Twitch Plays Pokémon; Anarchy Reigns

Cute little Helix

The Internet is a strange place. No, seriously—the Internet is weird, man. A couple of years ago, a social experiment took place that proved, beyond all shadow of possible doubt, that the Internet is really freaking weird.

This experiment, which enlisted hundreds of thousands of participants and amassed many millions of views, pitted anarchy against democracy, wove a surreal narrative of loss and victory, and gave rise to a god.

I speak of Twitch Plays Pokémon, that epic microcosm of Internet weirdness.

You can find the whole story on Wikipedia, so I’ll provide an abridged version. An anonymous programmer launched a “social experiment” on Twitch, a video streaming website. The experiment streamed a version of an old Nintendo Game Boy game, Pokémon Red, which the programmer modified to be controlled entirely by commands typed into the stream’s chat room.

Twitch Plays Pokémon [GIF]

Anyone could join the crowd playing the game by typing in commands, which the game carried out one at a time. As days passed and Twitch Plays Pokémon went viral, thousands of people participated, all typing in commands at the same time to play the game. Chaos and anarchy reigned. It was nuts.

The difficulties of thousands of people all controlling a game at once soon became obvious. Insignificant obstacles such as ledges became insurmountable setbacks. New Pokémon were caught and released more or less at random. (For those who don’t know, the game revolves around catching, training, and battling friendly monsters called Pokémon.)

As the days wore on, the stubbornness of sincere players was matched against the sabotage of online trolls. Tweaks were made to Twitch Plays Pokémon to inject elements of democracy into the chaos, to the relief of some and the ire of others. Factions of players rose to support either side. Anarchy and democracy were each assigned specific Pokémon as emblems, and both factions fought for control of the game.

Anarchy Vs. Democracy

The actions of the game’s protagonist, Red, were understandably random and erratic. For example, due to the conflicting commands that poured into the game, Red frequently checked a useless item called the Helix Fossil during battles instead of fighting. This gave rise to the in-joke among players that he was consulting it for guidance. In turn, this led to the concept of the Helix Fossil as an idol or deity.

When the Fossil was finally revived into a living Pokémon later in the game, players declared the rebirth of a god.

Praise the Helix!As a narrative emerged from Twitch Plays Pokémon, players and viewers alike watched each new development with the obsessive interest of sports fans on the day of a big game. A number of valuable Pokémon were accidentally released in a debacle that became known as Bloody Sunday. New Pokémon were given names, backstories, and allegiances to the factions of Democracy or Anarchy. Memes, fan art, and in-jokes spread like goofy viruses.

All the while, dedicated players kept typing commands into the experiment’s chat box. Red inched ever closer to victory, persevering through all mishaps. Even the loss of the Helix Fossil, his guiding deity, didn’t faze him.

At last, Twitch Plays Pokémon ended in spectacular fashion—Twitch finished Pokémon.

I was vaguely aware of Twitch Plays Pokémon as it unfolded, but never wasted time watching Red’s halting progress through the game. A few days ago, however, I took time to read a brief history of the event, and was struck by its glorious weirdness.

In a way, Twitch Plays Pokémon is a perfect microcosm of many aspects of Internet culture. It was random, unpredictable, and packed with memes and wacky humor. Like YouTube or Wikipedia, it was driven by the involvement of ordinary people. It spawned endless conflicts. Finally, it inspired many intelligent people to treat something totally inane with resolute dedication and seriousness.

After playing Pokémon Red, that Twitch channel went on to play (and replay) many other Pokémon games. I’m pretty sure the Twitch Plays Pokémon project is still going, albeit with a diminished audience. Now that the novelty has worn off, most of the viewers and players have moved on to new things. There are always new things.

After all, this is the Internet.


This post was originally published on April 13, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

Three Great Novels About the Silence of God

I could write pages about the silence of God, but it would all boil down to just a few words.

I don’t get it, and it troubles me.

Some of my doubts and questions about the Christian faith have been resolved. Some have not. Why does God let kids get hurt? Why does he allow us to make innocent mistakes? Why does he permit headaches and cockroaches and Fifty Shades of Grey to exist? Why, God? Why?

Yes, I know about sin and death and the fall of humankind. I know, darn it! Those things still don’t explain why God doesn’t, well, explain. Couldn’t he at least make his existence more clearly known? It seems unfair for God to penalize people for failing to believe in him when he seems intangible, invisible and… silent.

I don’t know why God remains silent. In the end, I believe because my evidence for God outweighs my evidence against him. There remain dark doubts and unanswered questions.

Since I don’t have any answers regarding the silence of God, here are what three great novels have to say upon the subject.

Be ye warned: Here there be spoilers for SilenceThe Chosen and The Man Who Was Thursday.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was ThursdayThe Man Who Is Thursday is the exciting tale of Gabriel Syme, a poet-turned-detective, and his attempts to stop a band of nihilistic terrorists. There’s a sword duel, and some thrilling chases, and at least one good discussion of poetry.

The novel takes a turn for the surreal in its final chapters, in which Syme and his companions realize their elaborate intrigues against the terrorist organization were actually orchestrated by its leader, the enigmatic man known only as Sunday.

Syme and his friends demand to know why Sunday, who is apparently not an evil man, allowed them to suffer so much pain and fear in their pursuit of him. One of Syme’s companions says, with the simplicity of a child, “I wish I knew why I was hurt so much.”

Sunday does not reply.

The silence is broken by the only sincere member of the nihilist organization, who accuses Syme of apathy and ignorance. It is then Syme realizes that his pain qualifies him to refute all accusations. He and his friends suffered by Sunday’s silence. No matter how wretched or tormented their accuser, the agonies they endured bought them the right to reply, “We also have suffered.”

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The Chosen

The Chosen tells the story of two young Orthodox Jews in New York during the final years of World War II. During a baseball game, Reuven Malter meets a gifted student named Danny Saunders. They become friends, despite their dissimilar cultures and upbringings within the Orthodox Jewish community.

Reuven is astonished to learn Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, speaks to him only during religious discussions. At other times, Reb Saunders says nothing to his son. This cold silence baffles Danny and Reuven. What kind of father refuses to talk with his children?

The novel follows Danny and Reuven as they grow up and progress in their studies. In the wider world, the horrors of the Holocaust are revealed and Jews fight for the restoration of Israel as a nation. At last, as young men, Danny and Reuven learn the truth behind the silence of Reb Saunders.

Reb Saunders knew his son’s intelligence outweighed his concern for others. In order to teach Danny compassion, Reb Saunders distanced himself from his son. Silence, he hoped, would give Danny an understanding of pain and a greater empathy toward other people.

Danny had learned compassion, and so the silence was broken. Speaking of Reb Saunders, Danny tells Reuben at the end of the novel, “We talk now.”

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Silence

This is it: the definitive novel about the silence of God. Heck, the book is even titled Silence. This gloomy masterpiece tells of Sebastião Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit sent to seventeenth-century Japan. He hopes to encourage the tiny population of Japanese Christians, and is willing to die for his mission.

What he doesn’t expect is to watch others die for his mission. When he is captured by Japanese authorities, Rodrigues is not martyred. Instead, he watches as the authorities martyr other Christians because of his religion. Rodrigues expected to suffer for his faith. He did not imagine he would cause others to suffer for it.

In this darkness and brutality, God says nothing. There is only silence.

At last, as Rodrigues recants his faith to spare the lives of other Christians, the image of Christ he is forced to trample seems to break the silence: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

For me, this is the most powerful answer in these three novels to the question of God’s silence. God may seem silent, but he has shattered the silence once for all with a single word—rather, a single Word: the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Whatever the sufferings in this world, Jesus shared them. However little God may seem to say to us now, Jesus said plenty.

Do I understand the silence of God? No. I do, however, find great comfort in these books, which offer tentative answers to a great and terrible question.


This post was originally published on January 3, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

468. Of Mice and Men (and Monkeys)

This blog is taking a two-week break, returning with new posts on Monday, September 5.

I had planned to work ahead on this blog during my recent vacation. However, in each of the places I visited, I couldn’t get the Internet working smoothly on my computer. Alas! This means TMTF is now behind schedule.

(It doesn’t help that my typewriter monkeys, my reluctant assistants for this blog, are currently in jail. It’s a long story.)

Instead of scrambling to write quick-and-dirty posts for this blog’s next few deadlines, I’ve decided to take a couple of weeks off. It was a reluctant decision. I really wanted to finish TMTF before this year ended, but at this point I’m not sure that’s feasible. By taking a break, I resign myself to ending this blog early next year, which will save me a lot of stress and worry in the long run. Now I don’t have to rush.

My sense of responsibility borders on the pathological, so I always feel guilty when I miss deadlines or neglect commitments. However, as I said the last time I took a sudden break from blogging, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Translated from the Scots language to contemporary English, this phrase by Scottish poet Robert Burns reads something like, “Stuff happens, yo.”

And it does.

“Stuff happens” is a recurring theme for this blog, actually.

The best-laid plans of mice and men (and monkeys) go often awry. We’re only human. (At any rate, I’m only human. My typewriter monkeys are… well, monkeys.) I suppose the occasional break is inevitable.

TMTF won’t go dark during its two-week break; I’ll republish old posts on the blog’s usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. We recycle here; TMTF is very eco-friendly.

Before taking that break, I would like to share a few sneak peeks of what TMTF has in store for the months ahead.

  • I want to write one more Gabriel Green story: a last hurrah for the man whose star-crossed career has provided a couple of short stories for this blog.
  • I’m really excited for the next Adam’s Story post, which will include some concept art. I’ve already given one preview. Here’s another:

Paz follow-up concept

  • Do you know what irritates me? People who don’t wash their hands. They make me… angry. Really angry. Bad stuff happens when I’m angry.
  • I’ve written a lot of That Time I _____ posts, but there’s one important event I’ve never mentioned. It involves burgers.

There’s some cool stuff ahead… I hope. I should probably start working on it.

Louisa May Alcott once wrote, “First live, then write.” Solid advice. I have some living to do, but I’ll be back. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5. Thanks for reading!

The Umbrella Warrior

Here are some thoughts on the video above.

  • That guy is so cool.
  • In fiction, umbrellas are occasionally reimagined as weapons. The Penguin, a villain from the Batman comics, uses an assortment of umbrellas containing firearms or hidden blades.
  • Seriously, though, that guy is so cool.
  • Umbrellas can secretly be deadly weapons, even in real life. Beware.
  • The guy in the video wields a pair of umbrellas in the manner of hook swords: weapons used in certain styles of Chinese martial arts. The tips of hook swords are curved. When hooked, both swords can be wielded one-handed in the manner of nunchaku. Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of my favorite shows, introduced me to hook swords.
  • Brooms and shirts on hangers also make great weapons, apparently. Who knew?

This brave warrior is truly an inspiration to us all.

467. More Word Derps

My younger brother, John, has a talent for mangling the English language. Some time ago, I shared a list of his mispronunciations, titled John’s Word Derps.

Since then, I have updated this list meticulously—y’know, for science. It’s my privilege today to share (with his permission) more of my brother’s verbal fumbles. Please enjoy responsibly.

  • Setner for center
  • Vihjoe for video
  • Coids for cords
  • Detooler for detour
  • Hammo for hammer
  • Cass for task
  • Snay for say
  • Und for and
  • Wordst for worst
  • Beg for bed
  • Streep for street
  • Boke for smoke
  • Mast for fast
  • Appline for applying
  • Hiud for hood
  • Pervervy for perverted
  • Laoods for loads
  • Rook for root
  • Firth for first
  • Parasuit for parasite
  • Site for suit
  • Tunk for sunk
  • Light for right
  • Cronneled for chronicled
  • Butt wheat for buckwheat
  • Graining for gaining
  • Spannitch for Spanish
  • Shuringe for syringe
  • Electred for elected
  • Febluary for February
  • Reft for left
  • Releash for release
  • Stort for sort
  • Quaft for quick-fast
  • Trees for cheese
  • Smo for slow
  • Screezing for squeeze
  • Rall for wall
  • Mate for make
  • Gerfy for goofy
  • Ricken for written
  • Goo for grew
  • Owctually for actually
  • Shongs for songs
  • Bitter for better
  • Pless pray for press play
  • Crawl for call
  • Guvade for grade
  • Depreshing for depressing
  • Funz for tons
  • Sennger for single
  • Nodge for nudge
  • Quig for quick
  • Happity for happy
  • Glameplay for gameplay
  • Bun for bunch
  • Komma for camera
  • Bleen for beam
  • Fweequently for frequently
  • Klar for car
  • Brack round for background
  • Wattle for water
  • Bleared for beard
  • Woof for wolf

466. Hugs

I’ve often thought of my cat, Pearl, during my vacation this week. As I’ve traveled with my family, the Pearl-cat has valiantly guarded my apartment, Mole End, protecting it from burglars.

…Nah, whom am I kidding? Pearl has probably spent the week napping, with brief breaks to freak out over nothing and run around the apartment like a cheetah on fire. This is what she does. It is her way.

Pearl-cat

When I get home, I’ll sweep up Pearl into my arms for Mandatory Cuddles. The Pearl-cat doesn’t like Mandatory Cuddles. As I snuggle her to my chest, she generally glances away with an expression of pained dignity, and occasionally claws and scratches until I put her down.

That’s more or less my reaction when people hug me, except with less clawing and scratching. A little less.

I don’t like hugs. Who invented hugging anyway? At some point in human history, someone must have said, “Here, let me show my affection by smooshing my upper body against your upper body and wrapping my arms around you.” Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird and a little bit uncomfortable?

While I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, I accept hugs from acquaintances without complaint. My friends know me better… and they hug me anyway. I respond to these hugs with pained expressions and mild grumbling. My friends take these in stride, God bless them.

I don’t mind hugs from close family members; in fact, my younger brother and I share awkward sibling hugs all the time. (The pats are essential.) Since I know my family so well, I feel less uncomfortable when they awkwardly press their bodies against mine.

Someone once proposed a theory that human beings demonstrate affection according to five basic methods, known as the Five Love Languages: Quality Time, Acts of Service, Thoughtful Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Physical Touch. (My parents and I practice a sixth Love Language: Cups of Coffee.) For many people, hugs and other forms of physical touch are simply expressions of love.

For me, hugs are just kinda awkward.

I have no right to be upset when people hug me, of course. I give my cat Mandatory Cuddles even though she doesn’t like them, so it’s only fair that I endure a little discomfort, too. That won’t stop me from grumbling about it. Grumbling is what I do. It is my way.

In conclusion, if you ever see me, maybe give me a fist bump? A fist bump will be great.

Vacation Music

For today’s Geeky Wednesday post, I was going to write something serious and weighty about a poem by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. Then, remembering that I’m on vacation and really should chill out, I opted for some sunny video game music instead.

Yes, it’s our old friend Smooth McGroove, the one-man video game choir. Today’s tune hails from the warm shores of Outset Island in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which is probably the most vacation-ey game I’ve ever played, sea monsters and all.

Well, with today’s post done, I can get back to hiking, swimming, snacking, and dreading my inevitable encounter with the Tiny Hotel Soap in my hotel bathroom. It’s too soon, guys.

465. The Five-Step Writing Conference

I recently attended a professional writing conference. It was… well, it was a lot of things. I’ll outline my experience at the conference in five steps.

1. Early Misgivings

I hit the road a few days ago. My car, Eliezer, is dependable but dilapidated—after all, you can’t spell trusty without rusty. Eliezer lacks such vain frills as air conditioning. I call it a car, but it’s more like an oven on wheels. Thus it was a hot, disheveled Adam who arrived at the conference, sweating like a traveler in the mighty Kalahari, and having second thoughts.

Kalahari

Artist interpretation of writing conference weather.

I should also mention that my jeans kept creeping stealthily toward my ankles. This utterly baffled me. These jeans had previously fit me just fine, and their tag claimed they were my size. They insisted nonetheless on their downward trajectory. I found myself frequently hitching up my jeans until I was able to change into another pair in the privacy of my room.

The conference was held on the campus of a university. It gave me repeated flashbacks to my own college career, which began with severe depression and ended with existential dread. Speaking of which….

2. Crushing Despair

As I attended the conference’s early sessions—which were excellent, by the way—I slid slowly but inexorably into depression, guilt, hopelessness, and acute social anxiety.

This really surprised me. I suffer from chronic depression, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve followed my blog for more than five minutes, but it usually comes and goes gradually. At the writing conference, it crushed me with the steady force of a steamroller. I was also surprised by the social anxiety. I’m an introvert, but I can usually deal with social events.

The guilt and hopelessness were worst of all.

Depressed Adam

Artist interpretation of depressed Adam. (In case you were wondering, I didn’t actually make faces like this at the writing conference… I don’t think.)

I was surrounded by people with serious aspirations of professional writing, and people who actually write professionally. By comparison, I’m half a writer. I know a few things about writing as a craft, but hardly anything about writing as a profession.

In those early sessions of the conference, with their unfiltered insights into a tough and competitive industry, my bravado and optimism were quick to evaporate. I felt seriously out of my depth. I felt like a fraud.

3. Redeeming Peace

As a pragmatic (and sadly skeptical) follower of Christ, my faith leans more toward intellect than emotion. I don’t often have those moments of raw emotion sometimes called “religious experiences,” and I talk about them still less often, but halfway through the conference, I found one.

Having retreated to my room (which I had formally christened the Introvert Cave), I switched on the air conditioner, sat on the bed, and prayed. I told God that as I held on to faith in him, I had to believe he had brought me to that conference for a reason. I asked him to help me find it, and to see him at work.

I immediately felt a profound peace—a sudden, absolute conviction that everything was going to be okay. This peace carried me through the rest of the day, redeeming it, and giving me a little hope.

4. Shower Misadventures

The showers at the conference deserve a mention. They were lined up along a hallway in a communal bathroom, and guarded from the public eye only by flimsy and ill-fitted curtains. After a long day in the summer sun, I really needed a rinse. I had no choice. Casting off my misgivings, I cast off my clothes. I would not be conquered by a public shower.

I immediately ran into another problem. It was my old enemy, the Tiny Hotel Soap.

My old enemy

We meet again.

Have you ever stayed in a hotel and tried washing yourself with those itty-bitty bars of soap? It’s impossible. The Tiny Hotel Soap provided at the conference was roughly the size and shape of a saltine cracker, with the density of carbon steel. I tried to work up a lather with the Tiny Hotel Soap. It would have been easier to work up a lather with a soap-sized slab of sculpted marble.

I finally concluded my shower, only to realize I had forgotten my towel. (Forgive me, Douglas Adams.) It was a wet and abashed Adam who sneaked back to his room. It was a good thing God had given me peace, or that shower may just have broken me.

5. Caffeinated Resignation

I blundered through the rest of the conference with a kind of resigned determination, fueled by coffee. I learned a lot, actually, and took pages of notes. I also hung out with an old friend, a fellow blogger, and a couple of nice ladies from Argentina, so that was cool.

In the end, the writing conference made me seriously question my vague pretensions of someday being a professional writer. It would be a radical shift, and would take tons of hard work and research for no guaranteed payoff. If I ever make that plunge, I’ll have to go all in.

The conference also reminded me that there are so many other dedicated writers out there, many of whom are admirably ambitious, successful, and gifted. I must keep a healthy sense of perspective. I am, to echo Gandalf, only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!

Gandalf

When in doubt, quote Tolkien or Doctor Who.

A speaker at the conference made a good point: “A hobbyist writes for himself. A professional writes for his audience.” I’m a hobbyist. I write for fun, and God only knows whether that will ever change. If it does, I now have a slightly clearer idea of what to expect. If it doesn’t, I now have some idea of what I’m missing.

Either way, it’s nice to know.

I never tire of quoting the good Doctor from Doctor Who. (My readers probably tire of it, but I don’t.) As he might have put it, while the conference itself was excellent, my experiences there were a pile of good things and bad things. The good things didn’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things didn’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

And the conference definitely added to my pile of good things.

464. Something Bookish This Way Comes

I’m attending a writing conference today. At this very moment, I’m probably scribbling notes, clutching a half-empty bottle of overpriced coffee, and being awkward and self-conscious. Such is the lot of introverts at social events.

Seriously, though, I’m excited to attend this conference. In preparation, I read Networking with Penguins, and also bought a lot of coffee. (I consider it an investment in my future as a writer.) I hope to learn more about marketing, social media strategy, book proposals, and all the other stuff I should have known before publishing a book.

After the conference, my family and I will spend a week on vacation. We plan to travel, visit friends and relatives, and eat many doughnuts. It will be glorious.

I should be able to connect to the Internet on our vacation, so regular blog updates shall continue. (If I take any more long breaks from the blog, I shan’t be able to finish it by the end of this year as I’ve planned.) Today’s post is a short one since I have to finish vacation preparations, but I’ll conclude with a sneak peek at a future post.

The next Adam’s Story post shall introduce the characters in my story project. I’m really excited, guys. Now that the preliminary stuff is out of the way, I can begin to explore some of the project’s other concepts, such as reworked characters.

I leave you with an early glance at the worried, whiskered face of Lance Eliot.

Lance Eliot early concept

I’m sure my own expression at today’s conference will be equally uncertain and wary. Fortunately, unlike Lance Eliot, I’ll have the moral support of coffee, so that’s something!

How Games Tell You What to Do

Link partners

Video games create vast worlds for players to inhabit, and offer endless opportunities for interaction. That’s pretty cool. It also poses a problem unique to video games as a medium.

It’s easy to get lost.

With only a few unconventional exceptions, other media guide their audience along one specific path. When I read The Lord of the Rings, for example, I’m given a clear story to follow—the one Tolkien wrote. As he describes Frodo’s journey to Mordor, I can’t choose to see what’s happening back in Hobbiton or Rivendell. Either I read Tolkien’s story, or I don’t. I merely experience it. I don’t create it.

Video games are different. A game allows players to interact with its world, giving them a hand in creating the story. Maybe, as I play a Legend of Zelda game, I’m supposed to rescue Princess Zelda, but choose to smash pots and attack chickens instead. The protagonist, Link, is only a hero if I want him to be.

Games give players an amazing degree of freedom, with many potential paths to take. It’s only natural, then, for games to guide the player toward the path their developers intended.

There are many approaches to guiding the player. The Legend of Zelda series often gives Link companions, as seen in the picture above. (I wanted to attribute it, but couldn’t find the artist.) These range from the traditional (a fairy) to the bizarre (a talking hat). These partners give Link advice on where to go and what to do next, guiding the player toward the game’s intended objectives.

This approach works pretty well, but can become irritating as Link’s companions boss him around or spell out every little step of his journey. The latest Legend of Zelda game doesn’t seem to have a partner system, which should allow players to wander more freely.

Other systems for guiding the player include marking objectives on a map, offering text or audio cues, or structuring game environments to direct the player toward the next goal. Some games are straightforward enough not to offer any guidance: Tetris and Pac-Man are good examples.

When I pick up a new game, I’m always interested to see how it tells me what to do.