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This is real: 20K Twitch users are watching a fish play Pokemon

Fish Plays Pokemon is about one pet fish's struggle against chaos -- and it has the Internet tuning in by the thousands.

Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

If you thought it was ridiculous that tens of thousands of human beings cooperated on a single game of the classic role-playing title Pokemon, as they first did back in February, then prepare yourself. For Fish Plays Pokemon -- in which a single pet fish struggles beyond all reason and the limitations of its cognitive capacity -- will test not only your patience, but your sanity as well.

Unbeknownst to him, Grayson Hopper, a dorm room-dwelling citrus-colored fish of currently unknown species, has been plugging away rather unsuccessfully on a copy of the Game Boy classic Pokemon Red/Blue for around 135 hours. By setting up a motion capture camera, the Fish Plays Pokemon channel owners are translating Grayson's aimless fishbowl wanderings into button commands like up, down, A, and B that control the main character, all while users on the video-streaming site watch in wonder and frustration.

The college kids, whose names remain unknown at the moment, threw the project together in 24 hours as part of HackNY, a hackathon series for students co-organized by New York University and Columbia University. As of 10:35 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday, more than 20,000 Twitch users are actively watching the stream and rallying around Grayson's lack of progress in the comments section, while lifetime stream views are approaching 50,000.

The original Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon was kicked off by an anonymous Australian engineer and has since evolved into a sprawling online community spanning multiple Pokemon games, all buoyed by an elaborate and silly Internet culture spanning sites like Reddit and 4chan. The mechanics then involved crowdsourcing button commands through a mix of randomly selected user comments and a democratic-style voting process. Grayson isn't quite as sophisticated; he's a fish. So he tends to wander around and hangout in corners a lot. Sometimes he sleeps. "No, the fish is not dead," the channel owners have stressed on the Twitch page.

While Grayson has not yet traversed to the game's first of eight bosses, known as gym leaders, he has in fact made some progress. "Last time I checked, Grayson had acquired his first Pokemon, a Charmander named AAAABBK and defeated his first opponent, the rival's Squirtle!" reads the latest update.

In the future, Grayson will be getting a dedicated lamp that will allow stream viewers to check in on Grayson at night while the dorm room denizens sleep. Button randomization, which will improve the sluggish nature of the fish's play through, is also on the way. Though Fish Plays Pokemon has even grander plans in the works.

"Things can move a little slow, so another option we're considering is making the system distributed where we have a site where you can provide a fish stream link and we'll include it in the controlling," the channel reads. If more people's pet fishes get in on the fun, we can confidently declare that the Internet will have ventured even further down a rabbit hole of its own making.