TwitchPlaysPokemon and the Question of Single Player

Sometimes, the worst idea is the one that strikes gold. And what could possibly be a worse idea than inviting a Twitch chat comprised of tens of thousands of people to play Pokemon Red?


Okay then. Now that we’re in agreement about it, let’s talk about TwitchPlaysPokemon and how a relatively simple idea is quickly becoming an internet phenomenon. This could easily be the thing of legend, something that could become one of the coolest moments in Pokemon history.

As the FAQ on the stream states, “TwitchPlaysPokemon is a social experiment”. Essentially, we’ve got an accessible game (there are no game overs or restarts, important items can’t be lost, etc.) put in the hands of a gigantic crowd of people.

Viewers on Twitch are able to type in any of the Game Boy’s buttons (left, right, up, down, A, B, start, and select) and a program translates that into an input for the emulator running the game.

What resulted from this is utter pandemonium. For nearly a week now, swarms of players have been trying to fulfill their agendas – because let’s face it, the entire chat isn’t on the same wavelength.

Sure, there are some people trying to progress, while others are there to troll and prevent success. Most of them are along for the ride, and are throwing inputs up just in an attempt to be a part of this. The chaos hit such a high point that two modes of input have been introduced: anarchy and democracy.

Viewers can now vote for either of them, and if one option amasses enough votes, the input mode changes. Under anarchy, every button input is given equal weight, and they’ll happen. Under democracy, actions become vote based, giving a short time for votes to be counted and then the winning input is executed. Democracy causes slower gameplay, but making progress is easier.

A glimpse into the chaos of TwitchPlaysPokemon.

A glimpse into the chaos of TwitchPlaysPokemon.

In the time I’ve been watching, very little has gotten done. For those who remember Pokemon Red well enough, you’ll remember the Team Rocket HQ underneath Celadon City’s Game Corner. Now, picture yourself taking over a day in there just to find the Lift Key. From there, it only took 14 more hours to beat Giovanni.

That stinging feeling is your palm hitting your face, by the way.


TwitchPlaysPokemon is an absolute laugh riot if you’ve got the patience for it. Even if you don’t, you have to appreciate the utter insanity of it. What, after all, makes a single player game an experience meant for one person? Is there an actual line at which a game is absolutely single player? To figure this out a bit, let’s think about how multiplayer games are structured.

We tend to think of multiplayer games as promoting some sort of competition or cooperative element. The players are given distinct roles which play off each other, and it creates a framework that gives the game its purpose.

Even in a game like New Super Mario Bros Wii, where the goal of each player is technically the same, players can craft an existence based off the others playing. Playing with someone you don’t like? Throw him in the lava. All of this is based around interaction as a core structure.

Single player is a concept TwitchPlaysPokemon introduces, at least in my eyes, to a lot of scepticism. It may sound obvious, but no one is forcing you to play a single player game by yourself. There are many ways to introduce multiple people into a single player game, even if it’s just as simple as passing a controller around.

While fans of the series’ newest offerings, Pokemon X and Y, are clamoring for information about the newest legendary Pokemon, a new legend is taking place on Twitch.

TwitchPlaysPokemon is putting the outcome of a simple game of Pokemon Red into so many hands, and the result is a brilliant disaster, making me question the thought that any game can be for just one person. That’s the sign of a successful experiment.