Feature Article

Twitch Plays Pokemon Is a Fascinating Vision of the Future

An unexpected evolution.

It's like some kind of unholy convergence of every modern gaming trend. Thousands upon thousands of people wrestling for one digital controller, eyes captivated and attentions fixed, willing Red to perform the most basic functions known to Pokemon trainers. More social experiment than game, Twitch Plays Pokemon uses crowd sourcing in such a fascinating way that it's utterly mesmerizing, even for someone who could not care less about the goings-on in the land of Kanto. As strange as it sounds, this is the destination of the path gaming has been venturing down the last few years. The result is like nothing that I ever expected: terrifying yet uplifting, and completely unpredictable.

The name Twitch Plays Pokemon simultaneously communicates everything that this experience is while explaining nothing about how it works. The aptly named user TwitchPlaysPokemon created a way for Twitch goers to control Pokemon Red/Blue by typing commands within the chat window. Imagine the chaos, for a second, of countless people typing "Up" or "B" at once, forcing Red to wiggle and jive as if he had a family of Caterpie dancing in his pants. Each time someone would enter a button prompt, Red would react accordingly, causing chaos to reign over the peaceful land in which the Pokemon roam.

This tug-of-war control scheme incited a political revolution. When every person's voice carries the same weight, it's anarchy. Clearly, a proper society cannot function under such a lawless system. So how about giving power to the majority while shunning those with outside--and potentially dangerous--ideas? That's where democracy comes in. If enough users vote for democracy, the rules controlling Red shift, and his movements are restricted to what the majority of people desire. But don't expect a democratic state to rule for long. Opposing factions--also known as Poketrolls--can vote for anarchy to come back, so not only are people typing commands in the chat box to move Red, but they are also continually voting for which political system they favor.

The result is like nothing that I ever expected: terrifying yet uplifting, and completely unpredictable.

The result is much more appealing than I would have imagined. Every small success is so unexpected, so empowering, that even I, someone who has turned his nose up at Pokemon for more than two decades, couldn't help but laugh. How so many people could work together to achieve the same goal is a testament to the fortitude and willpower of the human spirit to overcome the cruel nature of other humans. And that's only a slight exaggeration. Considering how frustrating it is to deal with the usurpers who are trying to thwart every smart strategy, the fact that the determined are still making progress is an achievement I wouldn't have thought possible.

Crowd sourcing normally surfaces in gaming through alternate ways to fund projects or enact community feedback on content updates. Seeing it implemented in such a drastically different way is certainly novel, and definitely aggravating, but also an example of why it's so difficult to predict trends. Who could have seen this coming?

And you thought Dark Souls had an interesting social dynamic.

It's also a bold step in an unexpected direction for social connectivity. The current consoles were built upon a foundation of a connected community, and developers have taken steps to tear down the walls that separate solo efforts from multiplayer events. Twitch Plays Pokemon takes something that has become an accepted part of gaming and turned it on its head. There's little similarity between the expansive adventures the upcoming Destiny will house and what's going on in that Twitch channel, and yet they come from the same place. People inevitably flock together, be it to collaborate on awe-inspiring creations in Minecraft or to kill a common foe in Dark Souls, though such games follow typical gaming rules. Twitch Plays Pokemon changes everything, stripping out the direct control and multiple characters that we've taken for granted, to produce a unique social experience.

How about the clash between cooperative goals and competitive conquests? That element, which has made something like Evolve so enticing, surfaces in Twitch Plays Pokemon, though in a markedly different form from the hunters vs. monsters showdowns in Turtle Rock Studio's forthcoming shooter. There aren't opposing factions within the game; rather, the two competing sides exist in the real world. There are those who want to achieve Internet glory in Pokemon Red/Blue by somehow finishing this classic with thousands of strangers by their side. And then there are those who would rather halt the fun of others by having their own brand of fun. It's good vs. evil, builders vs. destroyers, earnest trainers vs. riotous griefers. Pick your team wisely. Once the dust settles, you won't want to be left standing on the wrong side.

Twitch Plays Pokemon also exhibits the free-to-play model that has transformed so much of what we love into something unrecognizable, but there's no asterisk on this game. It's free-to-play without any small print; it's free in every way. The only currency that will run dry is your patience. We're also seeing a use for live-streaming that comes out of left field. It's pretty incredible that Twitch Plays Pokemon surfaced after the sea of Let's Plays out there, and it's great that Nintendo's lawyers didn't try to halt people's fun. And don't forget about schadenfreude. Getting pleasure from the misfortune of others is a core aspect of game design, be it in the way we hound peaceful citizens in Skyrim or laugh while cutting down a newbie in League of Legends. In Twitch Plays Pokemon, the schadenfreude extends even further, for not only are you making the life of someone else miserable, but you are hurting yourself as well--unless you enjoy watching Red investigate his inventory every few minutes, gazing wistfully at his useless Helix Fossil.

Hunters vs. monster has nothing on Pokemon's chaos.

Pokemon isn't the only game that has been forever changed. Unbeknownst to the Twitch Plays Pokemon users, they're simultaneously controlling a version of Tetris on another channel. How bizarre is that? As they urge Red to move left or right, tetrominos move in the corresponding directions in a riveting Tetris game. Granted, it's strange that the blocks can float up instead of just dropping down, but it's great that Twitch Plays Pokemon has already spawned crazy spin-offs. There's also a game of QWOP that is every bit as hilarious as the main game. Scores of people controlling the individual muscles in a sprinter's leg? That's comedy gold.

I don't expect Twitch Plays Pokemon to stay around for long. It's a fad that is burning bright, but it's too frustrating and chaotic to have long-term appeal. But even if its stay is brief, it shows the diverse branches that gaming can take. We think we understand what crowd sourcing and social connectivity mean, and we think we've seen everything that trolls can accomplish, and then this comes along and we have to rethink the boundaries we've set. Twitch Plays Pokemon may be utter nonsense, and it may be too ridiculous to stomach, but it's a great example of how unexpected and bizarre games can be. If so many modern trends have combined to form something as interesting as this, maybe there's hope for all the Flappy Bird knockoffs in the future.

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Discussion

110 comments
csward
csward

Pokemon on twitch looks like a clusterf*** to me. I hope the future is much more orderly than people spamming commands in a dialog box. 


Also, lots of great comments from the community down there, nice work guys!

rarson
rarson

Anarchism is not lawlessness. Anarchism is statelessness. I get so tired of hearing the same misrepresentation constantly repeated by individuals who are too ignorant to know the difference.

Saint_Kaiser
Saint_Kaiser

Tom, I don't see how this can be called social/political experiment because there is absolutely no risk in making any of these decisions. The people who are contributing to the game don't have to worry about not eating because certain decisions were made, or losing their homes and property because of "anarchy."


In that way, it's kind of ironic when you say "Clearly a proper society cannot function under a lawless system," because that's kind of how our "democracy" operates now, isn't it? People spending money that isn't theirs, at the risk of those who supposedly "voted" for them?


Wouldn't a more compelling observation be, "this is how real life is, because the people making decisions aren't the ones taking the risk?"


I think the biggest mind-blowing thing about this thing is that the "anarchy" presented in the experiment is the democracy of our society today.


I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on the error of judging this experiment as having real applicable value. It's a little irresponsible to say that this is how people would actually act when life-changing risk is involved.

u1tradt
u1tradt

I know you get a lot of stick, Tom, but I respect and value your opinion on all things gaming related. Kevin too.

okassar
okassar

The writing style of this article is refreshing, as is its focus on analysis vs. a single news piece (there's place for both but the latter usually dominates Gamespot). It would be great to see it applied to more pertinent subject matters. Tom's not alone though, TheVerge wrote an article about Flappy Bird MMO.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

It is facinating, but the future? Things that become part of the future are things that are better than the current standard.

In this case any single individual could have completed Pokemon in the time it has taken the 60,000 people on Twitch to get this far. That doesn't sound like an improvement to me.

If the future is to be more dysfunctional and inefficient then sure it very well might be.

Groups are for division of labour not single tasks. Any business who uses brainstorming sessions to get things done is out of their frigging mind.

Like in Chemistry, if you have 1 person making 100 compounds it would take a long time. If you have 100 people doing it, it would take no more than the time it takes to make one single compound. But if you had 100 people all making 1 compound it would be utter chaos. Remind you of anything?

dexfm
dexfm

"Twitch plays Pokemon" is the most mental impaired (I avoid saying retarded because that word lost the impact) thing I saw on Internet in the last 15 years. Good luck promoting chimp training ....games or whatever it is that ...thing. My jaws literally dropped. And seeing this on Gamespot shock me even more.

Igal-Ze
Igal-Ze

We have tenth of millions of players running around in a virtual worlds for more than a decade, making many meaningful and diversified interactions, which also include crowd sourced decision making.
How's this different, besides the cheap gimmick?

It has groups and rivalries.... We call them guilds.
It has user-generated "backstory" and "religion"...  We call that lore and player-generated worlds. 
It's a democracy... And the other MMOs are?
It's a trolls' magnet... Yep, check.
It also sends commands to a simultaneous Tetris game... Ok, score one for the future of gaming.

Jerrei
Jerrei

This "Twitch Plays Pokemon" is a rather accurate representation of the current US government, sadly.  As for this "TPP", I couldn't stomach trying to play it for more than ten seconds, let alone a whole hour, not with the kind of chaos going on in it.


Is this really the state of humanity today?  I weep for the future....

chieflion
chieflion

sounds like a shitty way to play pokemon.

Lambchopzin
Lambchopzin

Of course you had to find a way to tie this into Flappy Bird. Just can't let that dead horse be, can you?


Anyways that aside interesting article. I can't stand to watch this for more then a few minutes at a time but I do check in every once in a while to see what (if any) progress they've made and having a giggle at all the trolling attempts. It's interesting, and it can be pretty funny. I have no idea how this sort of thing could be applied to game design without creating a frustrating experience, but I'm not a game designer so I'll leave that to the professionals.

crimsonrose05
crimsonrose05

I personally would be more interested in watching twitch play Robot Alchemic Drive on a ps2 emulator L1 left foot Forward, L2 left foot back R1  right foot forward R2 Right foot back,up & down on analog stick to power punch etc.

Nothing would ever get done!. My bet the poor robot would never move =p

spikepigeo
spikepigeo

When I made the comment a week ago about this being strangely meta -- that it was representative of real world turmoil when too many people with differing methods were given power -- I was kind of just joking. Mc Shea had the same thought and had to go make it a full blown feature.


Seriously, it's a bunch of dudes/dudettes mashing their keyboard. Don't get too carried away there, Tommy.

Battlemed
Battlemed

People claiming they watched the stream for 5 minutes and then couldn't handle it anymore..... I resisted 1 minute......

GH05T-666
GH05T-666

This is ruined by trolls through. 

They should make it subscribe and pay to play it and then it shouldn't be so full of trolls

hitechgraphs
hitechgraphs

I don't know where this thing come from or what was the intention of doing it. I would prefer to think that was created by accident, a stupid accident that have a cool result for pass time lazy surfers. Nobody really cares about playing Pokémon whatever version is.Nobody cares about democracy mode and if you do, then you are the moron.

Twitch plays pokemon is about doing nothing and something at the same time. Is just about forgetting about everything and having fun either trolling or just typing something as insignificant as ,up.

Just thinking of applying the same formula in a more sophisticated game would be useless and a waste of time.

For me this twitch plays pokemon is brilliant because trolling is fun this way. Nobody cares of it and everybody do it. It's a bless and a relief for the time you spend to play. But is just that an accident and for a real videogame the result would be a complete disaster.Nobody cares in a common goal in the game content.This is the future for f2p games with ads and that's all we can get, for the accident own sake and for us.

downloadthefile
downloadthefile

How anyone could play more than five minutes is mind-boggling.  How I've watched this for five minutes is also mind-boggling.

greebe55
greebe55

its just full of idiots spamming start thinking its funny

omar_q
omar_q

I watched the stream for about 5 minutes and got scared from the sheer stupidity of the people that populate the internet. 

jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

It's not even worth mentioning, much less hiring someone to write this lengthy article about it.

ziproy
ziproy

OH BOY LOOKS LIKE FUN!!


UPUPUPUPUPLEFTLEFTUPRIGHTLEFTRIGHTUPDOWN


Best game I've played in a while

chimchargirl
chimchargirl

I like the anarchy mode but democracy mode is bored.  




Use helix.

limbo12
limbo12

Tom really wants you to think this is meaningful.

moonwho78
moonwho78

From a web technology innovation perspective it's pretty spellbinding.  The surface appeal for this demonstration is extremely lacking, but the technology powering it is going forward in a big way.

Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

Meanwhile...in the Ukraine....actual real life anarchy. But ya know...whatever...twitch plays pokemon. 

arcaias
arcaias

The rate at which input is allowed should be given rules, like with voting.

monson21502
monson21502

i remember playing it back in the day. i could hear that music hours after i shut my game boy off lol

Ovirew
Ovirew

No, this is not the path video games have been travelling down.  This is not the future.  And maybe it's mesmerizing to some, but not to all.

I thought it was interesting that someone did something like this when GS first reported on it the other day, not so much because it sounded interesting, but because a crap ton of people are actually sitting and trying to fight for control over a video game meant for one player.

Unfortunately, I did not need anyone to tell me about this Pokémon emulation (that is still illegal, right?  I mean, last time I checked it definitely was.) experiment on Twitch to know that humanity is entertained by pretty much anything anymore.  I knew that back when reality TV became a term.

Lil69Leo
Lil69Leo

If you "journalists" could kindly do some work and shut the f*** up about this crap or any flappy bird bs that would be welcomed.

Trender_man
Trender_man

"Red would react accordingly, causing chaos to reign over the peaceful land in which the Pokemon roam." Peaceful? The people are constantly having pokemon battles.

Someguy1212
Someguy1212

Im surprised Nintendo hasn't stepped in and shut this down. There using illegal copies of the game to play and also copyright infringement.

ANUBISZER0
ANUBISZER0

"Do you think that horse is dead?"

"Hmmmm.... Hit it, then we'll know."

u1tradt
u1tradt

@GH05T-666  As someone who enjoys a little troll here and there  I can tell you trolling in that scenario would be more satisfying. 

sanchango
sanchango

@omar_q  yes, you tell me how a group of about 65,000-70,000 random strangers are going to coordinate all of this. It's really not possible, all of these people want to go to one area, but then there are others who input the same thing that others were planning to do causing all that hilarious mess. 

dom28
dom28

@omar_q Not just the internet, make that the world in general these days lol.

ziproy
ziproy

@limbo12  He did the same thing with Flappy Bird. He writes like a High Schooler trying to sound intelligent

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@limbo12 Actually, this is a great article.  (Go actually log in and troll up some anarchy there instead.)

Plataea
Plataea

@exiled_paladin  

I agree.  This is more of a joke than a game.  I fail to see how this could possibly be the future of gaming.

bryanhudd
bryanhudd

@Someguy1212  This game is not new enough for Nintendo to actually make money off of it so it's not hurting them. You could even argue that this stream is helping Nintendo by bringing attention to the franchise. My friend accurately described this event as the "nerd super-bowl". Why would they take it down?

jk12324
jk12324

@sanchango @omar_q  That's what you would think, but they've managed 5 gym badges so far.  And remember those annoying ledges that you can only jump over one-way?  Forcing you to go round the whole thing from the start again if you made a mistake? They've managed to navigate through those as well.  I find it absolutely fascinating they're making such progress.

sanchango
sanchango

@Bread_or_Decide @exiled_paladin  5 as of recent