How an MMO game of Pokémon spawned two religions

21 Feb 2014

An online experiment where people as a collective body decide the outcome of a game of the classic Nintendo game Pokémon has become an internet sensation spawning two religions, numerous sects and Pokémon prophets.

The premise of the game is simple enough. By using a version of the Pokémon Red game that has been hacked to allow a robot to control the character’s movement, the creator of the hacked version then allowed viewers of the stream on popular game-streaming channel Twitch to enter commands which would control the character’s movement i.e. press ‘left’ to turn him left.

As news of the game’s existence spread through social media and, like most online sensations through Reddit, the game’s ‘hivemind’ grew to a level where the character’s movements were almost impossible to predict as the robot program tried to process thousands upon thousands of inputs every minute.

Being almost impossible to control, the game’s creator decided that in order to maintain some level of control, there needed to be a democaratic decision every so often which would switch the decision making process from ‘democratic’, where the character’s movement is decided based off the largest majority of inputs, or ‘anarchy’, which, unsurprisingly, makes the game a free-for-all where every decision is accounted for and if the viewers decide that he should walk into a wall for four hours, so be it.

Birth of a religious order

In what is perhaps the most amazing aspect of the whole Pokémon on Twitch experience is that in the space of over a week, every major event that has happened in the game has been charted out in a way that can only be comparable to a religious order.

According to this religious map drawn up by one very dedicated ‘believer’, on the fifth day of the game’s history the Great Schism which happened after the community wanted to evolve their Pokémon in two different ways, giving birth to the ‘Eveeists’ and the ‘Laprasians’.

This preceded the birth of the ‘false prophet’ Flareon, the real prophet Bird Jesus, the battle with Giovanni and the many cults that have sprung up as a result.

Confused? Well, you should be. The stream has had over 70,000 unique players so far and millions of views with little sign of slowing down.

To track the progress of the game and where people are at, the creator (God?) has released a Google Doc showing how far they have come in the space of eight days.

As with all things spawned on the internet, a series of memes have arisen showcasing some of the major themes in the game.

The holy relic of this universe is the Helix Fossil, an in-game choice which influences your Pokémon’s development, and has become one of the biggest symbols of the game throughout the memes.

Why can't they choose?

You're hear forever

Twitch Plays Pokemon

This is not the time

Helix fossil

If you want to try it yourself, visit the Twitch Plays Pokémon page for yourself and ask whether you’re ready to accept the word of Bird Jesus?

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic