Here's What Happens When 80,000 People Simultaneously Play One Game of Pokemon

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 19 2014 5:58 PM

Here's What Happens When 80,000 People Simultaneously Play One Game of Pokemon

Watching Twitch Plays Pokemon is frustrating because it takes forever for anything to happen or get done, but it's also strangely compelling.

Photo of Twitch Plays Pokemon.

Pokemon may not factor heavily into your daily life, but you kind of know it's there. Like Britney Spears or the McRib, it's something that percolates in the back of mainstream pop culture's hivemind and occasionally comes to the fore. And that's why Twitch Plays Pokemon is such an amazing phenomenon. It's thousands of people all simultaneously giving inputs to an emulator of the classic Pokemon Red Version game, or just watching the frustrating madness unfold.

Lily Hay Newman Lily Hay Newman

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

The game-streaming service Twitch has been playing host to Twitch Plays Pokemon for almost a week now, and the game isn't slowing down. Anyone viewing the channel can type commands into the game's chat and a special bot then interprets the commands for a Gameboy's controls: “Up,” “down,” “left,” “right,” “a,” “b,” or “start.” The channel's creator is an Australian programmer who wants to remain anonymous. But he or she told Polygon in an email, "I didn't really have any plans for it from the beginning. ... I just wanted to put it up to see how people would respond."


Here's how they've responded. There's a delay and, you know, thousands of other people also entering commands at any given time, so what results is a crazy explosion. Basically Red* (the character you control in Pokemon) just turns around a lot and looks through his items.

But the players have also made progress! They've battled to win badges, leveled certain Pokemon up, and navigated Red through a number of the game's puzzles and mazes.*

There's been some drama with people trolling by intentionally making Red jump off ledges he's supposed to avoid, and there have been problems with the character getting stuck behind objects like trees, but for the most part, things are actually happening.

The creator even implemented a two-mode system where players can either vote to be in total "anarchy," where the trolls can rule, or move into "democracy" mode where the bot collects commands for a short interval and then uses the most popular one to move Red. As time wasted on the Internet goes, this exercise in teamwork is actually kind of valuable.

*Correction, Feb. 20, 2014: This post originally stated that the main character in Pokemon Red Version is named Ash. He is actually named Red.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Mad About Modi

Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.