Twitching Monkeys and Shakespearian Pokemon

SONY DSCRemember the first Game Boy? The monochrome screen somewhere between the size of a stamp and a pack of cigarettes? And the game cartridges, about the size of a pack of matches? Don’t smoke? Here are some pictures.

Now take one of the most popular games for that original Nintendo Game Boy. Port it over to the Internet, and configure it so that anyone part of an IRC channel can call out instructions. In this case, which of 4 buttons to push. An IRC channel is an ancient version of a chat room. This one was run by a company aptly named Twitch.

GameBoyCartridgeNow if you can imagine thousands of players trying to beat the game, all with pretty much random instructions. The ported game took the first instruction it was ready for, each couple of milliseconds. IT is like a monkey bashing at the buttons. So all this mayhem starts just before Valentine’s Day. Word gets around. More than 80,000 people try it out. At least 10% send in instructions: A!, right!, left! B!.

Twitch_plays_pokemon_animatedThings go slowly. Trolls try to take over, blocking advancement. More people get involved. In the end, over 16 days, more than a million people get involved. At one point, near the end, 121,000 people are watching online at the same time. With a total of 36 million views, the people beat the game.

Just think what we could do with something like this applied to learning something. Cue Clay Shirky and how time spent on Wikipedia is a rounding error compared to TV. Use that Cognitive Surplus.

At one point in the game, when things got stuck because of trolls, a new method of choosing instructions was introduced. When Anarchy did not work, a majority overcame, in Democracy mode. But by far most of the game was played in Anarchy. Democracy was just too slow.

Check out the Ars Tehcnica article and the Wikipedia article and Dorkly, and the This Week in Tech episode that talks about this.