Friday, February 14, 2014

Stop what you're doing and watch Twitch play Pokémon

Someone has hooked up an emulator running the Red Version of the original Pokémon to stream on Twitch. That same person has, rather ingeniously, set the emulator to respond to text commands issued by Twitch viewers. As I write this, there are nearly 7000 people watching the stream. Giving that many people a say in how this Pokémon adventure unfolds is a predictably uncoordinated affair, and yet it is surprising engaging to watch all of this unfold.

Watch it now.

What I find remarkable about this experiment is that progress is being made. It's not being made quickly, of course; the stream has been running for almost two consecutive days and they're still stuck in Cerulean City, trying to battle Misty for the second gym badge (of eight, if you're unfamiliar with Pokémon). That's a very slow rate of progression, obviously, but the combined efforts of thousands of people led them, however messily, to evolve Charmander, catch a couple of wild Pokémon, beat Brock and make it through Mt. Moon. While there are plenty of troublemakers on the stream deliberately entering the wrong button commands, most of the people playing actually want to see this through to the end, and that attitude overwhelms and moves Red in the right direction, however slowly.

It's basically like watching the world's most brain-damaged spectator sport, and I'll be damned if it's not entertaining. Last night, the players took down Gary after the first couple of attempts resulted in Charmeleon accidentally being told to use "Leer" over and over. There's a weird thrill in seeing a massive group of people overcome simple tasks, and that this is all unfolding on such familiar territory (is there anyone reading this who couldn't cite the Red and Blue versions Pokémon as a massive institution of his or her childhood?) makes it easy to root for. The second season of House of Cards started streaming today and I'm watching this, if that tells you anything.

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