Game Experiment: Twitch Discovers Social Truths and Trolls Itself with Twitch Plays Pokemon
This week’s Game Experiment combines two of our favorite things, sociology and Pokemon.
A brand new craze has been sweeping Twitch. This Twitch Plays craze features gamers who hook up emulators to a script that reads the text in a Twitch chat room. The text is then converted into commands for the emulator to process. Type “up” in the chat room and the emulator presses up on the d-pad. Type “a” and it presses the a button. Now this might sound simple, but when you consider the fact that streams like this have attracted over 70,000 viewers at a time, you might think that thing would get a little chaotic… and you would be right.
The very first of its kind was Twitch Plays Pokemon, a stream in which the chat room played Pokemon Red. The stream has been going for over six days straight now, logging in over 150 hours of gameplay time. It has two operating modes, anarchy and democracy. In anarchy mode, anyone can type any command and the emulator parses the command as soon as it is received. This leads to a lot of walking in circles, needless menu stops, weird battle decisions and more. In democracy mode, the emulator takes each command as a vote for the best possible course of action. After 20 seconds, the command that was most voted for executes.
To put the emulator into either mode, all you have to do is type “anarchy” or “democracy” into the chat window. Each time you do so, it’s counted as a vote. When 75% of the votes swing toward one mode, the emulator switches.
Twitch Plays Pokemon is a really interesting social experiment that says quite a bit about an unchecked and unruly mob. For one, the mob nearly always tends toward anarchy. In fact, if democracy mode ever managed to engage, it actually only empowers the contingent that wants to switch the game back to anarchy mode, allowing them to lump all their votes together. Democracy is largely seen as slow and boring and many people feel like their voices aren’t being heard. Not to mention a large enough group of people who are trying to simply ruin everyone’s time can totally shut down democracy mode. When democracy mode was implemented, people routinely flooded the room with the “start9” command to press start 9 times in order to do nothing but open and close the menu in protest.
Second of all, even though the game does tend to stay in a state of anarchy, progress is always being made. Four badges have been gained at this point, and some powerful Pokemon have been raised, including a level 47 Pidgeot. Even though it takes literally hours to get past things like ledges and half the game is spend simply looking at the Helix Fossil in your bag, the game pushes itself ever forward to completion.
All this progress occurs despite a rival channel, entitled Twitch Plays Pokemon Plays Tetris, in which the same inputs used in the Pokemon game are parsed for a game of NES Tetris. In fact, there are routinely people posting commands in the Pokemon room who are really playing Tetris instead.
This is basically a real life example of the Shakespearian Monkeys thought experiment. For those of you unfamiliar, the idea is that a room full of monkeys banging on typewriters, given an infinite amount of time, will be able to produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Simiarly, we are now seeing whether a room filled with random Twitch users will be able to produce a stream of inputs that will eventually complete Pokemon Red.
But the most interesting things that come out of Twitch Plays Pokemon are the memes. Because the Helix Fossil was looked at so much, streamers started treating it like a religious symbol. The failed attempt to make a Vaporeon out of an Eevee made the stream call the resulting Flareon a false prophet. Huge factions of people are rallying behind Anarchy or Democracy, warring for which one they think governs the game best. One has to wonder, maybe this is how the world’s first religions and governments were formed, out of the frothing masses shouting in a world filled with barley guided chaos…
… or maybe it’s just a bunch of internet trolls playing Pokemon. Who knows?