“Gotta catch ‘em all!” Remember that old phrase? While it’s been quite some time since it used the iconic slogan, the worldwide Pokémon phenomenon is still going strong 25 years after its initial release. Unlike other franchises however, it hasn’t really matured with its audience. Many adults who played Pokémon as kids may be finding that those games of yore just don’t have the same spark they remember. So, in order to alleviate the mundane Pokémon experience, adult gamers have developed a new—and sometimes heartbreaking—way to play. Introducing the Pokémon ‘Nuzlocke Challenge’.
Well, in order to participate in a Nuzlocke, you’ll need two things: a Nintendo console and a Pokémon game of your choice. Pretty simple, right? Not for long though. From here on out you will be completing your chosen Pokémon journey by adhering to a self-imposed set of rules. The core of these are as follows:
– You may only catch the first Pokémon you encounter in each area.
– If your Pokémon faints, it is considered ‘dead’ and must either be released or placed in storage, which means you cannot use it for the rest of the playthrough.
– This one’s pretty cute. You must nickname every Pokémon you catch in order to get more attached to them.
If you’ve played in the universe before, then you already know that these new rules are a real game-changer. If you’re a new ‘Trainer’, then let me explain.
Normally, the regular Pokémon journey isn’t particularly taxing. You travel from town to town, defeating ‘Gym Leaders’ (the game’s version of bosses), collecting ‘Gym Badges’ from them, catching lots of Pokémon to complete your ‘Pokédex’ (a special electronic encyclopaedia for recording information on the creatures), stopping the bad guys and becoming the Pokémon Champion of the region. You get the gist of it.
The worst thing that can happen to your little pocket monsters is that they faint in battle, but just hurry on over to the nearest Pokémon Centre (the in-game equivalent of a hospital) or use some healing items and they’ll be good to go again. You can’t really lose a Pokémon game either. Your party can be wiped out but you can just respawn at the last Pokémon Centre you visited and try again.
Not in a Nuzlocke though. If one of your Pokémon’s hit points (HP) hits zero, they’re considered dead. If all of your Pokémon are wiped out, it’s game over and you must delete the save file and start fresh if you so wish. You can also forget about completing your Pokédex during a run like this. Every time you enter a new route or location you get one chance to catch the first Pokémon you encounter. If you knock the Pokémon out, or it runs away, that’s your chance gone, and you must wait until the next new area before you can attempt to catch another team member.
As you can see, making your team members somewhat ‘mortal’ and having a limited roster of Pokémons adds another layer of difficulty and strategy to your experience. You get what you’re given and you just have to make it work.
If you didn’t think that was enough, the icing on the cake comes with having to nickname each Pokémon you catch. “But it’s just a name,” some of you might say. Indeed, it might be. But when Sparky the Pikachu, who has been with you for most of your journey and to which you are now attached, gets taken out in a crucial battle, you’ll understand why this is the hardest, most devastating rule of all. RIP Sparky.
This extreme version of Pokémon was developed back in 2010 by Los Angeles-based artist Nick Franco. He initially documented his journey in a webcomic called Pokémon: Hard-Mode which went on to inspire many adult players who took to naming it themselves as a Nuzlocke—a combination of ‘Nuzleaf’, a grass type Pokémon and the character John Locke from the TV series Lost. Don’t waste your brain cells on it, not even fans understand it. In an interview with Vox, Franco told the publication, “I was just trying to make someone laugh at stupid comic. I didn’t want to make some big thing.” Well, well, well, look where we are now.
So, why do players want a harder challenge? Pokémon isn’t exactly known for its difficulty. Most fans, even the youngest ones, can get through a normal playthrough without much hassle. And that’s where the problem lies with many of the older players. Even after 25 years, the games are still being geared towards children, even more so now with many of the new entries guiding the player through the adventure—we’re looking at you, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon—rather than just letting them explore at their own pace.
GameFAQ user SmellyvonBeli expressed their annoyance at the hand-holding, saying “Why can’t I explore on my own? Why does my overly-happy ‘rival’ constantly give me potions, revives, etc? I wish I could just explore new areas at my own pace instead of sitting through cutscenes every 90 seconds.” Now, Pokémon was, and always will be, a game aimed at a younger audience, there’s no disputing that fact. But older fans just aren’t content with that idea anymore. And we think nostalgia is to blame.
You know how it is—you experience something again from your childhood and it’s just not quite as good as you remember it. It’s the same with Pokémon. As you grow up, your perspective of things changes and you mature, so when you sit down to play Pokémon: Ruby Version 19 years later, it’s way easier and less impressive than you remember. This is where the Nuzlocke Challenge really comes into its own—it revitalises a beloved, yet ultimately tired set of games and gives them another chance to shine. And to the nostalgia- and challenge-hungry fans, this is a dream come true.
The Pokémon Nuzlocke Challenge is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping the game series ‘grow up’ however. In fact, a quick Google search will uncover an entire world of Pokémon ROM hacks.
A ROM hack is essentially an altered version of a game. Internet users take the file of an already existing Pokémon game and then mess about with it—adding their own features, some even going as far as creating a whole new version out of a pre-existing one. Some players take matters even further and make their own Pokémon games from scratch, one of the most notorious being Pokémon: Uranium Version which contained a much more mature story and was far more difficult than normal games. It added difficulty modes, a Nuzlocke option when you started the game and a bigger focus on building a competitive team. However, due to legal action being taken against the developers, they had to remove all download links and cease the development of their project in 2016.
As with most things that involve original intellectual properties (IPs), there are certain legal issues that can and will crop up. Pokémon ROM hacks and fan projects unfortunately cross these legal boundaries, with Nintendo historically pursuing a multitude of cease and desist orders. But if these projects are illegal, why do so many people continue to make them?
The answer is simple. As mentioned above, many gamers aren’t happy with the state of Pokémon at present and where Nintendo is taking the franchise. These fan-made games appear to be a public letter to the game developer to step up with Pokémon. If they won’t make the changes that are wanted, then the fans will.
Despite all this, it seems that, to some extent at least, Nintendo has heard the call for Pokémon to grow up. With the release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus on January 28 2022 came a huge leap forward in the way the video game could be experienced. In an article by Wired, YouTuber Rogersbase had this to say about it: “This is like grown-up Pokémon, to the extent that you can make Pokémon grown-up. It’s always gonna be a franchise that is aimed at everybody and can appeal to children.” And he is correct. By opening up the world, giving players the opportunity to explore as much as they see fit, and actually adding some challenge to the game, Pokémon is finally catching up to where fans want it to be.
Let’s take a second and move back to the topic at hand. The Nuzlocke Challenge has been around for many years at this point, and with good reason. With such a fun and refreshing way to re-experience Pokémon, it seems obvious that some people would want to document their adventures. Enter the “PokéTubers.”
A type of YouTuber that makes primarily Pokémon video game content, there are hundreds, if not thousands of examples of this type of content creator around now and many of them take part in playing-through Pokémon games with the Nuzlocke rules. Zwiggo, a PokéTuber from the Netherlands is one of the more popular creators and produces many types of Pokémon challenge videos, including Nuzlocke runs.
This type of video has obviously found its way onto TikTok too, with creators like PurpleCliffe branching out from YouTube. From this, huge communities have been born. Many creators broadcast their runs on streaming services such as Twitch where fans can interact with them on a more personal level. This type of interaction builds up solid communities and fan bases and allows content creators to enjoy and share their often hilarious experiences.
Probably the biggest boost to Nuzlocke’s notoriety was the publication of a video by a YouTuber called Jaiden Animations back in November of 2019. The video followed the animator’s first-ever Nuzlocke of Pokémon: Ruby Version and what started off as a fun and jolly adventure ended in anything but that. One of the most notable moments came when she faced off against the sixth Gym Leader ‘Winona’, who is notorious for sweeping teams.
Prior to the fight, she lost her beloved team member ‘Corn the Nuzleaf’ and when fighting Winona, Jaiden’s ‘Magneton’—an electric-type Pokémon made up of a set of three magnets—aptly named ZIPZAPZOP was almost killed by Winona’s ‘Altaria’ (a large cloud covered bird). “Somehow ZIPZAPZOP lived the earthquake on 2 HP, like a mad lad. Corn must have been looking down on us for this one because there was a 90 per cent chance that ZIPZAPZOP was supposed to die there”
This emotional stance on the Nuzlocke struck a chord with viewers, many relating to the events of the video and exclaiming how emotional it made them.
So, where does this leave Pokémon? With the new generation of games coming to Nintendo Switch at the end of 2022, it will be very interesting to see where Nintendo takes the franchise this time. With the information available, we already know that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Versions will feature a similarly open world to Arceus as well as comparable mechanics. Arceus was a step in the right direction for the game series and it is these types of changes that will more than likely bring veteran fans back into the fray. Will we see a built-in Nuzlocke mode? Probably not, but as long as there are players looking for a new and exciting way to play their childhood favourites, the Pokémon Nuzlocke Challenge will live on.
Jumping on the latest trend is often the key to success for many creators—same goes for Twitch and the concept of a ‘meta’. A ‘metagame’ (shortened meta) refers to finding an optimal way of achieving success in the competitive gaming landscape. As streamers constantly look for ways to maximise growth, reach and income, a controversial meta has been cropping up on the scene. Welcome to the slippery little world of hot tub streams.
Taking off as a full-blown trend last month, hot tub streams usually feature female streamers clad in swimwear—broadcasting directly from their bathtubs or swimming pools. Inflatable tubs, green screens and sometimes even buckets are used by streamers who want to jump on the trend with no major investments. Popular on the platform’s ‘Just Chatting’ directory, hot tub streamers can be found lounging in their tubs for hours chatting to their audience about a wide range of topics.
“I wanted some kind of different content and no one else was doing it,” said variety streamer XoAeriel who jump-started the trend. In an interview with Kotaku, the streamer admitted to purchasing a blow-up hot tub from Amazon with LED lights to go inside before streaming. “Views took off pretty quickly and my following started to grow pretty fast. A few streamers started noticing this and ordered blow-up hot tubs for themselves.”
Since the end of March 2021, popular hot tub streamer Amouranth has gained over 500,000 followers. Indiefoxx, the second biggest streamer to regularly stream from a hot tub, gained almost 300,000 and counting. Although others like Spoopy Kitt and XoAeriel haven’t amassed numbers this large, Kotaku noted how they’ve still managed to pull in thousands of fresh viewers in just over a month.
These streamers also come up with constant innovations to keep hot tub streams alive as a trend. Amouranth, for example, now hosts a podcast with other streamers—engaging in some socially-distanced gossiping sessions broadcasted from their respective hot tubs, be it inflatable or full-blown 8 feet swimming pools. Even the coveted VTubers (Virtual YouTubers) have jumped on the craze, streaming their 2D avatars from customised virtual tubs.
Let’s start by breaking down the demand and impact of hot tub streams on its audience. While hot tub streams usually pan out like all other streams featured on the platform’s ‘Just Chatting’ section, one of the major differences lies in the conversations that go down in the chats. While some viewers ask standard questions about the streamer’s day and future plans, others leer, pass offensive remarks and go as far as imploring female streamers to remove pieces of clothing.
Firedancer, a variety streamer specialising in makeup and cosplay, outlined how harassment has gone up on Twitch ever since the mainstream popularity of hot tub streams. “Some viewers have also gotten very toxic in the last few weeks,” the streamer added in the interview with Kotaku.
One can first-handedly experience these claims themselves by keeping a close eye on the chats under hot tub streams. For the 10-minute window I watched Amouranth’s recent live, I could spot a plethora of suggestive comments—if not emoji combinations—popping up in numbers hard to keep track of. While some engaged in regular conversations with the streamer, others used zeros to replace the os in the word ‘boobs’ to avoid being banned by the moderators in the chat. Some publicly admitted wanting to see an “accidental wardrobe malfunction” while others advised her to start an OnlyFans.
Amouranth, however, mentioned how she has learned to roll with the toxic side of the popularity. “I’ve seen a lot of more conservative (in terms of attire or demeanour) female broadcasters get undue hate or sexual harassment regardless,” Amouranth said to Kotaku.
As for the case with their fellow streamers, hot tub streamers in particular have been accused of stealing viewers by taking advantage of “horny nerds” on the platform. These niche streamers have been slut-shamed for being “scantily-dressed” and “acting provocatively” in order to increase their viewership and subscriber count. Dubbed “the most pathetic thing seen on Twitch in forever” by co-streamers like xQc, hot tub streams have spurred another controversy as to what constitutes a ‘real gamer’.
While some argue that streamers who “flaunt their body” and focus on looks to succeed can’t be termed ‘real gamers’, others highlight how hot tub streamers set standards for other female streamers—making it difficult to retain subscribers who increasingly expect them to jump on the trend.
However, it should be noted that a ‘gamer’ isn’t necessarily a tag for a special class of people. If you whip out your dusty little Oxford dictionaries, you can see how the word is used to define absolutely anyone with interest in video and role-playing games. It all boils down to our social conditioning in the gaming landscape—where women have to often prove that they’re ‘real’ gamers whereas men are just given the benefit of the doubt.
Twitch is a platform well-known for the strict reinforcement of its community guidelines—resulting in numerous bans for the streamers who dare violate them. So why are hot tub streams still a craze on the platform? Why hasn’t Twitch expectedly cracked down on the trend?
“Swimwear is permitted as long as it completely covers the genitals, and those who present as women must also cover their nipples,” reads Twitch’s policy around sexually suggestive content. “Full coverage of buttocks is not required, but camera focus around them is still subject to our sexually suggestive content policy. Coverage must be fully opaque, even when wet. Sheer or partially see-through swimwear or other clothing does not constitute coverage.”
Well, hot tub streams technically abide by all of these rules mentioned. Neither do the cameras “focus on breasts, buttocks, or pelvic region” nor do the streamers wear “sheer or see-through swimwear.” This is why the trend has garnered a ‘loophole’ status in the community—allowing streamers to ‘exploit’ the loophole and broadcast in swimwear from any location which previously required them to be near a pool or beach to do so.
“People are frustrated because they feel like Twitch’s platform is being taken advantage of,” said QTCinderella to Kotaku. “However, hot tub streamers are not taking advantage of the platform because the platform is currently allowing it.” The female streamer thereby urges Twitch to be more vocal with their audiences about their stance on the issue. “By not doing so, it is encouraging a bizarre pent-up resentment,” QTCinderella added.
Over the years, female streamers have been banned from Twitch for wearing tank tops and swimsuits in other contexts. Branded “titty streamers” and other derogatory terms, the controversy around ‘appropriate’ female attire has prompted Twitch to consistently crack down on these streamers. Hot tub streams could either be an ironic ‘movement’ fostered from the ashes of these bans or be a fad waiting for another meta to replace them.