Normally I refrain from commenting on Internet phenomena because of how fleeting and unimportant they are, but this is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen on the Internet in all my many years of browsing.

If you’ve been on Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr, or virtually any other image sharing site on the Internet over the past 12 days, you’ll have noticed a thousandfold increase in the number of strange Pokemon images cropping up. You might have seen nonsensical phrases such as “All hail Lord Helix” or “Bird Jesus” floating about. Heck, even if you’ve stuck to good old wholesome CNN or BBC you won’t have missed this entirely.

But let’s say you’ve been living under a rock. Let me explain what this is about.

Twitch is a site focused on streaming video game footage. People play video games while other people watch online. Boring, right?

But 13 days ago,  someone decided to throw a wrench into the gears by launching something called Twitch Plays Pokemon. There’s no way for me to explain this without showing you it, so click here and you’ll be directed to the site – just be aware that if you’re stumbling upon this blog more than a few days after its been published, that link might be dead. What you’ll get is a live stream of a playthrough of Pokemon Red Version, but with a few twists. The first twist is that you the viewer can actually control the player character. The way it works is simple – just type a command into the chat box in the right. Typing “Up” will move the character one space up. “Right” will move the character one space right. “B” will act as though the Game Boy’s B Button has been pushed. Et cetera. It’s a pretty cool concept. But there’s more.

The thing is, it’s not just you controlling the game. At any given moment there are anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 players inputting commands at the same time. The game will process the commands one at a time. The result is a social experiment to see if hundreds of thousands of gamers from around the world can come together to beat a 16 year old game.

Common sense would indicate that this experiment is doomed to fail. I’ve been playing video games for many years, and I can tell you that it’s damned near impossible to play a game when one other person is messing with your controller, much less seventy thousand – and even less so when some of those 70,000 are just inputting random commands for fun. And indeed, the character’s movements have proven to be spastic at the best of times. Dara O’Briain’s performance here comes to mind.

Heck, even the person who set this thing up didn’t think that much progress could be made.

But here’s the kicker: Progress is being made. Somehow, thousands of players from the four corners of the earth have found a way to coordinate their commands and make slow but steady progress through the game. They’ve now acquired seven badges, and are on the verge of obtaining the 8th. For those of you with no Pokemon experience, this places them at roughly 80% of the way through the game. Eighty percent. With seventy thousand people at the helm? That’s incredible. That’s astounding. That’s mindboggling. I never would have thought it possible. With the distance the character has to traverse in order to complete the game, and so many points at which the character must follow an exact route, I didn’t think very much progress could be made at all.

Some perspective on this progress is necessary, of course. This is a game which ordinarily takes 25-30 hours to complete, and can be completed much quicker than that if you’ve played the game before. Right now, Twitch Plays Pokemon has been running for 319 hours. So yes, progress is painfully slow. Occasionally I’ll close the screen and reopen it an hour later to find that the character has just moved from one side of the room to another. Simple tasks which would take the average player mere seconds to complete can take hours.

And yet, like a colony of ants, the army of players continues to move forward towards its collective goal.

Co-operative video games are nothing new. Gamers have been uniting to achieve a common goal since the early 1980s. But nothing approaching this scale has ever been attempted or achieved. It’s a truly international effort – America goes to sleep and hands to torch to Europe, who then hands it over to Australia, and then back to America the next day.

In the history of video games, this is completely without precedent. If this game is completed – and at the current rate of progress it could be completed by the weekend – it will be an accomplishment of monumental proportions, and a landmark event in Internet and video game history. I will be watching with great eagerness.

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