- "Twitch Plays Pokemon" has drawn tens of thousands of followers
- Game lets crowd control an old Game Boy game through chat commands
- "Social experiment" has spawned Reddit blog, fan art, Twitter feed
- Its creator isn't optimistic about success
How many people can play the same video game? Not in the same video game, mind you, but play the exact same game at once?
With the help of a social-media robot, more than 80,000 people are currently trying.
A version of "Pokemon Red/Blue," a 1990s game for Nintendo's Game Boy, has been streaming on Twitch.tv, an online video platform devoted to gaming, for the past five days.
A user known only by the gamer tag "TwitchPlaysPokemon" set up the "social experiment" to accept chat commands as the equivalent of button pushes. You know, typing "up" moves your character up, "down" moves him down and whatnot.
Except that tens of thousands of other people are doing the same thing at the same time.
The resulting movements of the main character have been spastic, to say the least. Although the horde managed some success in the first few days, capturing several of those elusive Pokemon, the sheer number of people now tapping commands into Twitch's chat window is causing the game's main character, Red, to wander back and forth over the same spot, bang into walls and check his inventory with neurotic frequency.
The page has been viewed more than 10.6 million times, with the number of active users peaking at about 81,000.
"This is one more example of how video games have become a platform for entertainment and creativity that extends way beyond the original intent of the game creator," said Matthew DiPietro, vice president of marketing for Twitch. "By merging a video game, live video and a participatory experience, the broadcaster has created an entertainment hybrid custom made for the Twitch community."
The modified game's creator, whose real identity is unknown at this point, has implemented some features to cut down on trolling and help with coordination.
The "start" command has been disabled, after people started spamming it into the chat, and the game now has "Anarchy" and "Democracy" modes that players can select via a virtual voice vote. "Anarchy" is essentially the experiment's original form, in which everyone's command is applied immediately.
In "Democracy," players are allowed to vote on their character's next move. It takes a vote from 75% of the players to switch modes, though. And you can imagine how easy that is.
Fans of the game have created their own subreddit, Twitch Plays Pokemon fan art, progress tracking via a Google document and a Twitter feed. Twitch.tv hopes this inspires others to transform gaming into entertainment.
"I didn't really have any plans for it from the beginning," the creator said in an e-mail to gaming site Polygon. "I just wanted to put it up to see how people would respond. I put it together and put it up on a dedicated server all within a few days."
He, or she, has been keeping track of players' progress, or lack thereof, and says it would be considered a win if they masses defeat the game's Elite Four -- opponents who need to be bested before a final confrontation.
"But I have my doubts about it being possible without much better coordination," TwitchPlaysPokemon wrote.