Does Twitch Plays Pokemon Give You Hope for Humanity?


Here’s an idea. Twitch Plays Pokemon gives us
hope for humanity– sort of. [MUSIC PLAYING] So before we get
started, I think it’s worth pointing out
that this is the most requested episode topic ever. Don’t make me beg here,
because I will do it. As you’ve probably
noticed, we usually like to wait a little bit
before saying anything. But the depth and volume
of the conversation surrounding Twitch Plays
Pokemon has been monumental. People are talking
about how it’s meaningful and
interesting and important. And so that is what we are
going to talk about– the way that people are
talking about TPP. But we are getting way
ahead of ourselves. For the unfamiliar,
Twitch Plays Pokemon is emulated versions of
Pokemon games– first Red and currently Crystal– played
via chat on the video streaming site Twitch. You type left, Red, the
Pokemon trainer, goes left. You type right, he goes right. Except it’s not played solo. It’s played by however many
people want to simultaneously. And however many tends to
be in the tens of thousands, all guiding Red towards the
ultimate goal of beating the Elite Four. Well, sort of. As you might expect,
there are a lot of people interested not
in progressing the game but hindering that progress. Add to that, the fact
that the stream itself is delayed 30-some seconds,
and the game becomes a Calvinball-esque
endeavor of figuring out how to play the game. After a rough spot in
Team Rocket’s HQ followed by some riots, TPP’s developer,
an anonymous Australian programmer who wrote the script
that makes the magic happen, implemented a voting mechanism. If a majority of
players vote for anarchy by typing it into
the chat, the game will try to perform
every command entered as originally programmed. But if democracy gets
the majority vote, the game will perform whatever
the most typed command is for every 10-second period. The input mode will
switch whenever a new majority is reached. And as of Crystal,
democracy mode automatically kicks in at the
top of every hour. Democracy just kicked in! The implementation
of this feature seemed to cement something of
the meaning of Twitch Plays Pokemon for so many people. Here we are, we’re trying
to steer this thing. And we generally know
where we want to go, which is really part of
the beauty of doing this with “Pokemon Red.” It’s a casual game
where progress is very clearly defined. But there are also these
familiar, external, and seemingly irrational forces
constantly attempting to prevent that progress. Sound familiar? This could just
as easily describe career building, high school,
competitive shuffleboard, life. Pal of the show Andy
Baio called Twitch Plays Pokemon a microcosm of
the internet at large. Journalists, critics,
and commenters have variously referred to it
as an experiment in government, host to symbolic
quasi-political culture wars, and a rather accurate
representation of the current US government. Conveniently enough,
in “Leviathan,” political philosopher
and serious whisker-haver Thomas Hobbes
describes government as though it were a body. He doesn’t say anything
about that body having to– (SINGING) My body! –catch ’em all. Though if I remember
correctly, the body is clearly that of a male monarch,
and Hobbes does seem pretty understanding
of territorial conquest. But he does describe, quote,
“that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth or state, which
is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and
strength than the natural.” Hobbes’s commonwealth
is able to enforce social contracts
between its citizens out of, well, mostly fear. Without a commonwealth,
there is a war of every man against every man,
because there’s no consequence. Hobbes calls this
the natural state. People might promise to
not be jerks or cretins, but only a duly respected
power or maybe a common enemy will inspire real cooperation. Clearly Hobbes had a pretty
sour view of humanity. In his view, the
only way forward is to willingly
obey a sovereign, to ascent to the Commonwealth. Otherwise, we’d never
be anything more than lawless, violent heathens. The Commonwealth pulls us
out of a life that is, quote, “solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish, and short.” A commonwealth is also exactly
what Twitch Plays Pokemon is missing. Well, “missing” with
really big quote fingers. Because the complicated
control system, the lack of a central authority,
and the presence of cretins is what makes it the game it is. If you don’t count a
very hands-off developer, the next closest thing to
an external organizing force is the funnel of
the game itself, gently encouraging any sane
player towards the ending. But the funnel isn’t active. It only works because
a collective billion hours of button mashing
have instilled in us a sense that games are to be finished. How do I finish the game? Show me all of
the boxes to tick. I want to catch ’em all. [MUSIC – “POKEMON THEME”] No part of the game prevents
or disincentives faffing about like the clock in Mario does. You’re not penalized at all
for consulting the Helix Fossil 1,000 times a day. So maybe Red is our
ineffective, possessed, or schizophrenic
monarch attempting to reconcile within
himself thousands of conflicting impulses. Conflicting because really there
are two games here– Pokemon and Twitch Plays Pokemon. Everyone playing Pokemon is also
playing Twitch Plays Pokemon. But some of the people
playing Twitch Plays Pokemon have no interest in the
underlying game of Pokemon. They might even have an active
disinterest in its completion. So given the warring
factions, TPP is stuck in something
of a natural state. Sure, there are aspirations
towards civility. But property remains unsafe. The in-game industry can’t grow. And all progress is
potentially fragile. Nothing compels a
contract between players except for a shared
understanding of the game and words typed into a chat. And well, we’ve already
talked about how much promises are worth. But all this being
said, we did beat Red. I mean it normally takes 25
hours to beat “Pokemon Red.” And it took us 16 days,
7 hours, and 45 minutes. But we did beat it. And now we’re well on our
way towards beating Crystal. Which is very exciting, because
one popular view of humanity– and, by extension,
the internet– is like Hobbes’s– that
without some external force or sovereign, we’re nothing
but hopeless animals. CROWD: Toga, toga! But somehow, in this
game, where every player has very little control
and even less power, a successful strategy
was able to emerge. And that’s exciting,
even if that success is really delicate. And even though it’s
just a video game, it’s tempting to allow
ourselves a shred of hope in applying this scheme to
all kinds of practical stuff that we’ve kind
of lost faith in. So yeah. We can– and some of
us are– attempting to draw whatever
“pie in the sky” optimistic conclusions
we want from this. But what I see is not
that against all odds the crowd will tend towards
progress, but rather in aspiring towards
organization, whether it’s for
progress or not, even without a central authority,
we still get shades of it, and that we do aspire
towards that organization even within systems that are
demonstrably and patently absurd. Start9, start9, start9, start9,
start9, start9, helix fossil. What do you guys think? Is it Twitch Plays Pokemon
a model for government or a social experiment? Let us know in the comments. And I choose you, subscribitu! I really need better jokes. So I just started
watching “True Detective.” And for some reason, I
can’t shake the feeling that it is the same world in
which Harry Potter exists. I don’t know why. So let’s see what
you guys had to say about Harry Potter and
the existence of fiction. Dun tay asks whether or not
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter is in some way like the
most correct Harry Potter. And I think that this
is kind of, I think, the mark of a good
novelist, right? Like, someone who is able to
make a character that, for all of the people who
consume the work, they understand who they
are and why they would behave the way that they are. So I don’t know. That’s a good question. Relatedly, Philosophy
Tube writes a comment about Frege’s distinctions
between sense and referent and how ideas about
differing Harry Potters might not be conversations about
to which Harry Potter they are referring but in what
fictional domain they exist, which, as always, is
super interesting. And also, I learned
that I’m not exactly saying “Surrey” incorrectly. So I can stop stressing
out about that. Phew. Thurston Sexton brings a really
great mathematical perspective and says that the answer to
this question is different based on how you define
your universe of discourse. And he says that if the
universe of discourse is characters in
a JK Rowling book, then the result is
necessarily different than if the universe
of discourse is within people, and
then talks about how if you don’t set
up this groundwork, then you run into
Russell’s paradox. So yeah, this is
super interesting. Links to this comment,
which you should read all of and all the
other ones actually, in the doobly-doo. Brien Malone says that
basing the existence of fictional objects
on their descriptors is giving descriptors too
much “reality credit,” which is a phrase that I love. So– but I wonder. So I met Mike Wazowski
at Disney World. I have verified his existence. I guess we’re done here. ZeroZivan points us towards
a Nostalgia Critic video which talks about why people
take fictional things so seriously and, in
looking at those reasons, how we can show that
they are useful. And Jon Bohlinger
relatedly writes a comment about how things that don’t
necessarily exist still have a use in math. So yeah, math angle all around. Really like it. David McNamara and
Andrew Conlon both comment on the fluid
definition of existence that we used in the video. And I think that this is a
totally fair criticism in that a lot of the
conversation– like, we were hoping that it
would wage in the comments because of the
information we provided. But it seems to have kind
of happened in spite of it. Also, Andrew, I am totally
going to use “realiness.” That’s awesome. Ben Ferber writes
an amazing comment about the Brechtian idea of
drama and how, when performed, people will think of their lines
as being appended with phrases like “she said,” “he said.” It’s– this is– there’s a link. You should read it. It’s great. It’s really good. Thank you for writing this, Ben. I’m– I loved this comment. The end. I have been saying
“Rouling” for years. And even today, I asked Morgan,
the director of Idea Channel today. And he even said, yeah, it’s
actually– it is “Rolling.” So I blame him, because
he didn’t tell me, even though he heard me say
it dozens of times, Morgan. MORGAN: I don’t
care how you say it. [LAUGHTER] So this is our 100th
video, though it is not our 100th episode. So we’re not going to get the
festivities going just yet. Though maybe we
should do something, because our 100th episode
is right around the corner. I don’t know. Party of some kind, maybe? Who wants to go
out and get pizza? Leave us some ideas on how
to celebrate in the comments. And I don’t know, maybe we’ll–
we’ll figure something out. But for now, this week’s
episode was brought to you by the hard work of
these nice round numbers. We have a Facebook, an
IRC, and a subreddit. Links in the doobly-doo. And the tweet of the week
comes from McPhersonPR, who points us towards an
infographic explaining religion in Twitch Plays Pokemon. Whoa. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think I’m on
the wrong channel.

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