Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.

Now the famous question posed by randomness is “If an infinite amount of monkeys worked at an infinite amount of typewriters for an infinite amount of time would they eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare?” The logic goes that given enough time random chance will eventually create something recognisable. A mere thought experiment, nothing more… until now.

Of course we have to disclaim this by saying that Twitch Plays Pokemon isn’t a true experiment like the monkeys. For one there’s roughly about 50,000 people at any given moment and two they’re not playing randomly but with a set goal in mind. But these 50,000 people are inputting commands into just one player character. For example: Imagine the standard video game controller. I use the left side you use the right. I move the character, you perform the actions. Standard enough idea, it would just take us so long to go almost anywhere. We’d often make mistakes and whatnot.

… Now imagine that, but with 50,000 wrestling for that one controller. That is Twitch Plays Pokemon, and what it did was mind-blowing.

See in just 16 days the players of Twitch Plays Pokemon:

1)Created a religion;

2)Created democracy;

3)Created small parties trying to stop the progress of democracy;

4)Created fractions within the religion;

5)Created religious fanatics;

6)Founded fears of corruption within the democratic system;

7)Had more devastating ‘deaths’ then most soap operas;

And finally

8)Beat the Elite Four and officially finished the game.

So why is this such a big deal? Mostly because you couldn’t find a better metaphor for humanity if you tried. So lets break these down into smaller sections so I can elaborate on each.

Created a religion: Like all good pseudo-religions, this one came about from a joke. Namely at one point in the game the player can choose between two fossils: The Helix Fossil and the Dome Fossil. The Helix one was chosen and thus put into the bag. Now during their attempts to finish this game the Item command was selected in battle, leading to them selecting the Helix fossil and receiving the message ‘now is not the time to use that’. Soon this became a running gag of the player character, Red, constantly consulting items in his bag for advice. But for some reason the Helix Fossil above all else got focused on more and more by the ‘Mob’ (aka the collection of players), leading to the creation of the Helix Fossil religion. In other words the Helix Fossil was the ‘God’ of the people playing. Likewise a Pokemon that was acquired, Eevee, was evolved into the Fire Type Flareon and quickly deemed to be the ‘Anti-Christ’ of the story. Likewise the Dome Fossil was the ‘Satan’ of the story. So why bring this up? This group of people made a religion. Why is this important?

Because it leads to the very interesting question: Why did they make religion? Why is it that a religion was created in a first place? Oh sure it was a joke, first and foremost… But does that then indicate mankind’s need for some sort of higher power? Is it in our nature to want religion and gods? Clearly difficult questions with no easy answers, but it is interesting to see that this sort of thing ended up happening almost by complete accident. An inanimate object was worshipped as a God and had a religion built around it. Does that mean that mankind needs a God subconsciously to operate?

Created Democracy: Now originally the game ran on the simple idea that you would type a command in the chat window and it would be pressed in the corresponding game. This meant simple things such as walking in a straight line became virtually impossible. The character would run all over the map and do crazy things. And for the most part progress was made, if slowly. Infinite monkeys and all that. But it got to the point where the puzzles in the game were impossible to navigate randomly. Control was needed. And thus that’s when Democracy was introduced. Every 20 seconds a poll was held, and the most popular command was entered and followed. If the majority voted to go up, the character went up. If the majority voted A, A was pressed etc. Democracy was invented…

Created Smaller Parties Trying to Stop Democracy: … And immediately voted against by almost everyone playing. People preferred to fail chaotically then make any real progress. Now bear in mind they’d been stuck on the same puzzle for over 30 odd hours. Eventually this Democracy mode was used to get past the most difficult parts of the game in an attempt to get it moving and all was well in the end. But the important part is that this ended up becoming a big debate between anarchy and democracy and which one was better. Anarchy was more fun, sure, democracy got more things done. It was proven more than a few times that Democracy was needed, despite people’s protests against it. A rather unsettling reminder to prove why we have governments at all, since the other outcome is complete and utter mess. Of course what a lot of the people on either side of the debate missed was that the ‘best’ mode to play would be dictatorship, aka one person taking command. If anything this makes a good argument that dictatorship would ultimately work if the person had the best interests of the crowd at heart.

Created Factions Within the Religion: See once Democracy was introduced people who were supporting Democracy were called Dome-ocrats, playing off the imagery introduced earlier in the stream. As such they were treated as the bad guy for holding a different view on how the game should be played. But as it went on more and more different interpretations popped up. Soon the PC became the Anti-Christ after the Flareon was released, with the maker of the PC Bill being the Satan-like figure. You had two warring factions going on about who was and wasn’t evil and who was and wasn’t a deity. You had some that thought the Pidgeot, the strongest Pokemon in the party, was the ‘Bird Jesus’ due to how valuable it was. Others instead worshipped Asgardian Jesus, aka AA-j the Zapdos. From this one simple choice so many other religions were split off from it, each trying for their own place in the spotlight. Not only did the Mob create religion, they created factions within it. Which leads to the more depressing part…

Created Religious Fanatics: Someone honest to Helix Fossil wrote this on Tumblr: “They are literally talking about killing Christ!”. In this case they were referring to putting Pidgeot the Bird Jesus into the PC, which had quickly gained the reputation of being the source of much frustration. Any Pokemon left in the PC was highly unlikely to get out again. But that one comment struck me as interesting because this person genuinely cared deeply enough by what was happening to be personally affected by an inanimate object. This person believed in the Helix Fossil and the Bird Jesus so seriously they became fanatic about it. Now sure, it’s not the first time we’ve heard of people getting so religiously invested in something they do unusual actions and have odd behaviours. But remember that this happened in the space of a week. This person got that deeply invested into this story in under a week, to the point where they hated anyone that disagreed with them. Which leads to another interesting question:

Why do people get so religiously fanatic about things? Why is there this compulsion to get this deeply invested into something so silly? We laugh at those that do some silly stuff in the name of their fandom, but apparently give free pass to religious people who carry out all sorts of illogical rituals. So it struck me not that religious fanaticism existed, but that it was created so quickly. What does that tell us about man?

Founded Fears of Corruption Within The Democratic System: Now a Twitch Steamer called Destiny made the perhaps rather unwise announcement that he planned to hi-jack the game if it went into Democracy mode and release all the Mob’s strongest Pokemon. He wanted to kill Bird Jesus, so to speak. Now how much power this one guy had is hard to say. Sure he had fans; and there were probably people attempting to deliberately stop any progress. But this simple threat was enough to instil all sorts of paranoia into the Mob and have them fear using Democracy when they most needed it, resulting in a complete cock-up of epic proportions. But here we had something that plagues almost all democracy: Fears of corruption. There was worry that the game would be rendered unplayable due to the actions of a small minority using democracy to take the lead. Now of course had the Mob worked together they’d have easily drowned out the deliberate trolls, but they were too scared to do even that. So in the end even Democracy, the one hope in finishing this game, was rendered as ‘too dangerous’ to use due to mere fears of corruption rather than actual proof.

Had More Devastating ‘Deaths’ Then Most Soap Operas: The first big loss the Mob encountered was on the fourth day, when they accidentally released their starter Pokemon and another Pokemon, essentially ‘killing’ them for good. This of course shocked the Mob and made them vow to keep away from the PC at all costs. Naturally the PC was needed time and again to help progress the game, but that fear still remained. The PC had essentially killed two Pokemon and would go on to claim many more. Now I know what you’re thinking: “They’re just Pokemon, what’s the big deal?” Well the big deal comes from the fact that every Pokemon got a nickname by the mob and their only little story. They were characters in this epic adventure that was unfolding. So to see one ‘die’ was always tragic. So seven days in they’d released five Pokemon, but were doing okay. They then went to catch Zapdos and needed to withdraw it from the PC. Simple enough, right?

Then, 10 and a half days in, in an event that later came to be called ‘Bloody Sunday’, 12 Pokemon where released. Including some Pokemon that were very near and dear to the Mob’s hearts. It was quite a horrifically event with so many good Pokemon being released. It was essentially having a room full of characters in a soap opera suddenly blow up and kill them all. The impact was felt right across the world…

… But these were just Pokemon? Hell none of them were very special, just common Pokemon that you could catch at any point in the game. But the point was they’d grown attached to them, formed a connection with them; and ultimately felt their ‘deaths’ the same way one would feel for a fictional character. All this in just over 10 days. The fact that that attachment formed so quickly was bizarre yet showcases yet another side of human nature: Our empathy. Without meaning too we empathised with these sprites a lot and felt the pain of their loss.

In total they released 21 of the 31 Pokemon they caught, which is a pretty terrible average when you think about it. Over two thirds were released into the wild. And almost all of them were tragic losses.

And finally

Beat the Elite Four and Officially Finished the Game: It was of course always a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’. Eventually the game would be won, even if only one person stuck it out to the very end. But to do so in just over two weeks is extraordinary when you think about it. But more than that the culture that sprung up around it. The memes, the art, the stories. The religions and the systems. Why do I bring all of this up?

Because, in a nutshell, Twitch Plays Pokemon can be mapped onto human civilisation quite well. Whilst it’s only a fraction of the size of the population of Earth, it still hits all the major key parts of human civilisation thus far. We created religion, we split it up, we fought over it. We created democracy, we abused it and even tried to use it to further evil gains. We bonded as a group of random people as the story unfolded and we were all in it together. At the end of the day it’s cheesy and a bit stupid to look at Twitch Plays Pokemon and try to work out the deeper meaning behind it. There was none. It was just a simple experiment designed to see if people could co-operate long enough to reach an end goal. That’s all it was intended to be.

But if a Mob can work together well enough to defeat the game… Surely one day mankind can work together enough to defeat the obstacles we face as well?

So there you have it. My very in-depth look into Twitch Plays Pokemon, aka the phenomenon that overtook the internet for the last two weeks. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.

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