For the last three nights, Catherine Moresco has slept with the lights on in her New York University dorm room. Why? Because her betta fish, Grayson, is currently playing Pokemon for 20,000 people on the Internet, and she doesn't want to risk pissing them off. 'Fish Plays Pokemon' has gone viral, after all.
"I just don't want to disappoint anyone who's watching," Moresco told me this morning as Grayson swam around his tank, causing his Pokemon character to hit the "pause" button. You see, Grayson's character moves around the game depending on where he swims in his tank.
Like any great Pokemon master, Grayson the fish has humble beginnings. Moresco and her friend, Patrick Facheris, decided to buy him from a Petco in New York a few weeks ago. Moresco and Facheris are both involved with HackNY, so they naturally decided to rig his tank with a webcam. After a week or two of having his every moment broadcast to Moresco at work, they decided to take it one step further. They rigged the tank with a motion detector, added a lovely backdrop comprised of a random NYU flier, and hooked it up to an emulator, so Grayson could begin his long journey to becoming the champion of the Elite Four.
And what a journey it's been. After hours spent walking around his room, Grayson's character eventually, improbably, managed to get his first Pokemon from Professor Oak. Since then, he's spent a lot of time wandering Pallet Town, perhaps afraid of running into a wild Magikarp. When Moresco and I decided to feed him, he was walking into a fence.
That hasn't stopped tens of thousands of people from watching the fish on his journey. Just like in Twitch Plays Pokemon, Fish Plays Pokemon has its own subreddit, its own mythology, its own fan art. People get pissed off when Grayson sleeps on his leaf hammock (betta fish can get oxygen from both the air and from the water), making his Pokemon character do a whole lot of nothing.
Getting a good angle to take a photo of Grayson is nearly impossible. Image: Author
And he'll do a whole lot of nothing tomorrow, too. Moresco is moving out of her NYU dorm and heading back to Chicago, where she attends the University of Chicago.
"He's going to have to stop playing for a while, I don't think I can carry the webcam with me on transit," she told me. "We'll probably throw up a countdown. I'm not sure where he'll stay—maybe at my sister's place, maybe at my parents'. We're trying to get him back up playing as fast as possible, hopefully for as little as 12 hours."
Moresco and her invention. Image: Author
So far, a few people have suggested that Grayson is being abused, or doesn't have a good home. I can say that, other than the whitewashed walls prevalent in college dorms nationwide, Grayson appears to have a good home, and a good owner. His tank's position, underneath a shelf filled with hair dryers and books about programming and forming a startup, make it tough to take good photos of him—and moving him at this point is out of the question, because it'd mess with the livestream.
Moresco says Grayson hasn't become a diva since finding fame, and that he generally ambles around the tank pretty aimlessly.
His notoriety has enabled a small fundraising drive, and he's probably going to be getting a bigger tank with a castle background because of it.
"I'm enjoying the ride for what it is," Moresco said. "It's fun to see what people are doing with it, to see how much fun other people are having from it. I'm not really expecting it to last."