Editorial Notebook

Social experiment blows up

Public Pokemon stream compares to slow progress of civilization

Like many this weekend, I saw something special on the internet. No, I don’t mean the video of the cat fighting the toy T-rex, or the Titanfall Beta; no, I’m talking about the Twitch Plays Pokemon live stream. For those who do not know, someone set up a game of Pokemon Red in which people who watch the game can enter commands such as “left” and “start” to select the button that is used on the player. What began as a fun social experiment has blown up into chaos, at the time of my writing, more than 100,000 viewers are present and many of them are entering a ceaseless list of commands. Currently, after six days of constant streaming, the player has beaten four of the eight gym leaders and does not appear ready to stop. People have likened the whole event to the infinite monkey theorem; that a monkey or object that can perform random keystrokes on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely recreate any literary work. However, I think that comparison dumbs down the process for what it actually is. This isn’t random commands being calculated by an animal or machine, these are people giving the orders. Many are trying their best for the player to succeed, while others are doing their best to impede progress. It’s like an inane version of The Odyssey, where we’re the gods pulling Odysseus around by a thread for our want for his triumph, to spite others, or to toy with him for our amusement.

But what this stream shows to me is a small scale version of civilization and progress. Even when we have a common goal, we still find ways to mess things up. Whether there’s a person actively trying to obstruct others or those working for the goal get in each other’s way, it’s almost always two steps forward and one step back. But like civilization, there have been small groups working together in open chats to coordinate and plan ways to accomplish the later goals of the game easier, and to me, this is like watching the creation of democracy, to see a little bit of order brought to the chaos, however minute the influence it has. Though in truth, I’m probably just over analyzing all of this. It’s just a cool stream concept with some cool results. But, on the off chance I am right, maybe we should be worried that we’ve been continuously walking around then jumping off a ledge for more than five hours, because to me, that seems like something we should all talk about.