In 'Twitch Plays Pokemon,' a million people played one character in a 16-day videogame

The World

When 40 million people tune in to watch the same thing, it's kind of a big deal. 

Over the course of 16 days, that's exactly what happened for a game called "Twitch Plays Pokemon," a social experiment of sorts. 

Usually, one player controls the actions of the character. But what happens when hundreds of thousands of people around the world have a say?

It's safe to say that anarchy ensues. 

Journalist and gamer Chris Berrow has been playing the game and keeping track of it's progress over the past few weeks. When it first started, he says, the character —Red  — hardly ever made progress. 

"The game was accepting every single command people were putting in," he explains. At one point, the game had approximately 150,000 people inputting commands at the same time.

The game creator, an anonymous Australian, finally added an element called "democracy mode" to streamline the process. 

"Every 10 seconds, the game pauses, and it counts out how many people want to go up, how many want to go right, how many want to go left. The most popular vote is the next thing that happens," Berrow explains. 

At first, players responded in an uproar to a decision that was entirely out of their hands. The game was then modified to also allow "anarchy mode," a return to the original format of the game. Players voted to turn on and off each mode.

"The funny thing is, you can vote in democracy and vote it out again," Berrow says. He describes the decision to move between the two modes as a "tug of war." In reality, entire game theories have developed around the different styles of play. 

The tug of war has sparked heated discussions and even political essays on the nature of the game. A simple scroll through Reddit reveals pages upon pages of arguments, discussions and impassioned pleas for one side or another. 

At the end of the day, Berrow explains, "It’s less about actually completing the game. It’s more about trying to work with other people to overcome the game’s obstacles, and other humans' obstacles." Saboteurs and trolls worked up until the final minute, trying to derail the game. But finally Red beat it nemesis, Blue, and won on Saturday. 

Now in its second iteration, Twitch Plays Pokemon is still available to play online, along with several other versions of the same concept, including Tetris and even QWOP. 

"There’s definitely some kind of reflection on society in this weird version of Pokemon," Berrow says. 

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