Twitch Plays Pokemon – Ah, the good old days. Back then, there was no better way to spend your afternoon off than by playing your favorite console. If you had a few of your buddies over, that was even better, since you had an instant party. The immediacy was what made consoles awesome – there was no setup required, no installation of games, updates or patches. You could just power it on, pick up a controller and start playing. Well, that’s how things used to work.
Even though early consoles were hilariously weak in terms of performance and had no modding capability, there was, and to a degree still is, a certain charm in owning and playing a console. There was one major flaw though – the maximum number of players was limited to 2. Even though Sony tried to remedy the issue with its exotic Multitap accessory while Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo’s N64 had 4 controller ports, the logistics became more and more convoluted as the number of players increased. Splitscreen with 4 players is impossible to enjoy and you need a pretty big couch unless somebody is willing to sit on the floor.
That’s the reason why, if you had a couple of friends over, you pretty much had to take turns playing while the rest watched. But let’s imagine a situation where technology has advanced to such a degree that all of your friends can come over and play at the same time, without taking turns, each on his own controller. Now let’s scale that up and say you have 50,000 friends over. All playing at the same time. On a single controller. What do you think the result would be?
Welcome to anarchy
The result would be unmitigated and total chaos. Which is exactly what happened when a small experiment was started on a Twitch channel by an anonymous programmer. It soon became the most interesting social and gaming experiment in recent years.
The idea was that the chat input from all users watching the stream of the game being played would be processed by a Java script and then entered into a Gameboy emulator running the 1st generation Pokemon game. This would have been doable had the number of simultaneous viewers remained 10 or 20, but soon enough, their numbers swelled into thousands. The best word to describe it would be anarchy.
The problem was the input lag and the sheer mass of people who wanted nothing more than to impede the progress of the game. After hours of frustration, the script was finally tweaked to take an average of all commands inputted into chat in 30 seconds. This outraged some viewers and enthused others. Eventually, the game was beaten and it only took 16 days but not before creating a cult following with its own memes, expressions and traditions.
Flashmob MMO gaming
There is an interesting conclusion to be drawn from the “Twitch plays Pokemon” experiment, namely, video games are truly ageless and the enjoyment we derive from them does not depend on either the graphical fidelity or the complexity. Rather, the biggest factor appears to be the number of people involved. With the advent of Internet and broadband connections, everything has the potential to become an MMO. The possibilities are endless and, by the looks of it, a game of Pokemon played via Twitch chat by tens of thousands of people is just the beginning.