In the past month it's been almost impossible to avoid news of the internet's newest craze. Unless you've been camping out under a virtual rock, you've probably heard about (and gotten tired of hearing about) Twitch Plays Pokemon, a live stream and "social experiment" on Twitch.tv. It has become a monumental success almost overnight and has gained the attention of multiple media outlets. So what was so amazing about an internet fad that it made the news?
For the unfamiliar, Twitch Plays Pokemon, or TPP as it will be referred to from here on, is a crowdsourced attempt to play emulated versions of Pokemon games, first Red and now Crystal, via the channel's chatroom which parses commands into movements on screen. For example, you type "left", the player-character (Red the Pokemon trainer) heads left; you type "right", he goes right, and so forth. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, until you have over 100,000 people playing. Simultaneously.
With TPP’s unusual level of interactivity, once simple elements of gameplay have been made into back-breaking hurdles. Not only was there the difficulty of getting a command recognized and for that command to be effective, there’s also a 10 second delay between inputting it and when the game recognizes it. The chaos that bloomed from having tens of thousands of people playing a single game at once served as entertainment and also propelled it to internet fame. As expected of something that requires teamwork, there are often people who work not to propel Red to his goals, but to hinder any and all progress.
After facing major difficulties during a particularly harrowing section of the game, a new mechanic was introduced by the anonymous Australian programmer who made TPP. Users could now switch between “Anarchy”, the default mode in which the game will try to perform every command entered, and “Democracy”, the new mode that enabled the game to try and perform only the most typed commands in the chat for every 10 second period.
On March 1, 2014, TPP did the impossible. Pokemon Red was completed with no less than 1.16 million participants and 36 million views during the experiment. This accomplishment not only brought with it a multitude of mythology and narrative from the TPP world, but also served as an inspiration to many and a renewed faith in humanity. TPP’s essence was that it was a simple game with simple mechanics and a simple path, but it was troubled and impeded at every turn by contradicting, irrational forces.
Many people have equated this with life, for what is life but simplicity made into chaos by things out of our control? If TPP could achieve victory in Pokemon Red, overcoming adversity as a group, then we all have a chance of being successful in life.
- Sarah Ji-