In 'Twitch Plays Pokemon,' a million people played one character in a 16-day videogame

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Finally today, I want to tell you about online game that's gone viral around the globe. It's called "Twitch Plays Pokemon." An Australian gamer created it, who wanted a game that people around the world could play simultaneously. That means thousands of players at any given point, each issuing their own commands to the game's main character. I imagine it's just like a bunch of chefs all making one soup in the same pot in the same kitchen. Journalist and gamer Chris Berrow, who's been playing the game, says it's not as frustrating as it sounds.

Chris Berrow: If I want to play the game, right now for example, I'd just log into Twitch Plays Pokemon and I'd just type "up," for example, and the main character will move up. Hilarious results have been achieved because, as we've mentioned, thousands of other people are trying to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

Werman: What kind of hilarious results do you get?

Berrow: Things like pressing the start button, for example, will pause the game and the character will neurotically examine everything that he's carrying in his inventory. He almost looks at them every 5 seconds because of all of these commands going into the game. This leads rise to people starting to praise these objects that he's carrying around with him. There's one called the "Helix Fossil." Every five seconds this character is examining this Helix Fossil. Everyone playing the game is like, "Well why is this guy doing that? He must have some religious attachment to this thing that he's carrying."

Werman: In terms of not falling into anarchy in this game and making it a more democratic game, is that at all one of the results of this?

Berrow: When the game first started off, the game was accepting every single command that people were putting in, so progress was really, really slow in the early days. Now, to try and make things a bit faster, they put in this mode called "Democracy Mode" where every 10 seconds the game pauses and it counts up how many people want to go up, how many want to go right, how many want to go left. The most popular vote is the next thing that happens.

Werman: Basically it's polling the community of players in real time?

Berrow: Exactly. But the funny thing is you can vote in democracy and vote out again, so there's a kind of tug of war between people doing it the democratic way and it taking the majority vote and then there's the other way, which is called "Anarchy," where all of the inputs go in and the character goes crazy. There's that battle going on as well as the battle to control this main character.

Werman: The game ended over the weekend. How big did it finally get?

Berrow: When they completed the game it took just over 16 days of playing 24 hours a day. Four-Zero, 40 million people have either viewed or played this game in the last 16 days and now they've started a brand new game. It's a slightly more advanced version of Pokemon, but it's pretty much the same thing.

Werman: Now that this game is over and a new one has started, slightly tweaked up, what does it all mean, Chris?

Berrow: I think it's definitely a moment in gaming history. There's definitely something to be taken away from this. It's less about actually completing the game. It's more about trying to work with other people to overcome the game's obstacles and other human's obstacles. You know, people trying to send the main guy the wrong way. So there's definitely some kind of reflection of society in this weird version of Pokemon.

Werman: You've probably heard the news, Chris, that there've been reports about how the NSA has used games like "Angry Birds" and "Candy Crush" to crack player's signals and possibly their data. What do you think it says that more than 40 million people viewed Twitch Plays Pokemon over the past 16 days, another online game. What's up with that?

Berrow: I've been dipping in and out playing this game. I suppose never once did I think, "Oh, I wonder if someone is looking in and saying, 'Hmm, this guy seems to want anarchy quite a lot. Maybe we should start worrying about this guy.' or 'Oh, this guy loves democracy, maybe we can make him a candidate for some election or other.'"

Werman: Chris Berrow, thanks very much for speaking with us about Twitch Plays Pokemon. We appreciate it.

Berrow: My pleasure.

Werman: A little original Pokemon music walks us out today. From our studios at WGBH in Boston, I'm Marco Werman. We'll see you back here tomorrow on The World.

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