Twitch Plays Pokemon: an Allegory for Scale?

GIF from Twitch PLays Pokemon

GIF from Twitch Plays Pokemon

Last week, during a discussion in the Internet CourseMatt Arnold brought up the game Twitch Plays Pokemon while we were talking about consumption and creation on the web. He noted that currently thousands of people were playing a Pokemon game online together. What’s more, millions of people (more than 32 million as of today) have watched the stream since this social experiment started just over two weeks ago.

This experiment came up again in the DTLT offices yesterday when Ryan and Tim were talking about it in the bullpen. This time I actually spent some time on the webpage watching the game unfold. I have to agree with others folks that its hard to look away, kind of like an ongoing, glitching game that is at the same time hypnotic. Last night I was telling Ryan how on first impression Twitch strikes me as the opposite of Wikipedia. Whereas the open encyclopedia was a model of the new read, write web providing a demonstration of struggle but ultimately effective knowledge creation. Twitch reminds me more of a paralyzed attempt to lumber through a real-time, cooperative web. Something that can be accomplished realtively quickly by one person takes forever for hundreds of thousands. The dark side of scale? 🙂

That said, folks are trying to collaborrate and strategize to counteract trolls, but it still seems overwhelmingly difficult given how many people are sending commands. I’m interested to see if there can be a massive, distributed community that’s able to play this game together smoothly and intelligently. Or maybe that’s not the goal of this social experiemnt? The game’s creator has little hope the game can ever be completed. Either way, it’s wild that a massive social experiment resulting in a stream of “big data” involving millions of people is not only possible on the web, but a source of entertainment for millions more. We live in strange times.

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12 Responses to Twitch Plays Pokemon: an Allegory for Scale?

  1. Chad Murphy says:

    They also tried “Twitch Plays Mike Tyson’s Punchout” a few nights ago, which was a miserable failure of crowd-sourcing strategies in real time. They couldn’t get past the first opponent, or even close. Entertaining to watch the “beginner level” opponent win for once though.

  2. Alan Levine says:

    It still beats sitting in front of the tube waiting for the TV network to serve you a sitcom episode. A long way, baby.

    • Reverend says:

      But what’s crazy is sitcoms are just as popular as they’ve ever been too. It’s like we have an endless appetite for all of it. I spent a good part of dinner tonight talking about Deadwood, House of Cards, The Sporanos, etc. I don;t think I ever watched so much TV.

      • Alan Levine says:

        But it’s not the TV I watched in the 1970s.

        The sit-com as a form is here, but everything about the context is different- we are not driven by network schedules (e.g. bingeing, streaming, on demand, there are way more sources than 3 networks and UHF), we have so many more ways and people we can interact with (I was limited to my circle of friends, and maybe fan magazines), as Jenkins and others have noted for long that the plots are way more intricate and multidimensional, and we create/make/talk in the act of watching.

        The internet and TV are blurring together, trippy.

        It’s all so DY-NO-MITE!

        • Reverend says:

          Yeah, you are absolutely right, just cause the shell of the form is still here doesn;t mean we are controlled by it in the same ways. Well said, I think you are nice.

  3. Alison says:

    apparently the Twitch Plays Pokemon feed is simultaneously being transmitted to a game of tetris, which as you can imagine is going much worse than the Pokemon game.

    It’s really amazing to see how far they’ve actually come, especially when considering how easily stuck they get and how they’ve released and dropped tons of important and valuable Pokemon and items. It’s a pretty cool experiment I think, and it’s awesome to see all these people come together to play Pokemon of all things. Even when there is a crucial mistake, like releasing legendary Pokemon Zapdos, they just keep going on cause that’s really all they can do. There isn’t really blame since everyone understands how difficult it is and mistkes like that is kinda inevitable.

  4. Tom says:

    Take something fairly simple and throw huge masses of relatively uncoordinated people at it and see how crazy things get. It’d be like getting thousands of people to control a robotic hand giving a person a haircut through a laggy webcam. Success would be failure. Chaos is the goal. Like my Markovian fascination, if it made too much sense too often it’d be no good.

    • Reverend says:

      Ironically, it took them just over two weeks to finish the game. All thought it was a full two weeks, eveyr hour of eveyr day for two weeks. Nonetheless, “they” won. There is something to that too. Originally I thought it was a sign of a push towards chaos and degeneration—but it a number of instances the web continues to surprise me. I like that about the web, maybe it not as dead as they say 🙂

  5. Lex says:

    That was cool, but the one thing that pissed me off were the aholes who trolled the comments trying to sabotage the game, which is why it would take 15 mins to go from pokemon gym to gym. And then you had people who I swear just button mashed like this is street fighter

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