicated to the excellent fan art. I also am going to give credit to Sanqui (@sanquii) who logged nearly every command sent during the first generation of Twitch Plays Pokemon and they are available on the internet archive here.
What about the smaller items though? People across the world created thousands of pieces of fan art, stories and witnessed interesting parts of the TPP experiment and have nowhere to put them. The Occupy movement from 2011 and 2012 is preserved in part by the Occupy Archive where users can post stories, photos and videos from their experiences. Is this the sort of site that TPP needs? I have no firm answers on this although I believe something like this site I just linked to would be an excellent start. My last article Memoirs of DayZ, showed a number of websites and places that people have posted their experiences from within DayZ. Yet somehow, there is nothing like this that I’ve found for TPP. I hope this post acts as a kickstart for discussion and I’d love to debate what is next for the preservation of TPP or whether it is worth preserving at all.
Oh, and praise be to Helix.