One of my favorite movies in the last three decades has to be The Princess Bride; it’s not a groundbreaking fact for anyone associated with the pop culture world, but what is surprising is that I was fortunate enough to read William Goldman’s book before viewing the movie. What most people don’t know is that the relationship between the grandfather and grandson experiencing the story has this extreme duality: the grandfather actually spares the disastrous and often gory details of the tale, protecting his grandson from the perils of a bleak fantasy while highlighting all of the heroics and do-good. For example, the ending of the story is not the “most passionate kiss in history”. Inigo starts to suffer severely from his wounds, and Wesley is on the verge of death again, since Miracle Max could not produce a remedy potent enough to save him.
I’ve always thought that this was a good allegory for what is the modern internet: a larger-than-life double-edged sword that can greatly benefit or erode the soul.
This is until I experienced Twitch Plays Pokemon last week.
The concept is simple enough: people have access to an emulated version of Pokemon Red, and the chat portion works as the button controls to play the game. So, for example, if you type in “left”, Red will move one space left, and if you press “A”, it will use the confirmation button, and so on. Every command is taken on a two-version basis: if “Democracy” is active, people in the chat will vote on the next moves, while “Anarchy” focuses on inputting every button push that it possibly can in real time with no rhyme or reason.
Essentially, Twitch Plays Pokemon is everything that is so right and so wrong with the internet.
As per usual, I will start with the seedy underbelly: this is the epitome of instant gratification in all of its glory. People of the internet crave immediate results, and when concepts like ping are some of its foundations, it’s no wonder that this appeals to the almost 70,000 people that have signed in to be a part of it. It’s pure action and power at the touch of a keystroke, and that has turned some players into raving madmen and cult leaders, while others are only intent on finishing the game on their turns, though the vast majority just want to watch the world burn. These immediate-results sort of mindset will always lead to immediate regret: we can experience this phenomena in the memes of “Abby K” and other Pokemon being released.
Speaking of memes, this has illustrated another point that is absolutely terrifying - the amount of internet culture jokes and memes that have sprung to life in the last week is, quite frankly, impressive and alarming. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to look up the significance of what “Bird Jesus” means, or if someone says something against the status quo, that they are a follower of The Dome Fossil. A problem with these jokes are that people place so much work into them, but coupled with the first fact, these jokes have little to no staying power. Memes and internet phenomena show up and burn away like pop-culture supernovas, and its constantly turning the fandom into a hivemind 15-minute fame jokes. We think they are charmingly amusing, give a small snorting sound through the nose, and move on with our lives as if nothing of significance happened. It is terrifying that we can enjoy something so much and toss it to the wayside in only a few hours or days.
What I truly appreciate the most about the Twitch Plays Pokemon experience, though, is that the community of internet veterans can find a story in everything, and can and will make it sound as epic and enthralling as any high fantasy story in existence. The community already has started a war on religion, backstories for each and every Pokemon, a personality for established and unestablished characters, and an impressively biblical air of cult worship for even the most mundane occurrences. And we’ve only been doing this for a week. If the internet is larger than life for many, it seems to fit that its stories and popularity has to be larger than life as well.
In truth, I feel like my childhood is being molested for all to see, but the internet has a tendency to taint anything we love. This would be the appropriate platform to insist on how we can use our greatest First World Problem in a more responsible way, but I also understand that just by reading this article you are contributing to the problem. So, in stark contrast of what I usually represent, I will be taking the Victory Road, if you will: have fun with this new phenomena for the next couple of days. It will burn out quickly and unexpectedly, and when those few staunch Twitch players finish the game in a bit, we can all say that we lent a hand. You know, to start a cult about prehistoric fictional animal fossils and their harbingers of hope and death and stuff.