In 1996, Nintendo released a game for its Game Boy console that would change everything. That game was Pokémon Red.
Pokémon Red was the start of the Pokémon universe. The second-best selling game franchise of all time, the products that have spawned from this classic game have lasted two decades. With 21.5 billion trading cards out there and 260 million games sold, Pokémon is not showing signs of slowing down. The brand itself is has made $37.76 billion worldwide and earned $2 billion in the year 2014 alone.
Thus, Pokémania remains as intensely popular today as it was two decades ago. Both the classic games and the new additions continue to generate huge sales figures for Nintendo.
To get in on the action, a streaming service called Twitch began running Twitch Plays Pokémon in 2014.
Twitch Plays Pokémon was the perfect storm of online gameplay fueled by Pokémon intensity. It was half reality show and half art project, with as many viewers as there were payers.
Twitch transformed the game, with the help of a software development company, from a single player console game to a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. This means that users who signed on to play were playing with as many as 120,000 users at the same time.
Playing The Game
Old school fans know that the goal of a Pokémon game is to create the best team of creatures possible. The player then uses this team to solve puzzles and win battles to defeat other players. The player with the best team and the best record then becomes the Pokémon Champion.
To achieve this title was to unlock the ultimate dream of virtually any 90s kid.
Of course, this is an oversimplification of a classic game. But its relative simplicity is important when compared to how the game was played on Twitch.
Anarchy Mode And The New Rules Of The Game
The name of the game on Twitch was anarchy. The number one rule of anarchy is that there is no law and order—only chaos and disorder. This kind of play made for a whole new way of playing Pokémon.
Anarchy mode was the original mode of game play on the site. In Anarchy mode, as many as 100,000 people offer up commands for the characters. All these actions were fed into the emulator. Without a controlling system or another authority, any action could come up on the screen.
The result largely saw the main characters of the game wandering around in circles, knocking into each other, and failing to pass even the most basic of obstacles. All the conflicting directions had a dizzying effect on game play.
The effects were then compounded when the game began to gain popularity.
Soon, the days begin to drag on with little action. Trolls also began logging into the game. They intentionally entered commands that were totally problematic and made the game almost impossible to play.
Although anarchy allowed for some accomplishments to be made. It also began to erode the quality of the game.
Trolling Anarchy In Favor Of Democracy
Fortunately, there was an alternative to anarchy for the Pokémon stream.
To combat the insanity of the anarchy, the democratic mode of operation was quickly created for the emulator. This mode chose the most popular options according to a voting system lodged within the chat function of the game.
In theory, this mode would have drawn upon the collective internet wisdom. The hive mind would then allow the best suggestions to enter into the emulator through popular vote.
It would also thwart the trolls and remove the likelihood of detrimental moves entering gameplay.
However, enforcing democracy on the players only opened up new problems.
The Battle Between Democracy And Anarchy
Interestingly, the introduction of the democratic mode of game play did not solve many of the issues that anarchy saw. In fact, the battle between democracy and anarchy itself ended up taking over much of the game for a period of time. Democracy was still not a perfect method because it is still corruptible.
Yet, there were still plenty of players who were committed to the game itself. Rather than choosing sides, the players moved away from the Twitch chat function to communicate via other sites.
These players began using Reddit and Google Docs to organize themselves. Soon, this select group of individuals had a solid strategy for winning the game.
Determining The Winner Of The Game
There are no winners or losers in war, but there are still important lessons to learn.
The most interesting part of the game was not the result. It was the fact that progress was still made despite all the infighting.
It was also interesting to note that both anarchy and democracy had a positive role in the game, despite the inevitable weaknesses of each position.
Whatever the result, one thing was certain. Even several years later, the showdown is still entertaining to watch and filled with surprising lessons.
Featured photo credit: Farley Santos/flickr via flickr.com