Twitch Plays Pokemon: Its history, highlights and Bird Jesus

The Internet is a bizarre, confusing and sometimes wonderful place. Nowhere and no-when has that been more evident than now, as the world watches Twitch Plays Pokemon.

For those not yet swept up in the madness, Twitch Plays Pokemon is the 1998 GameBoy game Pokemon Red being emulated on a computer, streamed to the masses. Those who tune in can enter the game's commands – up, down, left, right, A, B, start – in the Twitch channel chat, and said commands will be translated into in-game results.

You type "up," the main character moves up. Simple, right? Not quite when you have 70,000 people typing out often-contradictory commands. The infinite monkey theorem – a mathematical principle that has existed in some form or interpretation since Aristotle – has often been taken to mean, "If an infinite number of monkeys were to use an infinite number of typewriters, sooner or later you get Shakespeare."

Well brother, this ain't that. This is 70,000 monkeys wrestling for control of one typewriter, while another group of monkeys interprets the words printed as holy gospel. And no, the religious imagery is not an exaggeration, as you'll soon see. Like a Rattata in Team Rocket Headquarters, we've dug our way through Twitch Plays Pokemon to bring you some of the best, the funniest, the weirdest memes and moments created by this intriguing display of unbridled creativity.

Pokemon becomes a religion

The Internet loves turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, transforming mundane objects, items and creatures into icons of religious devotion. See: Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Church of Goomy. Twitch Plays Pokemon is no exception; a new religion has taken root, as has a counterpart religion whose direct opposition to the first has sparked something of a war. And it all started with a Pidgey.

Navigating the Pokemon Red map is difficult enough with thousands of voices screaming which way to go. Now imagine trying to navigate menus and item lists so that Red could actually catch a pokemon. Not easy. Thus, it was considered something of a miracle when the Twitch Plays Pokemon hive-mind caught a Pidgey.

Pidgey not only survived in this roaring sea of chaos – he thrived in it. Pidgey begat Pidgeotto, and Pidgeotto begat Pidgeot. While other pokemon in the party struggled and limped along as low-level helpers, Pidgey and his various forms led the way and defeated countless wild pokemon, trainers and gym leaders. He came to be known as "Bird Jesus" because of his perceived leadership and strength in the face of adversity. That and the fact that he was pretty much the only pokemon capable of doing anything useful.

Bird Jesus is not the only religious-flavored meme to be born from Twitch Plays Pokemon. The Helix Fossil, an item held by Red since early in the game, has become perhaps even more revered. The fossil is an item that cannot be tossed or thrown away, and features a "Use" option attached to it in the game's menu.

Since pressing Start is one of the easiest ways to disrupt the game, trolls would often spam the command, causing the rest of the chat's input to become menu navigation. This led to many instances of TPP trying to "use" the fossil. The idea was simply silly fun at first, but the Helix Fossil has seen something of an ... evolution since its early days.

Fan art and memes began depicting the Helix Fossil as a Magic 8 Ball of sorts – something Red would consult when he felt lost or needed guidance. Need a question in your life answered? CONSULT HELIX. But there was a significant mystery behind this power. After all, how could the Helix Fossil know what to do? The Internet's answer was simple: The Helix Fossil is a god.

But there can be no light without darkness, no yin without yang, and so it was that the Twitch Plays Pokemon crowd had to assign someone or something the mantle of villain. A player can only pick one of two fossils in Pokemon Red, so it was natural that the Dome Fossil became the foil, the antithesis to everything that Helix represented. And, just as Helix had its prophet Bird Jesus, the Dome had its own agent working within the party.

Enter Flareon, the False Prophet.

Pokemon Red is a simple game by today's standards, but it's not without its obstacles. A player needs specific pokemon capable of specific moves to advance in the game, one such move being Surf. Surf can only be learned by a handful of pokemon, but two stood out as possible contenders for the TPP audience: Lapras and Vaporeon.

Vaporeon is an evolution of Eevee, but unlike most evolutions in the game, doesn't occur due to leveling. Instead, players must use a Water Stone on the beast to trigger its aquatic form. Again, remember how hard it is just to make Red, the player avatar, move in the general direction of progress. What do you think happened when TPP tried to turn Eevee into Vaporeon, a process that involved navigating several menus and usage of items?

That's right, they bought a Fire Stone and turned it into Flareon instead. This setback caused an uproar and led many to label Flareon as an agent of the Dome Fossil and a deceiver. The community nicknamed him "The False Prophet."

The pawns: Jay Leno, Abby, The Slayer of Trees, ATVenomoth and DigRat

Thanks to the overabundance of input from the Twitch Plays Pokemon chat, convention goes right out the window when it comes to naming captured pokemon. Red's Charmander was named "ABBBBBBK(" while his Rattata was named "JLVWNNOOOO." Such labels were not meant for human tongues, however, so the Twitch Plays Pokemon community opted for "Abby" and "Jay Leno" as substitutes.

Abby and Jay Leno were two of the party's highest leveled monsters behind Bird Jesus. That was good news for a party whose tactical strategies were often ... well, a bit like invading Russia in the winter. And who doesn't want a great big Charizard at the end of the adventure, right? Well, the Dome Fossil and his False Prophet sure didn't. Abby and Jay were released into the wild somewhere after 100 hours of play.

There are many memorials to these fallen (or rescued, depending on how doomed and tortuous you consider this quest) heroes. There's also this, which we can only consider a snuff gif.

The party would not stay vacant forever, though. The TPP collective managed to replace Jay Leno with another Rattata, nicknamed "DigRat." DigRat was responsible for forcing TPP to restart the Rock Tunnel repeatedly and had, for the majority of the game, been banished to the PC for his crimes. Team Rocket HQ would be his redemption.

Team Rocket HQ is a maze filled with floor tiles that send the player spinning in one direction until he hits a wall or another special floor tile. It can be a slow, annoying experience even without 70,000 voices telling you which way to go, but the world is a cruel place, and Red didn't have that luxury. It took TPP more than 24 hours to get to the end of the dungeon and defeat Team Rocket's leader.

Finally, they could acquire the Silph Scope, another item needed to progress. Mere feet from the item, DigRat fired prematurely and dug the players out so that they had to start back at the beginning.

Environmental challenges were nothing new to Twitch Plays Pokemon by this point, of course. They were already seasoned veterans thanks to the legendary ordeal that was cutting down a single tree. A tree in the Pokemon games can only be cut down by the move Cut which, like Surf, cannot be learned by just any pokemon. Somehow the TPP crew managed to teach the move to their Farfetch'd – named "DUX" – and cut down the tree. After six hours.

DUX is now known as "The Slayer of Trees"

Spitting in the face of logic and probability, TPP has also managed to obtain a Venomoth. They named it "AATTVVV," and are referring to it as the All-Terrain Venomoth. This whole adventure is just a little silly.

Pokemon gets political and Start9gate

One of the more recent developments in the Twitch Plays Pokemon saga has been the introduction of a meter that measures the audience's desire for democracy versus their desire for anarchy. While in anarchy mode, the game functions as it did originally, inputting every command as it comes. When in democracy mode, only the move chosen by a majority of players is the one executed by the game.

The implementation of a democracy was seen as blasphemy by many of the TPP community, and a rallying cry was created to give voice to their disdain. That cry: start9. By inputting "start9" into the Twitch channel's chat instead of the usual "start," the game's programming would read it as though it had received nine separate instances of the start command.

Start9 was eventually put to rest, but the lines had already been drawn. As if religious ideologies weren't enough, now the TPP community was divided along political ideologies as well. The majority of players seem to view anarchy as the "right" way to play the game, while democracy is represented by the notorious Dome and his False Prophet.

It's ironic, considering that it was anarchy that gave birth to Flareon; an organized force of democracy almost surely would have preferred a Vaporeon that could learn Surf. But then, we're looking for logic in a game that threw away a Charmeleon.

Twitch Plays Pokemon is something of a social experiment. We're not sure what hypothesis it's testing, but the data provided thus far will surely prove invaluable to future generations. Or it'll just really confuse alien archaeologists who dig up the remnants of our civilization and think that we worshipped a helix-shaped fossil and believed democracy to be the embodiment of pure evil.