The Rise of Pokémania and the Evolution of Twitch Plays Pokémon
In 1996, Nintendo changed the gaming world with the release of Pokémon Red for the Game Boy console. Little did they know that they were spawning a franchise that would last two decades and become the second-best selling game franchise of all time. With 21.5 billion trading cards out there and 260 million games sold, Pokémon has generated $37.76 billion worldwide and earned $2 billion in the year 2014 alone. Pokémania remains as intensely popular today as it was two decades ago, with classic and new games continuing to generate huge sales figures for Nintendo.
In 2014, to get in on the action, a streaming service called Twitch began running Twitch Plays Pokémon. This combined the classic game mechanics with the power of online gameplay, fueled by Pokémon intensity. It was half reality show and half art project, with as many viewers as there were players. 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 meant that users who signed on to play were playing with as many as 120,000 users at the same time.
Playing the game on Twitch was a whole new ball game. Old school fans know that the goal of a Pokémon game is to create the best team of creatures possible, use them to solve puzzles and win battles to defeat other players, and become the Pokémon Champion. 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.
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 gameplay on the site, in which as many as 100,000 people offer up commands for the characters. All these actions were fed into the emulator, and 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 gameplay. The effects were then compounded when the game began to gain popularity. Soon, the days began to drag on with little action, and trolls also began logging into the game, intentionally entering commands that were totally problematic and made the game almost impossible to play. Though anarchy allowed for some accomplishments to be made, it also began to erode the quality of the game.
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.
Interestingly, the introduction of the democratic mode of gameplay 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, many players were still committed to the game itself. Rather than choosing sides, the players moved away from the Twitch chat function to communicate via other sites like Reddit and Google Docs to organize themselves. Soon, this select group of individuals had a solid strategy for winning the game.
The most interesting part of the game was not the result. It was that progress continued to be 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.
In conclusion, the rise of Pokémania and the evolution of Twitch Plays Pokémon have shown the power of classic games on a modern platform. It demonstrated that even with anarchy and democracy battling it out, progress can still be made when a group of committed individuals work together. The influence and popularity of Pokémon remains strong even two decades later, and with the advancement of technology, it will be interesting to see where it goes next.