I’ll admit that I’ve never played Pokemon. I’ll also admit that in college, I was completed addicted to the cartoon and that Psyduck was by far my favorite. I haven’t really followed the evolution of the game, other than knowing that kids still play the most recent iteration. Now, Pokemon has evolved again, thanks to Twitch—the world’s largest online video gaming platform. For the past week and a half, a new channel called TwitchPlaysPokemon has allowed up to 120,000 users to play Pokemon Red/Blue at the same time.
Every month, over 45 million gamers user Twitch to broadcast, view, and chat about their favorite games. The idea is to create a community in which gamers can come together and participate communally in the video game experience by doing more than just playing. The Pokemon Red/Blue game is unique not only because the number of simultaneous active users topped 80,000 within five days of the channel going up, but because of how the game works.
TwitchPlaysPokemon is both the channel name and the game tag for the user who set up the channel. The game works not via conventional button pushes, but by taking commands via chat. If a user types “up” or “left,” that’s where the character moves. The channel is a social experiment created to “test the viability of this format, the way people interact with the input system and the way they interact socially with each other.” Of course, with tens of thousands of people inputting commands, Red, the main character, moves around crazily, banging into walls, tracing and retracing steps, and doubling back again and again as though he’s got multiple personality disorder (which he pretty much does at this point).
Users have to work together to capture Pokemon, but the more users that join, the more difficult it is to get a handle on Red’s efficiency. Thus, the game now has two modes—anarchy mode and democracy mode. In anarchy mode, all of the inputs from users take immediate effect, but in democracy mode, the program identifies the most popular inputted command during a 20-second window and applies it. Switching from one mode to another also requires a vote—80% of the votes have to be for democracy mode in order to switch away from anarchy mode, but only 50% of voters need to call for anarchy in order to leave democracy mode behind. The reasoning behind these different numbers is that if each switch required 75% of the votes, as it initially did, it would take fewer people to disrupt democracy than to reinstate anarchy.
The experiment is unique as it blends an old-school game, live video, and real-time participation. Users seem to be enjoying it, having created their own subreddit and Twitter feed. The user who created the channel is still anonymous, and says s/he really just wanted to see how other gamers would react. S/he has been keeping track of the game process and says a win would mean the online community defeating the Elite Four—the bad guys standing in the way of the final battle. It’ll be interesting to see if the tens of thousands of gamers can get it together to collaboratively achieve victory. It will also be interesting to see what effects this has on Twitch and the gaming community.