Today’s article is from Tommy, a great friend of the blog and a long time aniblogger. He runs Anime Bowl, where he blogs about the latest episodes airing on Toonami, anime conventions, and Green Bay Packers football.
Only a few hours after America lapsed into the month of March, the worldwide phenomenon known as “Twitch Plays Pokémon” came to a conclusion, as the Aussies and whoever was left awake in the U.S. pushed Red past the Elite Four and Blue to a Pokémon League championship. After 16 days of democracy, anarchy and random button-mashing, the journey was complete1.
In case you’re not aware, “Twitch Plays Pokémon” was a “social experiment” conducted by an Australian who programmed a Game Boy emulation of Pokémon Red into the streaming service Twitch, making it so that anyone could type a command into the chat, and have the game respond to it. Thus “up” made the character go up, “Start” made the Start menu come up, and so on.
Of course, with the entire world able to play the game, chaos ensued. The main character Red would do bizarre things over and over again as tens of thousands of people (and bots) typed in commands. Progress in the game was made very slowly, if at all, because of the long list of commands coming through, not to mention the lag the video had with the chat. To tell the story of how the game was actually beaten would be far too long. This YouTube channel tells the story through video, while this Google document gives the facts in a different fashion.
But what made “Twitch Plays Pokémon” more than just a video game was its “religion” of sorts that its players created out of the events of the game. It began through the fact that Red kept on checking the Helix Fossil by mistake. This led to a joke that the Helix Fossil was a “god,” and the religious references spiraled out from there. Eventually it led to a full-blown narrative where nearly every major figure in Christianity was being referenced by the game players. Omanyte was “God,” Pidgeot was “Bird Jesus,” Zapdos was “Battery Jesus,” Gastly was the “Holy Spirit,” even Flareon was the “False Prophet.”
This isn’t a condemnation of those who came up with these ideas. Many of them were clever, and certainly quite a few of them brought quite a chuckle out of me (although of all the memes that “Twitch Plays Pokémon” produced, my favorite was the constant plea that “we need to beat Misty,” no matter how far in the game Red was).
The question I pose is quite different: has Christianity become this trivial in today’s society? We all remember how a small cartoon of Muhammad and a bomb caused such an uproar amongst Muslims, so much that even a book written all about the cartoon failed to include the actual cartoon itself, presumably due to the writer’s fear of backlash.
Yet this is nothing new with Christianity. The same famous “Creation of Adam” painting by Michaelangelo which was parodied by some “Twitch Plays Pokémon” Red Bubble entrepreneurs has had the same treatment thousands of times, most memorably for me by Pittsburgh Steelers fans who replaced the figures with Art Rooney Sr. and Ben Roethlisberger (who fell from grace faster than Adam). The Lord’s Prayer, a source of some very good Christian theology, was of course used by the Helix Fossil group, as it has been by so many others (and not surprisingly, even Steelers fans)2. And many other Biblical references were turned into “Helix theology” – but again, following the lead of others.
So it begs the question: is Christianity now nothing more than a reference for parodies? Is it, in fact, just a meme? And if that is the case, how has it gotten to such a point? Surely you wouldn’t have to go back too many decades to a point where such jokes would lead to large protests, or even worse.
Expecting maturity from those who played “Twitch Plays Pokémon” would be unrealistic. After all, the vast majority of the crowd playing the game was from the 4chan and Reddit crowd. These are equal-opportunity offenders, and not in the way “South Park” claims to do so (but somehow always conveniently avoids the ire of the Democrat party). 4channers regularly use words that would offend nearly anyone, and their jokes often go far beyond offensive.
So I’m not going to put the onus just on the crowd who played “Twitch Plays Pokémon” and made these jokes. Rather, I have to wonder if this is where society has gone as a whole. Is Christianity just something to be used for jokes? And why Christianity, and not other religions? Surely these “Anonymous” 4channers can’t be scared of a Muslim backlash. Yet continually it seems that the name of Jesus Christ is used primarily for jokes, and it’s something for Christians to be concerned about. Because if the people and symbols of Christianity are considered to be of no worth, it is not that long until Christians themselves find themselves to be considered of no use to society as well.
Read more from Tommy at Anime Bowl.
1 As of yesterday morning, Twitch started a new game, Pokemon Crystal, on the stream.
2 Editor’s Note: You can read about another such piece of art, this one involving Adventure Time, at Taylor Ramage’s blog.