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80,000 people share a game of Pokémon

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Twitch Plays Pokemon (Credit: Twitch)

I choose you, Pikachu! And so do about 80,000 other gamers.

A user of the online video streaming service Twitch launched an interesting social experiment last week, letting as many people who are interested attempt to control a single Pokémon trainer in the classic Pokémon Red/Blue -- at the exact same time.

Turns out, lots of other people liked the idea, turning Twitch Plays Pokémon into a viral sensation. At any one time, a good 70-80,000 gamers are viewing and playing together. To date, the page has been viewed more than 14.5 million times.

Here’s how it works. The creator of the project, a user known only by the handle TwitchPlaysPokemon, has transformed the channel’s chatroom into a massive game controller. Viewers can type in a command like "up" or "right" and the bot will translate it…well, once it gets to the command you type. The sheer volume of users has resulted in a 20-40 second lag between input and things actually happening in the game.

And as you might expect with that many people all spamming commands independently, the game’s main character, Red, was initially wandering around bumping into walls. TwitchPlaysPokemon managed to tighten things up, however, by adding two different modes – ‘Anarchy’ and ‘Democracy.’ Anarchy accepts all inputs and tries to sort them out, while Democracy lets players vote on each move. The game can change modes only by a 75% vote.

The result of these tweaks has been fruitful. The players have thus far collected four badges and currently own 13 Pokémon. They’ve even created an open Google doc tracking their progress.

"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, Twitch's VP of marketing. "By merging a video game, live video and a participatory experience, the broadcaster has created an entertainment hybrid custom made for the Twitch community. This is a wonderful proof on concept that we hope to see more of in the future."

TwitchPlaysPokemon has chosen to remain anonymous, but it appears Pokémon won't be his or her only social experiment.

"I'm very interested in creating automated Twitch streams with a strong focus on user interaction," says TwitchPlaysPokemon. "I would like to do something similar with other games and I have a few in mind already."

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