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

twitch
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."

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 6:30 PM Nothing Succeeds Like Secession Breakaway movements across the United States want to get on the Scottish bandwagon. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 6:23 PM Bryan Cranston Reenacts Baseball’s Best Moments to Promote the Upcoming Postseason
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.