Twitch Plays Pokémon

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Commands identified by the game engine shown on-screen (right of image) are applied to the player character in Pokémon Red (left)

Twitch Plays Pokémon (TPP) is a "social experiment" and channel on the video streaming website Twitch, consisting of a crowdsourced attempt to play Game Freak's and Nintendo's Pokémon video games by parsing commands sent by users through the channel's chat room.

The concept was developed by an anonymous Australian programmer and launched on 12 February 2014, starting with the game Pokémon Red. The stream became unexpectedly popular, reaching an average concurrent viewership of over 80,000 viewers (with at least 10% participating). On 1 March 2014, the game was completed after more than 16 continuous days of gameplay; Twitch estimated that over 1.16 million people participated, with peak simultaneous participation at 121,000, and with a total of 55 million views during the experiment.[1] On December 5, 2014, Twitch Plays Pokémon received a Game Award in the "Best Fan Creation" category.[2]

The experiment was met with attention by media outlets and staff members of Twitch for its interactivity, its erratic and chaotic nature, the unique challenges faced by players due to the mechanics of its system, and the community and memes developed by participants. Following the completion of Red, the streamer continued the channel with Pokémon Crystal, Pokémon Emerald, Pokémon FireRed, Pokémon Platinum, Pokémon HeartGold, Pokémon Black, Pokémon Black Version 2, Pokémon X, Pokémon Omega Ruby, Pokemon Colosseum, Pokemon XD and various ROM hacks. The streamer has plans to continue with other Pokémon games as long as there remains interest in the channel. The success of the experiment led to a number of similar Twitch-based streams for other games, and led Twitch to promote more streams with similar interactivity with watchers.


Inspired by another Twitch-based interactive game, Salty Bet (a website where users could wager on the outcome of randomized M.U.G.E.N. matches)[3] and described as a social experiment, the system used by the stream was coded by an anonymous Australian programmer, consisting of an IRC bot written in Python and the Game Boy emulator VisualBoyAdvance. The script captures specific messages (directional commands, "B", "A", "select", and "start") sent into the stream's chat room by users, and sends them to the emulator as button input, thus controlling the game. An additional web app coded using JavaScript is used to display a live tally of moves that are shown within the stream. The streamer chose Pokémon Red and Blue for the project, citing nostalgia for the early games,[4] the fact that "Even when played very poorly it is difficult not to make progress in Pokémon",[5] and because its current control structure "[wouldn't] work with any genre that isn't a JRPG", particularly targeting its "forgiving" turn-based structure and lack of reaction-based gameplay, compensating for the large amount of input lag between the game and the stream. The author used an edited version of the game, which claims to make all the original 151 Pokémon accessible, in hopes of making completion of the Pokédex a possibility. However, the edited version used was unfinished and has no gameplay differences when compared to the original game.[4][6][7][8][9][10]

The erratic nature of the control scheme has made the game longer and harder to play than under normal circumstances; an Ars Technica writer commented that "(Red) gets stuck in corners. He walks in circles, compulsively checking his Pokédex and saving over and over again. Commands stream in from the chat channel faster than the game can possibly process them, making progress difficult-to-impossible even without the lag factor or the 'help' of gleeful trolls." Recurring difficulties have occurred with areas of the game involving mazes and ledges (areas with the latter taking as long as several hours to navigate due to users intentionally sending "down" commands to jump off the ledges), the accidental release of several Pokémon (including an incident referred to as "Bloody Sunday," where a total of twelve Pokémon were accidentally released whilst trying to manipulate the character's party),[11] and users repeatedly sending "start" commands to open the pause menu, often followed by opening the character's inventory to select random items.[3][12][13] A system to throttle inputs on the Start button was added to mitigate this particular effect.[14]

Despite the seemingly erratic process of playing the game, players have attempted to collaborate and strategize through various means, including infographics and a user script which hides command messages from the chat window to allow conversation. This was necessary for the players to progress as several areas of the game require coordinated actions to gain Pokémon with a specific skill needed to clear obstacles in Red's way, and earlier attempts without such coordination results in missing out on specific opportunities early on in the playthrough. In essence, the majority of players have attempted to counteract trolls trying to impede progress.[3][12][15] A computer program was even created to automatically identify these trolls.[16]

Progression and further games[edit]

On 18 February 2014, after encountering major difficulties with a puzzle in the Team Rocket hideout, a new mechanic was introduced in an effort to make the game easier to play. Initially, all movements became subject to a vote: all inputs received over a period of time (usually 30 seconds) were tallied, and the winning command would be executed at the end of that time. Users could also append their movements with numbers to specify the length of the motion, such as "right3" to mean three consecutive "right" inputs. Many people were outraged over this new system and protest broke out in the Twitch chat, many of them using the command "start9" (which would open and close the pause menu nine times to slow down progress) to fight the system. The streamer later reworked the mechanic so that users could vote to switch between two modes: "Anarchy", the previous default, and this new mode "Democracy."[17][18] However, a change to Democracy mode requires a supermajority vote, while a change to Anarchy mode requires only a majority vote, as indicated by an on-screen meter. This change was considered divisive by players, who believed that Democracy mode conflicted with the original concept of the stream and eliminated the potential for randomness which had helped to drive the elaborate narrative and mythology that had built up around the playthrough.[3][4][14][18][19][20]

Following the completion of Red, a new game began on 2 March 2014, this time with the second generation game Pokémon Crystal.[21] The developer set a deadline for the completion of Crystal with the plan to start Pokémon Emerald on a fixed date, though the players were able to complete Crystal well before this point.[22] With the change to Crystal also came a change to the voting system; the Democracy mode was automatically activated at the top of each hour.[23] By 14 March 2014, players had reached a major battle on Mt. Silver against Red, a trainer representing the player-character from Red and Blue; however, the game was also modified so that Red's team would consist of the same Pokémon that were used to beat the Elite Four in the Twitch Plays Pokémon playthrough of Pokémon Red earlier.[24] The developer stated that he intentionally changed the game data of Crystal to behave in this way, as it was Game Freak's original intent when creating the game that the player would face Red in Crystal using the Pokémon they had finished Red with.[22] Crystal was beaten on 15 March, with more than 13 days of playtime.[25][26] The developer stated that even though fewer viewers watched Pokémon Crystal compared to Pokémon Red, he will continue the stream with other Pokémon games as long as there remains interest in the experiment.[22][27]

Pokémon Emerald was started on 21 March 2014. With the shift to Emerald, the Democracy mode was initially disabled entirely.[28] Emerald was repeatedly restarted due to its soft reset ability, but was later fixed by the streamer.[29]

The shift to Pokémon X—the 1st installment in the franchise for the Nintendo 3DS, brought changes to the stream's setup. As there is no PC-based emulator for the 3DS, the stream was conducted on actual 3DS hardware using a hardware modification known as the 3DS Streaming Console with External Control Interface (3xtDS); developed by Reddit user dekuNukem, also known as Twitch_plays_3ds (who has also designed an automated rig for "chaining" and detecting "shiny" Pokémon),[30] the mod allows direct control of inputs on the device via an USB-based interface, and added the video output required for capturing the screens' content. The change to native hardware also allowed the stream to use the Wi-Fi capabilities of the device; other players of Pokémon X and Y could directly interact with the stream's player via Nintendo Network and the game's internet-enabled features, such as online battles, trades, and O-Powers.[31] Following its release, Pokémon Omega Ruby was also played in the stream.[32]

In honour of the one-year anniversary of the original run, a new playing of Pokémon Red began in February 2015. The goal was to complete the game's main storyline and to catch all 151 Pokémon, the latter which they did in around 39 days.[33][34]


Launched on 12 February 2014 as a "proof of concept", the stream was relatively inactive for the first day and a half of playing.[5] However, the stream quickly went viral after that, reaching a total viewership of around 175,000 by 14 February (when players managed to beat the first of eight Gym leaders).[35] By 17 February, the channel had reached over 6.5 million total views. By 20 February, the channel had over 17 million total views, and was averaging concurrent viewership between 60 to 70 thousand viewers with at least 10% participating. By then, the players had managed to catch 12 different species of Pokémon, and made it past the fourth gym.[8][9][10] On the completion of Red, the channel had reached 36 million total views, with a peak concurrent viewership of 120,000, and an estimated 658,000 had participated.[36][37] The Red stream was eventually recognized by the Guinness World Records for having "the most participants on a single-player online videogame" with 1,165,140.[38] The large amount of activity on the stream resulted in "enormous (and unforeseen) stress" on Twitch's chat system, requiring the site's engineers to move the stream's chat to a higher-capacity server normally used during major e-sports events, while working on improving the infrastructure's scalability.[39] The developer himself said, "I didn't think it was going to be this popular, I thought it would gain only a small group of dedicated viewers and many others would check it out briefly before moving on to other things. It's overwhelming how popular it has become."[5]

An active community of players also emerged on communities and social networks such as Reddit, which have liveblogged the proceedings and developed memes and other works around occurrences in the game. One item in Red's inventory from the start of the game was the Helix Fossil, which was used later in the game to revive Omanyte, but is otherwise functionless. The Helix Fossil was selected so frequently that it became an inside joke among players, and at times humorously calling it a deity which the player-character was constantly consulting for advice, and it quickly became the player's "religion". Players went as far as treating the fossil as a symbol representing a sect which supports Anarchy mode, while treating its counterpart, the Dome Fossil (which revives Kabuto), as a deity to those who support Democracy mode.[3][12][20][36] Certain Pokémon captured by Red during the gameplay have also gained fan followings. Two Pokémon that were obtained early in the game, and then later accidentally released were the Charmeleon and Rattata, "ABBBBBBK(" and "JLVWNNOOOO", further nicknamed "Abby" and "Jay Leno".[3][12] The team's Pidgeot, one of the highest level Pokémon in the group and often successful in battles, was named "Bird Jesus" by the community; concurrently, the team's Zapdos was nicknamed "AA-j" but referred to as "Archangel of Justice" or "Anarchy Bird".[3][12][40] Their Flareon was dubbed the "False Prophet", as players had accidentally obtained it instead of Vaporeon, which was needed so they could teach it the "Surf" move needed to travel on water, and it had later caused the release of the Charmeleon and Rattata.[41] During the eleventh day of the event (February 23), which fell on a Sunday, the players inadvertently released a dozen of the captured Pokémon, effectively deleting the creatures from the game, an event that later became known as "Bloody Sunday".[42] The practice of nicknames continued into Crystal, which included a new Pidgeot nicknamed "Brian", and a Feraligatr nicknamed "Lazorgator".[40]


Media outlets have described the proceedings of the game as being "mesmerizing", "miraculous" and "beautiful chaos", with one viewer comparing it to "watching a car crash in slow motion".[3][12][13] Ars Technica felt that it encapsulated "the best and worst qualities of our user-driven, novelty-hungry age", providing hours of arguable time-wasting entertainment through a word-of-mouth viral distribution.[3] The stream has been compared to the infinite monkey theorem in that effectively random input to a game still ultimately comes out with forward progress in the game.[43][44] Twitch vice president of marketing Matthew DiPietro praised the stream, considering it "one more example of how video games have become a platform for entertainment and creativity that extends WAY beyond the original intent of the game creator. By merging a video game, live video and a participatory experience, the broadcaster has created an entertainment hybrid custom made for the Twitch community. This is a wonderful proof on concept that we hope to see more of in the future."[8]

The stream has also inspired imitators with other video games, such as Pokémon Blue, QWOP, Tetris (including one which used the actual command inputs from the original Twitch Plays Pokémon stream),[5][45] Street Fighter II,[8][9][12][19][46] Halo: Combat Evolved (itself made significantly difficult by its nature as a first-person shooter),[47] Metal Gear: Ghost Babel,[48] Dark Souls[49] and Fallout 3.[50] Similar Twitch Plays have been used for taking care of a virtual pet Tamagotchi,[51] and installing Arch Linux onto a virtual machine through text commands entered one letter at a time.[52] The term "crowdplay" has been ascribed to similar games where the actions of the crowd directly influence the gameplay.[53] tinyBuild used the "Twitch Plays" model to release Punch Club, holding back release of the game until either a preset date or completion of the game running via a public "Twitch Plays" stream.[54] In January 2016, Twitch created a specialized directory for various "Twitch Plays" streams, with their VP of Developer Success Kathy Astromoff stating that the company has recognized the growth of similar experiments, and enabling such experiments to be easily found by its userbase.[55]

Another homage, Fish Plays Pokémon, surfaced in August 2014 as part of a HackNY hackathon. The stream, which consists of a fishcam in which the position of a betta fish in a fish bowl is used to control Pokémon Red, peaked around 20,000 concurrent viewers.[56][57][58]

Game completion[edit]

Game Start Completed Completion time Notes
Season 1
Pokémon Red February 12, 2014 March 1, 2014 16 days, 9 hours, 55 minutes, 4 seconds Intended to use a modded version, but an unmodified version was mistakenly loaded instead
Pokémon Crystal March 2, 2014 March 15, 2014 13 days, 2 hours, 2 minutes, 55 seconds Uses a slightly modded version, with the final boss Red's team consisting of a similar team from Twitch Plays Pokémon Red
Pokémon Emerald March 21, 2014 April 11, 2014 20 days, 21 hours, 55 minutes, 41 seconds
Pokémon FireRed[n1] April 11, 2014 April 27, 2014 15 days, 2 hours, 1 minute, 54 seconds Used a modded version which scrambles Pokémon encounters ("Randomized version")
Pokémon Platinum May 2, 2014 May 20, 2014 17 days, 11 hours, 38 minutes, 47 seconds
Pokémon HeartGold[n1] May 23, 2014 June 12, 2014 18 days, 20 hours, 33 minutes, 51 seconds
Pokémon Black June 15, 2014 June 27, 2014 12 days, 18 hours, 34 minutes, 59 seconds
Pokémon Black 2[n2] July 6, 2014 July 22, 2014 19 days, 2 hours, 15 minutes, 37 seconds Used a modded, more difficult version, Pokémon Blaze Black
Pokémon X[59] July 27, 2014 August 1, 2014 5 days, 5 hours, 44 seconds
Pokémon Omega Ruby November 22, 2014 November 29, 2014 8 days, 13 hours, 29 minutes
Season 2
Pokémon Red February 12, 2015 March 23, 2015 39 days, 19 hours, 27 minutes, 12 seconds Used a modded[1], more difficult version which makes all 151 species available; goal is to complete the Pokédex
Pokémon Battle Revolution Not available The successor to Twitch Plays Pokémon Stadium 2 as a betting-based intermission game, implemented after Omega Ruby, and played between runs.
Pokémon Crystal March 23, 2015 November 10, 2015 N/A A bootleg version of the game, known as Vietnamese Crystal, was utilized. This version is notorious among Pokémon fans for its rampant mistranslations. Unlike previous games, this version was not played constantly and instead was interspersed between periods of Pokémon Battle Revolution, and still is between runs.
Pokémon FireRed May 10, 2015 May 24, 2015 13 days, 15 hours, 44 minutes A modded version known as "Touhoumon" which uses characters from the Touhou Project game series in place of Pokémon is utilized, as well as the hack "Moemon". Both were being completed simultaneously.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire[n1] July 12, 2015 July 26, 2015 14 days, 1 hour, 17 minutes A modded version was used; both the Pokémon that appear and the attacks used by them are randomized. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U matches, played by computer AIs, were streamed alongside the Alpha Sapphire playthrough.
Pokémon Colosseum October 12, 2015 October 18, 2015 6 days 3 hours, 27 minutes
Pokémon XD December 12, 2015 December 20, 2015 8 days 4 hours 9 minutes
Pokemon Trading Card Game December 20, 2015 Ongoing N/A Similarly to Pokemon Vietnamese Crystal, this game is being played intermittently throughout Pokemon Battle Revolution.
Season 3
Pokémon Crystal February 12, 2016

From Platinum to Black 2, randomized Pokémon Stadium 2 matches were bet on at the same time. Inputs were randomized and were not controlled by the chat or in-game AI.[60] These were then implemented again on the channel after Pokémon X concluded on August 1, 2014, with moves voted on by the chat.[citation needed] The randomized Pokémon Stadium 2 matches were then changed to Pokémon Battle Revolution matches, as it added more features and had better graphics. Pokémon Battle Revolution 2.0 is currently in development and is expected to release after the third run of Pokémon Crystal is completed in February.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This game was randomized, using a pseudorandom number generator to change the predetermined Pokémon, items, and moves.
  2. ^ This game was played using a ROM hack of Pokémon Black 2 called Pokémon Blaze Black 2 and featured the ability to obtain all Pokémon available within Generation V as well as other gameplay tweaks.[59][61]


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External links[edit]