68,000 People Are Playing Pokémon Simultaneously Right Now
Feb 17 2014
So this is completely insane. Right now, over at the gamer-oriented livestream site Twitch.tv, 68,000 players are participating collectively in a massive game of GameBoy's Pokémon Red.
According to the site, “TwitchPlaysPokemon is a social experiment, it is a stream of the GameBoy version of Pokémon Red (151 romhack) running on an emulator. An IRC bot translates buttons said in chat into keypresses Pokémon (simulated in software, no fancy typing robots).”
Instead of one person controlling the character, Red is being controlled by the hive—each “player” can input one of right actions, like up, down, A, and B. Each command is registered and moves the character.
Right now the hive is about halfway through the game, and the livestream has accrued over 5 million views.
The game was created by an anonymous Australian programmer. In a recent interview with the gaming website Polygon, he said he “put it up to see how people would respond.”
For those who haven’t played Pokémon Red, the action is fairly straightforward. The programmer chose the game for its “turn-based gameplay, forgiving nature, and its lack of reaction-based gameplay (which isn’t compatible with [the roughly 20 seconds] of Twitch lag).”
The experiment has had its share of problems, as thousands of jerks try to mess up the gameplay all at once. Spammers have been setting up scripts to throttle the start button, which made the game pretty annoying. This behavior jammed the system, which is now having problems with the start key—besides that, it’s operating fine.
So far, the response has been staggering. I don't play video games, but this raises a few interesting questions about collective online endeavor. It’s not hard to imagine a point in the future where a hive of players rig a game’s gameplay mechanics to operate by percentage, executing “perfect” game play.
As you can imagine, this early example is fairly primitive, and the gameplay is decidedly less than perfect. The character is generally sort of bumbling around, wandering left and right, attempting to use various items and usually failing. Even walking in the right direction can seem almost impossible, and the creator has gone on the record stating that he seriously doubts that the players will be able to complete the game. It might just be a massive argument against democracy. But they’re already halfway through the game, which is impressive enough for me to waste a little more time watching the stream.
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