Twitch Plays Pokemon: Thousands of users simultaneously play ‘Pokemon Red’ in video game social experiment

Posted on Mar 11 2014 - 9:52am by Guest Writer

By Nicole Laborte, Guest Writer

If an infinite number of monkeys type at an infinite number of keyboards for an infinite length of time, one of them will write the complete works of Shakespeare.

This is the theory behind the video game “Twitch Plays Pokemon,” in which an unlimited number of users play a single game of “Pokemon Red.”

While in democracy mode, viewers vote on which direction the character should move. Source: Joystiq.com

It took an estimated 658,000 participants 16 days to beat the video game “Pokemon Red” in the Internet social experiment “Twitch Plays Pokemon.” Source: Reddit user Purplemew.

“Twitch Plays Pokemon” started as a social experiment launched by an anonymous Australian programmer.

Tens of thousands of serious players and trolls alike enter commands to control the in-game protagonist, Red. A computer tries to implement every one of them. From the ensuing chaos, the game is won by sheer luck rather than skill.

The programmer chose “Pokemon Red” for the experiment, because the game’s play style does not demand the player to react quickly, and any delay in the stream would not be completely detrimental to those participating.

The stream launched Feb. 12, quickly becoming popular on Internet sites like Reddit and Tumblr. Communities live blogged events and spawned several memes in response to the natural chaos that ensued from the experiment.

One of the more popular memes, the Helix Fossil, was born due to Red’s constant ‘accidental’ attempts to use the Helix Fossil while in and outside of battle.

Viewers jokingly believed that the Helix Fossil was Red’s deity, as he was constantly consulting the Helix for advice. This led to the creation of a fictional backstory of a holy war between the Helix, or “the good” followers, and the Dome, or “the evil” followers.

All successful events and useful Pokemon were considered to be part of the Helix sect, such as the very high-leveled Pidgeot Pokemon, called “Bird Jesus,” that led to many battle victories.

Participants blamed anything unfortunate on the Dome Fossil, like the accidental release of important party Pokemon into the wild — known as “Bloody Sunday” — or evolving Eevee into the fire Pokemon Flareon — deemed the “False Prophet” — instead of its more useful water evolution Vaporeon.

With so many participants at one time, including a handful of Internet trolls spamming unhelpful commands, viewers grew frustrated while attempting to complete puzzles to progress. In an attempt to fix this problem, the programmer implemented a democracy-anarchy system.

In democracy mode, viewers could vote on what command the character would follow, like “up4” to move up four times. Anarchy mode was what had existed before — following each command in order regardless of whether it was towards an end goal.

Many of the followers were outraged by the implementation of this system. Those favoring ‘anarchy’ mode would riot and spam “start9,” a command equivalent to hitting the start button nine times.

This effectively brought the game to a standstill until anarchy was in place again. Depending on what the hive mind wanted to achieve, the command system oscillated between democracy and anarchy for the rest of the game with both positive and negative results.

Sixteen days, seven hours, 45 minutes and 30 seconds after launching, viewers successfully beat the Elite Four and completed the game.

According to the Twitch.tv site’s owners, Twitch Plays Pokemon received more than 36 million views during that time, with a peak of 120,000 simultaneous viewers and an estimated 658,000 participants.

The anonymous programmer continued the experiment with the next in the generation, “Pokemon Crystal,” which officially launched March 2.

To watch the game or play along, go to: http://www.twitch.tv/twitchplayspokemon.

While in democracy mode, viewers vote on which direction the character should move. Source: Joystiq.com

While in democracy mode, viewers vote on which direction the character should move. Source: Joystiq.com