Pokemon breaks the internet

Tens of thousands of players get hooked on the same game - and the same character

When solving problems, people often say that two heads are better than one. So does the same count for three? Four? How about 100,000? Welcome to the new online phenomenon “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” a network that brings a whole new meaning to the term “multiplayer.”

In an effort that began on Feb. 12 by an anonymous Australian, hundreds of thousands of gamers worldwide have been banding together to simultaneously control one game of Pokémon. The way it works is simple. Anyone from almost any computer can type in commands simulating those of a regular Game Boy (right, left, up, down, A, B and start). These are then sent to the main game and carried out. The idea of thousands of people attempting to control one character seems daunting, and nearly impossible, yet over the past nine days, extraordinary progress has been made for a challenge like this.

In this resurgence of the 1996 hit game “Pokémon Red,” dedicated fans have already captured 10 Pokémon and defeated four of the game’s bosses. These wins, however, do not come easy. Simple movements such as walking through a door could take hours, making the process excruciatingly slow for some. A character can just go back and forth or in circles for an indefinite amount of time. This, however, makes advancement that much more satisfying, turning this fan base into an enthusiastic bunch.

Throughout the past week, the amount of Internet memes has skyrocketed, and the corresponding subreddit has moved to the 380th most subscribed. Players have bonded through shared ups and downs and used social media to communicate through it all. More than 658,000 people have interacted with the network.

These people, however, do not include those on the Binghamton University campus. While it is possible to watch and track the live feed, Campus Information Technology Services (ITS) has blocked the server that allows people to interact with the game.

“We don’t know a lot about the application itself,” said Mike Hizny, assistant director of networking at Campus ITS. “We know that it uses Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a specific port used for a lot of chatting. It’s also a network port used as a command and control port for a lot of viruses.”

According to Hizny and network manager Joe Roth, the BU network is secure, and allowing access to such IRCs could jeopardize the safety of campus computers. These IRC channels are used by hackers to control computers from a remote base. The ports used to run IRC, however, have been blocked for around five years now.

Regardless of the possible web-related dangers, the immense popularity of the game is only growing. As the community suffered and rejoiced together, various important things happened that have only served to further the excitement. Within the game there is something known as a helix fossil, an item that will only be useful at a later point in the game. Regardless, players have turned to it as a sort of deity, checking it frequently and thanking it in times of success.

Gamers have been arguing between “democracy” and “anarchy,” bringing a whole new element to the playing experience. If more than 75 percent of the group votes for democracy, then every 20 seconds a new vote will be taken, and the winning action will be done. If more than 75 percent of the group votes for anarchy, then each sent-in command is used as soon as it is received. Each side has its pros and cons, but both groups of supporters have taken it to Reddit to plead their cases.

“Oh great helix fossil, give me strength,” said Anthony Sileo, a sophomore majoring in psychology. “But in all seriousness, I’ve been watching nonstop for three days. It’s been in a constant stream on my suite’s TV. It’s a great social experiment.”

In this social experiment, it is incredible to see how so many people can achieve a goal when working together, no matter how long it may take.

“I have been following it in earnest for the last couple of days now, and while the actual stream is interesting, I like the meta game a little more, because I like seeing this entire community spring up pretty much over night,” said Alex Baer, a junior majoring in psychology. “It’s very interesting to see social evolution happen in the blink of an eye.”