Venkataraman: Anarchy in practice with TwitchPlaysPokémon

March 5, 2014, 2:44 a.m.

The Internet probably best exemplifies the phrase “agree to disagree.” It is a modern day cyber-wild-wild-west, with scammers, thieves and scumbags strolling across its networked glory. Consensus on the Internet is a lot like a pet unicorn: a hopeful dream that will never come to pass.

Around the time the Internet was just getting big, Pokémon Red Version was released, spawning a generation of kids who grew up shouting “PIIIIKAAAAACHUUUUUUUU” at each other. Part of its success lies in the fact that it is conceptually simple, but that it still requires coordination, timing and thoughtful management to complete.

Put the two together, and you’ve created a riddle wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in quandary and seasoned with essence of paradox.

The saying goes that if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, they will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. (Probabilistically speaking, the Sun will go supernova and the typewriters will run out of ink long before then.) If you replace the monkeys with human beings on the Internet (the intelligence level remains approximately the same), and the desired result of Shakespeare with the successful completion of Pokémon Red (inarguably a task of the same difficulty), what you’ve got is the newfangled craze that has swept the world’s Internet-travelling population off its collective feet.

Welcome to TwitchPlaysPokémon, a thought experiment gone viral.

The Twitch platform allows people to control the titular character, Red, by inputting commands into the chat window of the game, which updates as a 24-hour live-feed. Over the last two weeks, the Internet has been abuzz as Red, controlled by legions of unique puppet masters located all over the world, has toiled and toughed his way through the game.

Perhaps you don’t think this is difficult? In the hands of a single player, Pokémon only takes about 20 hours to complete, but the Internet’s utter lack of synchronization and inability to plan ahead has yielded truly comedic results. Imagine for a moment walking up a set of steps in the bucolic countryside. Then jerking upwards towards to the city, your ultimate destination. Then spinning around as various people fight to move you in other directions. Then checking your knapsack again…and again…and again…and again…(throw in a few more “again’s” for the full sense of it). Then jumping down a ledge and realizing that now you have to find your way up the steps again.

If you can’t tell, I’m totally sold on this as a commercial product. I think TwitchPlays(insert something here) could become the greatest sport in the world — the “Internet’s pastime,” if you will. How can we apply anarchy to the world we live in? Here is a list of things easily made better by wiring them up to Twitch and letting the mob rule:

1. Actual government. I’m truly curious to see what would happen if government were run on the whims of the Internet, and if it responded to every person’s command. Would we declare war on everyone? How many nukes would be inadvertently fired? Would Congress just run around in circles all day without accomplishing anything (oh wait — they do that already)? Or would the government become more productive with the wisdom of the collective hive-mind behind it?

Besides, consider this point: Are we sure that Russia isn’t already doing this? What else explains its bipolar government and its invasion/not-sure-if-invasion of Ukraine? Fittingly, there are anarchy and democracy modes within the mechanics of TwitchPlaysPokemon…this can’t just be a coincidence, can it?

2. Being the GM of an NBA team. Raise your hand if you think your NBA team’s general manager is incompetent…interesting — that seems to be all of you. In some situations, it is said that pseudo-random actions can actually have better outcomes than a terrible plan executed to perfection (for example, see South Park’s characterization of Family Guy as a show written by manatees). In the case of the NBA, this concept totally applies.

Put Twitch in charge of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have assembled a team that is both expensive and awful, and watch the fun unfold. ESPN’s Bill Simmons, already wedded to ESPN’s trade simulator, would go apoplectic and start churning out columns three times a week. There will be at least one “oh nooooooo” trade that works out better for all parties involved, and because God hates Cleveland, I’ll bet that All-Star Kyrie Irving gets traded for Nemanja Nedovic.

3. Coaching football. This is actually surprisingly easy to do: wire up Twitch to some computer running Madden, input the team’s offensive and defensive playbooks, and do whatever the Internet commands. At the very least, nobody could plan against that team on either side of the ball, because no one would know what would be going on. No one would ever punt on fourth down, on average the coaching could not be worse than that of Lane Kiffin (sorry Alabama) and all the teams would save money by not having to pay exorbitant salaries to coaches.

Of course, TwitchPlaysPokémon has been continually abused by trolls inputting stupid commands. Some troll will most definitely call a quarterback draw with speed-merchant Tom Brady on fourth-and-24 from his own 20-yard line, leading to a catastrophic injury that ends Brady’s career. It has been foretold in the sands of time.

The more I think about this idea, the more I like it! If you’re actually trying to make this work, pick a coach at random each week and have him call all the plays! If the team wins, he stays on as coach, and if he loses, he is replaced (and summarily executed). We should test this out next year at Stanford. At least the Internet wouldn’t run the Wildcat.

These ideas may be absurd, but given the fact that Pokémon Red was beaten in around two weeks, my knowledge of what is and isn’t possible needs recalibration. See you next week, faithful readers; I have some Twitch commands that need spamming.

Vignesh Venkataraman has recently relinquished control of his own decisions, leaving it all up to the new Internet phenomenon, TwitchPlaysVignesh’sLife. Let him know what his next move should be at viggy ‘at’

Vignesh Venkataraman (or Viggy, if you prefer) writes weekly columns for the Daily, unless he forgets. He is a computer science and mechanical engineering double major, with an unofficial minor in watching sports. Born in Boston but raised in Cupertino, CA, Vignesh is a diehard New England Patriots fan and has adopted the Golden State Warriors as his favorite basketball team. He was the backup quarterback for his high school football team and called Stanford football games on KZSU in 2014.

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