Twitch: a microcosm of the Internet

If you thought that a bunch of anonymous people on the Internet couldn’t possibly work together to accomplish something, you’re wrong. It’s already happened. Twice.

When you combine a video streaming website, a chat room, and an old school Pokémon game, you get Twitch Plays Pokemon, a fascinating social experiment that involves the participation of thousands of people online. To put it simply, participants of the game input directional commands, like up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, into the chat room, which is then sent to the emulator system of the game. In turn, the system processes that data and the sprite on screen does exactly as commanded. But when there are up to 121,000 people sending orders into the chat room, the poor emulator can’t handle all that pressure.

The beauty of Twitch lies in the fact that anyone has access to input commands into the system (even you, as long as you sign up on And what are the implications? Trolls. Lots and lots of them, with the sole purpose of ensuing chaos and hours of meaningless action, like awkwardly walking in circles, repeatedly consulting menu bars, or bumping into walls.

At one point, after players remained stuck on a particular stage for hours, a new system was implemented: a voting mechanism that quantifies commands inputted by users for thirty seconds. The system then finds the most popular command and executes it. There was backlash against this decision, as angry nihilists insisted that anarchy was the way to go. Hey ho! Why not let the emulator just randomly pick the winning command from the pool of inputs? You get somewhere faster albeit probably in the wrong direction.

So the battle between governing systems ensued, and thus an entire culture was born. Factions between democracy and anarchy were formed. People marched into Internet wars armed with their handy Caps Lock keys. They made war propaganda and distributed it across social media outlets. Political ideologies then transformed into (gasp!) religious ideologies. Blasphemous, I know, but nevertheless, it’s riveting to see how the online world collaborates to generate its own distinct “bubble” by creating memes, and popularizing them. It’s like leaving some bacteria to self-germinate and returning later to see that there’s an entire thriving, bacterial civilization. I could have referenced so many more memes that include obscure Pokémon jargon, but you get the fundamental idea: it was a dynamic time for Twitch fans.

So dynamic, in fact, that Twitchers ended up beating two Pokémon games. Thousands of people collaborated together and conquered two entire games, each in a span of about 16 days. Did this restore my faith in humanity? Yes, it did. But we also have to consider the fact that in games, there’s nowhere to go but forward. We’re also talking about a Pokémon game here. If these efforts were put into, oh, I don’t know, the cure for cancer, that would have been pretty productive. But here we are, you and I, blankly staring at an ordinary Talon article. Well, what are we doing? We gotta catch ‘em all!