The Internet Has Brought Thousands of People Together to Play Pokemon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 10:59 AM

twitch plays pokemon (twitch.tv)

In its purest and most noble form, the internet is an experiment in community building. It allows people who would have no reason to interact in the real world to come together to work toward, or in some cases against, a common goal. In the case of Twitch Plays Pokemon, it allows tens of thousands of people to get together to play a game of Pokemon Red for the old-school Nintendo Game Boy.

The way it works is that there is a live stream of the game on the website twitch.tv. If you sign up on the website, you can enter commands to guide the game's protagonist. It's made more difficult by the fact that as of this writing, there are 58,000 people watching the channel, and the commands are flying by so fast your character is not doing much but walking in circles. There are some players who are interested in seeing the character progress through the game, but others are just enjoying watching him flail helplessly, much to the consternation of the people actually trying to play. It looks like this.

It has become such an internet phenomenon that it has spawned its own memes and in jokes. A Google Doc has been set up to chart the in-game progress. And even though watching at any given time just feels like watching a character bump into walls over and over again, the hive mind has managed to make it surprisingly far into the game over the past five days.

I love Twitch Plays Pokemon. Even though I'm not entirely clear on the intentions of the channel's creators, it has become a weird metaphor for the messy democracy of the internet. Only online would a ridiculous experiment like this flourish, and in its way it has the flavor of all online interaction; there are a core of users who are genuinely trying to work together to overcome the din of all the voices in the room, and a bunch of griefers and trolls who are trying to undermine the whole enterprise.

The channel's creator also changed the game so that it has two modes: "democracy" and "anarchy." "Anarchy" is the original game mode, where every command entered automatically feeds to the game. "Democracy" requires a certain number of players to input a command before the game will respond. To change the game modes, a certain number of players have to enter "democracy" or "anarchy" into the command box. So it has become another front on which the Twitch players are waging battle.

It can be by turns fascinating, boring, and truly frustrating to watch.  But a world where Twitch Plays Pokemon exists, a world where I get to watch the internet shambolically guide a character in 15-year-old video game slowly toward a pretty arbitrary goal is the only world I want to live in.

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Comments [3]

That is awesome.

Apr. 14 2014 01:42 PM

I remember hearing about this, but I never did read an article. This is pretty crazy though.

Apr. 14 2014 01:40 PM
Hallie from Fort Worth, TX

I have a theory that I desperately want to be true: the creator is a researcher. By introducing the "anarchy" and "democracy" factor, he's manipulating variables. It would take some finagling to get around an institutional review board to let you get around informed consent if he/she is planning to publish, but my god do I it to be true. I want to read that paper.

Feb. 20 2014 09:26 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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