What Twitch Plays Pokemon Can Teach us About the Internet

Pokemon- one of my all time favorite games. It was a big part of my childhood. If I was going to be away from home for a decent amount of time, I had to have my Game Boy Color with Pokemon inserted in it along with me. Heck, even today at age 20, I still play Pokemon. But never would I have imagined that it would be possible for 100,000 people to simultaneously play one copy of Pokemon. Twitch Plays Pokemon does just this.

For those who don’t know what Twitch is, it’s a video streaming service that is popular in the gaming community. MLG (Major League Gaming) matches are streamed here, along with tons of other content from video game media outlets. The format is simple- the stream is played in a video player, and viewers with a twitch account can chat on the right side of the page. Twitch Plays Pokemon takes the user input from the chat box, and applies it to the Pokemon game being streamed. Sounds simple right? With a few players, it would probably go smoothly. However, with 75k to 100k players, chaos ensues.

I’m not going to go into the further details of Twitch Plays Pokemon, if you’re interested in that, check out the first part of the article I’m posting about from IGN. What I’m interested in is the effects and growth of TPP. In one short week, TPP has absolutely exploded to, at the time of this post, 21.5 MILLION total views of the stream so far. The internet age, as Justin Davis explains in his article, has made our bandwagons increase in size extremely more quickly than before. We’ve had hula hoops, pet rocks, and Furbies all be fads that grew quickly and eventually died. But nothing at the rate of today’s internet generated fads. TPP didn’t exist 9 days ago. Today, it now has its own in jokes and language, factions vying for attention and mindshare, imitators, gifs, and plenty more. It’s absolutely insane how fast TPP has grown. In a matter of a week, it gained its own subculture.

TPP reminds me of a couple of internet fads that existed not that long ago, but now feel like forever ago. Davis mentions the Harlem Shake. Doesn’t that feel like forever ago? It was a year ago. Davis puts it perfectly- “The Harlem Shake feels like the oldest, most worn-out, most cringe-worthy thing now, doesn’t it? Imagine if someone you knew said they wanted to make a Harlem Shake video – how that would make you react. And now consider that the meme is just one year old!”

The phrase “Harlem Shake” was searched heavily… for two weeks.

Remember that little game Flappy Bird? That followed a very similar trend as the Harlem Shake. I don’t remember hearing anything about it this week, (yay!) signifying that its flame finally burned out.

I think that the main fuel behind these internet fads is social media. Once something goes around on social media enough, the majority of the internet world knows about it and it reaches internet fad status. Where did I first hear about the Harlem Shake? I saw a video on Facebook. Where did I first see the game Flappy Bird? One of my friends tweeted about it. Where did I first see TPP? I saw a tweet about it. Social media is absolutely the number one driving force behind people spreading the current fad.

In summary, Davis poses these questions- “How much more room for acceleration is there? Could a trend rise and fall in a single day? Could a meme have a literal fifteen minutes of fame, before it becomes uncool to hit the Retweet button?” I think that one day in the not so distant future, something can become cool and uncool in a single day. At the rate the internet and social media has grown, it seems very possible. As Davis perfectly puts it, “So, if you checked out Twitch Plays Pokemon and just didn’t get it, don’t worry. There’s sure to be a new idea next week.”


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