Do you want to look into the eye of madness? See the inextricable fabric of humanity’s desires mashed together into a never ending stream of consciousness? If so, then you need to head on over to Twitch and start watching Twitch Plays Pokemon right now.
Twitch Plays Pokemon is a social experiment that has absolutely fascinated me over the past couple days. In a nutshell, it’s a stream of an emulation of the Gameboy version of Pokemon Red that is being played by the entire viewing community. According to the page’s FAQ, an IRC bot translates the community’s chat into keyboard commands, and performs them in real time to the best of the emulator’s ability. Watching right now there are currently ~85000 viewers, and many of them are participating simultaneously in a glorious cacophony of text .
As my Twitter compatriot @Dunny0 so aptly pointed out, the concept of this experiment seems to be based on the infinite monkey theorum. An infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters with infinite time will eventually create the complete works of William Shakespeare… or something like that. Out of chaos, order. This seems to be rooted in a similar theory but Pokemon is, at it’s core, a very linear game. So there is a path that the community must tread in order to make progress.
Well, against all common sense and odds, progress is definitely being made.
Even though the times I have played Pokemon I can’t get past the second or third badge without getting bored, the Twitch community has already progressed farther than I ever have and have achieved, at the time of this writing, FOUR BADGES!! FOUR!!!
What is this… I can’t even… FOUR?!!!
“How” is the immediate question that comes to mind, and the only answer I can really give is “guided chaos“. Every entry, if the emulator acknowledges it, is completed. Menus open and close instantly, items are moved around at random. Pokemons have names like “CCC” (sadly, CCC, the Hitmonlee received from the Saffron City Fighting Dojo, was accidentally released into the wild the first time Red stepped up to get it out of PC storage), other names like “AAJST (????”, or my personal favorite, a Zubat named “JJSSSSS-“. Small menus, the community is just not skilled enough to navigate easily. Every time the menu opens, there’s the chance of deleting items or sending caught pokemon into the wild.
But yet the game has very specific goals. Get to the next trainer, earn the next badge, get a key, an item, teach a move to a Pokemon, etc. If you know the game, then you know where and what to do next, which the community obviously does. The hard part, then, is simply in getting the community to do it. I do wonder if there will come a time when an in-game obstacle is simply insurmountable with the chaotic nature of this experiment, and what will happen then? And if not, CAN 85000 people Really beat the game, all working in a maelstrom of digital noise?
Of course, aside from the anarchy there is also a “democracy” setting, where only the most popular option in a brief timespan is the accepted entry. This would help in menus and the PC where more adroit keypresses are needed, but that still ends up being a slow process. And even when democracy mode is achieved, just like our own US government, efforts are made to block all progress during the democracy until anarchy is once again established. Instead of filibusters and refusals to pass funding measures, though, the dreaded “start9” is used, which tells the emulator to press the ‘start’ button 9 times in a row, hindering progress. As you can see from the screenshot above and the multiple people saying “democracy”, the way to get to that mode is by a majority vote from the community.
To be fair, though, as a spectator “anarchy” is a lot more entertaining to watch.
P.S. – If you want a recap of what is going on, or want to get caught up on what you missed, the Reddit community has a Twitch Plays Pokemon page up that gives a play-by-play in real time. I highly suggest watching that as well, as watching the actual feed can drive you mad if you watch it too long. You know the saying: “If you gaze into the Twitch Plays Pokemon, the Twitch Plays Pokemon gazes also into you.”