There’s elaborate performance art, and then there’s what renowned Twitch jester Jerma did over the weekend. In a truly inspired stream, he parodied the recent Pokémon booster pack craze by going out into the Nevada desert and pretending to excavate a chest seemingly full of unopened Pokémon cards from 1997. They turned out to be something different: Grotto Beasts. Spoiler: Grotto Beasts is not and never has been a real series, but that hasn’t stopped Jerma’s community from taking the joke and running with it to the furthest ends of the internet.
The stream, which took place on Saturday, set a new high bar for the phrase “commitment to a bit.” Jerma went out into the Nevada desert with an excavator, a production crew, and a paleontologist from the Nevada Science Center. Clad in an archaeologist outfit that was definitely just a Poe Dameron Halloween costume and a scarf, he unearthed a wooden chest apparently left behind by his grandpa. It contained a treasure trove of ‘90s snacks—which Jerma joked were underwhelming because Dunkaroos, Surge soda, and the like came back after “a bunch of people complained on Twitter”—and a box of “collectible monster card packs” from 1997. Jerma, never once breaking character, lost his shit. After all, old Pokémon cards can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars now.
He proceeded to delicately pry open the box, only to find booster packs for something called Grotto Beasts.
“Grandpa, you picked...” he said in a tone of faux-bewilderment. “This shit didn’t even go for one full season on TV.”
Once he started opening the packs, however, he came across some legitimately interesting creature designs, like Veggiroo, a kangaroo made of vegetables, and Meowdy, the cowboy cat. “These are actually fucking cool,” he said.
Of course, everybody in chat already knew it was a gag; that was the fun of it. Plus, evidence of the cards’ true origin was hidden in plain sight, with each card displaying the Twitter handle of the artist who drew it. On Twitter, artists were ecstatic at how well their work was being received.
“I’m so overwhelmed with the response about Grotto Beasts from @Jerma985‘s stream!!” Hollulu, one of the artists who worked on the project, said on Twitter. “It was an honor to work on them, and it couldn’t have been done without the other fantastic artists, @Sturnerart, @melscribbles, @BellymouthArt, who all knocked it out the park!!”
That’s an understatement, given the timeframe they were working with. In a DM, Melscribbles told Kotaku that “we managed to get it all done in just over a week.”
Hollulu, a moderator for Jerma’s community, said it all started when Jerma approached her with the basic idea for the stream—his grandpa stashed away valuable cards, which would turn out to be from the wrong series—and gave her “a ton of creative freedom” to execute it as she saw fit. Due to the quick turnaround time, she decided to assemble a relatively small team of three artists from Jerma’s community.
“We created 40 monsters total, with a few other monsters that were left as concept sketches in our shared group chat due to the timeframe limitations,” Hollulu told Kotaku in an email. “I designed the card overlays, and Sturner and I collaborated on the box, with him doing the background art and me doing the logo and the rest of the text and graphics. We worked together on naming the creatures and adjusting their stats, some background stories, and abilities that would be fitting.”
The stream felt like it had been planned out for much longer, with an entire second segment in which Jerma and a legitimate paleontologist, Joshua Bonde from the Nevada Science Center, cracked open geodes and examined the crystal formations within. Bonde patiently explained the combinations of air and water that had caused unique patterns to form over the course of thousands of years, even as Jerma occasionally produced gag geodes that contained things like plastic Minecraft diamonds and a seed pack from Stardew Valley. Jerma, meanwhile, reacted to Bonde’s explanations with real enthusiasm, saying that if he’d been able to do this when he was 20, he’d be a paleontologist now and not a streamer. It was funny, wholesome, weirdly educational entertainment—and it was wholly unlike anything anyone has done on Twitch before.
Bonde said that he got involved, via the Science Center, when Jerma’s production team expressed interest in finding a content expert to talk about geodes they had acquired. Bonde’s primary goal was to educate people, while also raising awareness about the Nevada Science Center. He feels like he succeeded. “In addition to the fun, I feel we were able to do some good sciencing too,” Bonde told Kotaku in an email. “Science is fun!”
Bonde went on to say that, despite appearances, he was briefed beforehand about the gag geodes.
“The production team told me on site that there were going to be some ‘fun’ ones, haha,” said Bonde. “I was just trying to be the serious scientist persona, but I thought it was funny. I used to be a college professor, and I found that mixing humor and education is not that bad a cocktail.”
Bonde also noted that this was his first brush with Twitch. While he’s livestreamed events for the Science Center, he’s never done it with a side helping of Twitch culture before. “I had to ask my 16 year-old stepson Alex to fill me in on the details,” Bonde said, “which he patiently did.”
After the stream wrapped up, fans immediately latched onto Grotto Beasts. It did not take them long to discover an official website (seemingly created by Jerma) that looks like a Geocities page from 1997, complete with an info signup form that promises a launch in “mid-1997.” If you dig into the page’s code, you can even find a webmaster email address, which some fans have reached out to in an attempt to get jobs. Others took matters into their own hands, continuing the idea that Grotto Beasts was definitely a real ‘90s Poké-wannabe with their own period-appropriate art and theme songs—which they “found” in closets and on cassette tapes—as well as an entire Discord and subreddit where users create monsters and mechanics to pretend to be nostalgic about in real time.
For example, one user on the subreddit posted about a card called “Sk-8-ter Shroom” with an ability that lets you “Take your opponent’s Grotto Beast and shred it in front of their face.”
“I took this card away from my friend, but he continued to use the ability,” said another user, waxing faux-nostalgic.
Hollulu said she’s “floored” by the response.
“I’ve been a part of Jerma’s community for a while and know that folks usually have such a great sense of humor, creativity, and will go along with jokes and elevate them, but I did not expect this much reception nor so quickly!” she said. “I’m incredibly thankful, and it’s been so fun to sit back and watch folks make their own fan Grotto Beast designs, fanart, music, [and] unofficial Discords where they organize the stats and compile secrets we’ve hidden around. The tough part has been keeping quiet about this all.”
This all sprang up incredibly quickly, with entire songs and cards materializing mere hours after Jerma’s stream ended on Saturday. If you weren’t in on the joke, you could be tricked into believing that people really have been sitting on hazy memories of an ill-fated Pokémon clone for over two decades. All this from a parody stream that taught people about rocks. These days it’s about as rare as a holographic Razzleposs, but sometimes, the internet is alright.
Update 3/9/2021: 12:30 PM: Added quotes from Hollulu and Bonde, both of whom responded to Kotaku’s inquiries after this story had already been published.