How Twitch Plays Pokémon Gave Me Hope For My Generation

Twitch Plays Pokemon Gave Me Hope For My Generation
Image: Reddit user purplemew

The other day I was watching a movie, and some wise character said that every generation think it’s experiencing the end of the world. I’ve been repeating it to myself and others since. The idea fit so well and rang so true with this seemingly endless conversation about the millennial generation and its narcissism and apathy. As one of the members of that generation, the back-and-forth (are we or aren’t we the greatest generation?) has become a bit tiresome.

Then I came across Twitch Plays Pokémon (hereafter referred to as TPP) and it gave me more hope for my generation than any highbrow commentary or Thought Catalog submission ever could.

12 days ago, online gaming site Twitch quietly released an online version of the original Pokémon game (as seen on every Nintendo Gameboy in the mid-to-late 90s), but its format was far from normal. Instead of gamers playing on an individual basis, Twitch made it possible for tens of thousands of people to play the exact same game at the same time by entering commands in a chat room. The results were predictably chaotic.

Realizing that this chaos might frustrate people, the game’s programmers introduced another element: anarchy and democracy modes. In anarchy mode, the game was as I described it above, everybody’s input counted. But in democracy mode, only the commands that the majority wanted went through. Users vote for anarchy and democracy by typing it into the chat bar, which is simple enough, but the kicker is that it takes a 75% majority to change from anarchy mode to democracy mode and only a 50% majority to switch from democracy mode to anarchy mode. Accordingly, except for very  important, complicated or frustrating moments in the game, the great majority of TPP has been played in anarchy mode. Here’s what it looks like:

It’s not for the weak of heart.

In its 12 days of existence, the game has spawned an entire culture with (ironically) established rules, a detailed and surprisingly dramatic mythology (a must-read), a consistently updated live blog, a compendium of fan art and an amazing sense of community–all over a Pokémon game. There have been some very, very dark moments as well: important and well-loved Pokémon have been accidentally released (yesterday was marked Bloody Sunday when 12 Pokémon were released), seemingly simple tasks that an 8-year-old could complete in an afternoon have taken days to complete and trolls have invaded the game in order to derail the Hivemind’s mission. But all these setbacks seem to have only made the community stronger.

Within the next few days (or sometime next week), tens of thousands of teens/20-somethings from the United States to Australia and in between will collectively beat the game against all odds. Even in the ever-popular anarchy mode, things get done and at a much faster rate than in democracy mode, but the group knows when democracy is necessary and have consistently put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few. In particularly difficult moments, really brilliant players have used Reddit to disseminate strategies and plans of attack that for the most part other participants have heeded and put into action.

What I’ve seen during the four days that I’ve been watching/participating in the game is creativity taken to another level, intelligent and nuanced humor, thoughtful commentary and an overwhelming amount of pixelated dicks entered into the chat feed, but for the most part, the experience has been a heartwarming and confidence-inspiring adventure.

I don’t believe that apathy is my generation’s problem. Rather, I think that many of us feel powerless and apathetic toward the powers that be, but not toward one another. As for the charges of narcissism, I can’t say that they’re unwarranted, but taking time to let us know how much worse we are than your generation seems pretty narcissistic as well. I believe that all the same things that made previous generations great are in us, and TPP is just one of the many strange and novel ways that that’s been proven. I’m looking forward to the day when we make the decisions that actually matter because we’re going to be okay, Helix willing.

Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk 


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