The best moments from the history of Twitch Plays

Twitch Plays is a category on born from the Twitch community's love of chaos and frustration—a love even more powerful than nostalgia for the soothing painting of Bob Ross. In February of 2014, a channel called TwitchPlaysPokémon allowed viewers to enter commands in the chat room that determined buttons pressed in Pokémon Red. It exploded in popularity, pulling in over 100,000 simultaneous viewers and an estimated 10 percent viewer participation rate. The number of total viewers and participants flew above 55 million and 1.16 million respectively over the course of the Pokémon Red playthrough, which took 255 hours of playtime. As you can imagine, a chat room full of thousands of people calling out commands was insane. It was hectic. It created ridiculous mishaps, poorly-named Pokémon, and was completely mesmerizing to those of us that watched. And it worked, agonizing step by agonizing step.

TwitchPlaysPokémon continues to livestream chat playing Pokémon games of every generation to this day. After its success, other channels devoted to chat playing games have cropped up. Twitch chats have played Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Dark Souls, and even chess, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. These are the best (though not always most successful) times that Twitch chat has collectively played games.

TwitchPlaysPokémon takes down the Elite Four and rival Champion 

Skip to 2 hours, 38 minutes and 47 seconds.

As the original success story, it’s only right to mention TwitchPlaysPokémon first. During the run’s almost 300 hours, TwitchPlaysPokémon sampled every flavor of frustration, failure, and fanaticism. The entire struggle, fraught with scores of unintentionally released Pokémon and navigational woes, leads up to the final battles. After a couple losses, the chat managed to coach Red through defeating every member of the Elite Four. The last challenge, taking on Red’s rival Blue, is anxiety-inducing to watch even now. Commands fly by the right side of the screen too quickly to be read. Chat vacillates between attempting to change Pokémon and use one of the two remaining items in Red’s pockets. Professor Oak, for what may actually be the hundredth time, yells, “Red! This isn’t the time to use that!” Blue’s final Pokémon is his Blastoise. If Red can manage to get his Zapados “AA-j” back in the fight, it will be no contest. After cycling through several other Pokemon, AA-j finally appears on the scene, taking out Blastoise with a single Thundershock.

TwitchPlaysPokémon releases Abby and Jay Leno 

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 seconds

In the early days of TwitchPlaysPokémon, the game was controlled by what was referred to as the anarchy system. In anarchy, every input entered in chat would be executed in order. It was a fast-paced but accident-prone system for getting through the game. Democracy was added later in the initial playthrough, allowing viewers to vote on each input over a number of seconds before an action would be taken. Anarchy, before being tamed by democracy, resulted in some of the worst mistakes and best stories.

While trying to remove a Pokémon from the storage PC, the chat inadvertently released two of its staple party members—known by their nicknames Abby and Jay Leno—into the wild, never to be seen again. Several days later, even after the implementation of democracy, a coordinated group of trolls took over by flooding chat with their own votes and forcing Red to release twelve Pokémon into the wild.This event, referred to (hyperbolically) as Bloody Sunday, was believed to have been caused by the False Prophet Flareon, usurper of Bird Jesus. The False Prophet and Bird Jesus are only the beginning of the shocking amount of lore TwitchPlaysPokémon fans invented to make sense of the utter chaos wrought by the anarchy system. It’s almost inexplicably weird, which is what makes it so fantastic.

TwitchPlaysDark executes Ornstein and Smough

Skip to 3 hours, 43 minutes and 29 seconds.

Succeeding in Dark Souls relies so heavily on timing that TwitchPlaysDark made an important modification to the way its chat-controlled game works. TwitchPlaysDark forces the game to pause after each action while the chat queues up votes for the next one. It makes watching a bit slow at times, but boss fights can still be nail-biting. Near the end of a fight with Ornstein and Smough, TwitchPlaysDark finds itself directly in the path of Smough’s next attack. Chat has depleted its stamina and the next strike from Smough will mean death. Half the chat panics while the other half screams “just walk forward!” With no remaining stamina, TwitchPlaysDark walks straight into Smough’s killing blow, narrowly evading the effective area of attack and recovering just enough stamina in that one moment to swing a killing blow of its own. Seven hundred and six deaths led up to that moment.

TwitchPlaysBattlegrounds earns a first kill with its bare hands

Unlike Dark Souls, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds isn’t a game where the action can be paused for an indecisive hive-mind. The PUBG-playing chat is prone to accidentally dodging bullets and walking itself straight out of the safe zone. Predictably, chat chooses to pick on the only target it can reliably beat. TwitchPlaysBattlegrounds takes out an inactive player with its bare fists. A cheap move, but if single players can get away with it, so should a player controlled by an uncoordinated horde of viewers. Even if unsporting, this was the first kill that TwitchPlaysBattlegrounds pulled off.

TwitchPlaysDark chugs estus in the face of the Asylum Demon

The Asylum Demon is another narrow boss victory for TwitchPlaysDark. Near the end of the fight, the chat chooses to chug its last Estus Flask even as the hammer heads for its face. It rolls back immediately after, evading most of the damage. Heaving a pyromancy flame at the demon just out of range of the following sweep but not far enough to avoid the second swing of the attack, chat finds itself in another sudden death situation. Prone on the ground, the third swing lands just beyond its feet, literal inches from death. Chat throws another flame that should finish off the Asylum Demon. It misses. The hammer is coming down again. They have no Estus Flasks. Chat decides to pull out a hand axe and stand directly in the path of the boss’s swing. It lands, TwitchPlaysDark is flattened, but manages to keep a sliver of health. Chat plants the axe in the Asylum Demon’s gut, claiming a victory it may not have deserved.

I was robbed by the claw machine in clawarcade 

Clawarcade is more unorthodox than the rest of the Twitch Plays category (a high bar to clear) but so addicting. A guy actually bought a claw machine, filled it with stuffed toys, and rigged it up for chat to play with. Unlike other Twitch Plays channels, the claw machine (as of now) accepts each input, rather than polling a group to vote. It’s a small little place where I spent time taking turns with other viewers at snagging prizes. I have yet to win.

Twitch beats a chess grandmaster 

Skip to 1 hour, 17 minutes and 19 seconds.

As part of a promotion for Pure Chess, Ripstone Games pitted Twitch chat against chess grandmaster Simon Williams. Unlike other Twitch Plays streams, moves were carried out manually by Ripstone after chat voted for moves, rather than relying on a chat bot. Although Simon took the first game and won a second game by keeping track of pieces in his head while blindfolded, the chat managed a collective win in the third match, much to everyone’s surprise.

TwitchPlaysBattlegrounds takes out its frustration on the nearest targets

I genuinely thought that TwitchPlaysBattlegrounds wouldn’t manage to pull off kills against any players present at their keyboards. I’ve been proven wrong. All it needed was a team of lemmings willing to take a beating. After initially playing solo, the TwitchPlaysBattlegrounds chat bot started taking on squad matches with other players. Teammates, it turns out, are great targets. In what may be played off as an accident, the PUBG chat (with frying pan in hand) takes a swing at a teammate running in front of it as the whole squad run towards the safe zone together. It’s an instant knockout. The rest of the team, likely believing it was an unintended attack, rallies around to pick up the fallen member. After realizing what it has done, chat mercilessly turns on the rest of the team. It takes out first one teammate, then the other. The initial victim, who the others did manage to revive, runs off before they get another smacking.

Honorable mention: a fish plays Pokémon 

FishPlaysPokémon, though now inactive, originally followed on the heels of TwitchPlaysPokémon’s success. One fish (His name is Grayson, thank you for asking) spent days playing Pokémon Red. Though equally unpredictable, Grayson was ultimately less successful than a chat room full of viewers. Despite repeated false fish death alarms, Grayson soldiered on. Though he does not quite qualify as “Twitch Plays”, his dedication deserves mention.

Lauren Morton
Associate Editor

Lauren started writing for PC Gamer as a freelancer in 2017 while chasing the Dark Souls fashion police and accepted her role as Associate Editor in 2021, now serving as the self-appointed chief cozy games enjoyer. She originally started her career in game development and is still fascinated by how games tick in the modding and speedrunning scenes. She likes long books, longer RPGs, has strong feelings about farmlife sims, and can't stop playing co-op crafting games.