Twitch Plays ‘Pokemon’ and the Power of Democracy

Twitch Plays Pokemon

While it might seem that you’d never get 120,000 people to ever collaborate together well enough to complete any sort of task, never mind something that requires coordinated effort like navigating through a video game, those people who have stepped up to play Twitch Plays Pokemon have proven that it can be done and the power of democracy is the key to it all.

Twitch is a website that allows people to stream their video gaming experiences to the world.  Normally people just sit back and watch; but, with Twitch Plays Pokemon, numerous players from around the world are working together to play a computer-emulated game of Pokemon Red Version.

Controlling the game occurs through the chat feature.  If a person types “up,” the pokemon trainer moves up; if he or she types “down,” he moves down; and so on.  Where it gets complicated, however, is when multiple people are attempting to control the movements at the same time.  In fact, it has been reported that as many as 120,000 players have been on the channel at the same time.  In addition, Twitch estimates that around 738,000 players have accessed the game during its short existence.

Amazingly enough, the experiment is working.  Currently, visitors to Twitch Plays Pokemon have made it about halfway through the game.

Unfortunately for the owners of the website, it may be working a bit too well.  Twitch’s Customer Experience Director Jason Maestas has said the game has been putting “enormous (and unforeseen) stress” on their chat system.  In fact, they took a step normally reserved only for large game tournaments on Sunday and moved the game to its own dedicated server.  He notes, however, that even then there will still be “fundamental issues with [Twitch’s] chat infrastructure.”

The collaborative process within the game was actually something that evolved over time.  At first anarchy reigned, with the game rapidly coming to a half as multiple players battled it out over which way the trainer would move.  Then, the anonymous creator of the channel made a tweak to the game which changed everything:  players could now type “anarchy” or “democracy” into the chat box, casting their vote for how the game experience would proceed.  With enough “anarchy” votes, the game remained as it originally was configured, with the game attempting to sort out the hundreds of controls coming in every second.  However, when the vote swings in the direction of “democracy,” order is brought to the chaos and the majority of button presses that occur within a 10-second time frame govern the trainer’s next move.  This one simple change has allowed for players to vote to collaborate together in key moments of the game, like say an important battle, in order to efficiently coordinate in-game movements.

So, what does the great social experiment that is Twitch Plays Pokemon teach us about human nature?  The biggest message seems to be that people will naturally seek out order from chaos through cooperation and democracy if given the right tools.

Editorial by Nancy Schimelpfening



ARS Technica


The Washington Post

14 Responses to "Twitch Plays ‘Pokemon’ and the Power of Democracy"

  1. John   March 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    You are entirely wrong. The anarchy is the entire appeal. Democracy has only been effective in TPP a couple of times. The fun is in anarchy, in the subplots. Lord Helix deliver us from this vile Dome follower and lead us to the light!

  2. damien   February 26, 2014 at 10:08 am

    ilove ti

  3. rise4phoenix   February 25, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    love this parody ~ the early days of Twitch Plays Pokemon

  4. Hazel Rivera   February 25, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    love this parody ~ the early days of Twitch Plays Pokemon

  5. Brick   February 25, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    This decision they are calling democracy is actually anarchy. Anarchy means no rulers, meaning no one forces someone how to play, if a user doesn’t like the game as voted they are not forced to continue, nor are they barred from creating their own game. Anarchists critique the monopoly governments hold over the judicial system, in which you are forced to obey some single entity or institution by the use of force. Taxes are viewed as violent actions, and forced obedience to an institution is considered slavery to an anarchist. The users of twitch are neither choosing between anarchy or democracy, but rather using a system designed by the creators of the game. Democracy is the majority forcing its will upon the minority (they must obey laws they disagree with) anarchy is a society absent forced obedience, this is simply a choice between a harder and easier difficulty.

  6. Burns   February 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    3D printed Helix Fossil –

  7. Mike   February 23, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    Actually Anarchy has proven more effective than democracy. I think you should edit this article so that you do not convey false information.

  8. Welfare Pillows!   February 23, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    This is entirely wrong. The selling point of all this is the anarchy, the utter random and hilarious antics that ensue with thousands of people all trying to do the same thing in a different way. If anything this proves that everyone is different.

  9. Ugh   February 23, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Stopped reading when it came to a “half” seriously. I have had enough. More than enough.

  10. Stacey   February 23, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    This is completely wrong. If anything people are naturally seeking chaos rather than order. Try watching it yourself for a while and evaluating the process. Anarchy by far reigns through most in the game.

    And they released Eevee…

  11. prlicari13   February 23, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I have to agree with Callum. All signs point to anarchy being the primary mode of being for Twitch Plays Pokemon. Plus, I don’t really know if this would be the best example to illustrate the power of a democracy if it’s taken over 240 (and counting!) hours to beat a game that usually takes less than 20.

  12. dan   February 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I just found this all hail the helix t shirt lmao!

  13. Callum   February 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    You couldn’t be more wrong; everyone loves the utter randomness of anarchy, and democracy is only used in dire situations in which it is the only option when a limited number of moves can be made.


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