Starting off the blog — Twitch plays Pokemon: democratic chaos

I’ve been paying close attention to what’s turning out to be a fascinating social experiment: Twitch plays Pokemon.  Basically, they’ve rigged up a game of Pokemon Red to run in a web browser, streaming so people can watch it on Twitch.  Not all that interesting yet, I know.  But the chat box next to the game is a live chat box–that means that when a user inputs something the game will understand (say, for example, “right”), the game will respond to the user’s message.  Now, imagine that there are somewhere between 20,000 and 90,000 people typing into that chat box.  Utter chaos.

When it was just 20,000 people playing Pokemon, they were sort of progressing through the game.  They beat the first four gyms of the game (the first four big battles) and seemed well on their way to completing the game at some point.  But then more people started joining.  By the time it jumped up to 50,000 players, the game stopped progressing nearly as quickly.  A bunch of trolls came in and started trying to throw off the game.  That’s when it got really interesting: the game’s creators decided to enable two modes, democracy and anarchy.  By typing democracy or anarchy, players could choose one of the following.  In anarchy mode, the chat inputs would all work, creating chaos.  In democracy mode, a certain number of like commands had to be made in order to do something.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting.  In democracy mode, the trolls started to be more successful than the people typing normal commands.  Trolls would open up the start menu, pausing the game over and over, or open up the Pokedex, for no real reason except to be irritating.  Democracy mode requires consensus, but consensus is hard to achieve because players could type “right 1” to tell the player to move right one space, or “right 9” to tell the player to move right nine spaces.  People simply typing in “start” maintained an advantage because it’s easier to get consensus on that single command.  So, in essence, democracy mode yielded less progress than anarchy mode.

The game is still going, 11 days in.  As I type, there are 55,000 people on the channel, with a large number of them typing into the chat box.  It’s in anarchy mode, as the slider indicates in the image below.  I’m going to continue pondering whether this social experiment is at all reflective of actual political operation.  Certainly, sometimes, democracy gets choked up as people with similar minds come up with slightly different solutions and fight to the bitter end.  In that case, the real life trolls very well might win.  Anyway, Twitch plays Pokemon is something to keep an eye on.



Posted by Jeremy Johnson