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I wasn't good enough at encouraging people to be kinder, and removing people who refuse to be kind. Encouraging people is hard, and removing people creates conflict, and I hate conflict... so that's why I wasn't better at it.

I was a very, very sensitive teen. The atmosphere of this forum as it is now, if it had existed in 1996, would probably have upset me far more than it would have helped.

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Making the Internet Twitch
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Ky Offline
Shadow

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Post: #1
Making the Internet Twitch

Nobody asked for it, and nobody cares, so here it is! Without further ado, a treatise on the latest phenomenon to grace the Internet: Twitch Plays Pokémon.


"RED! This isn't the time to use that!"

Twitch Plays Pokémon - TPP for short - is a crowdsourced attempt to play Pokémon Red through a Twitch stream. Essentially, it is a single-player JRPG turned into an MMO thanks to the use of a Game Boy emulator, a modification to Twitch's IRC client, clever Python coding, and a custom JavaScript app. (If you don't know what any of that means, Google it.)

The TPP stream was designed to be a social experiment to see how groups would perform at a task intended for only a single player. Pokémon Red was chosen due to its simplistic nature, turn-based structure, and lack of events that require expert timing. Interestingly, the stream went viral, and the world began watching as thousands of players began inserting one of seven commands (up, down, left, right, b, a, and start) into the chat in order to move the character, Red, around.

The game became increasingly erratic as thousands upon tens of thousands of players participated. The things a single player would take for granted quickly became daunting tasks. Most of the play time is spent navigating menus, moving the character in circles, and attempting to decide upon a course of action in battle. Simple obstacles like ledges have taken hours to pass. Items with little to no use in the game are frequently selected by accident. Worst of all, mistakes are made, useful items are lost, and important Pokemon are released.

Regardless, the stream continues; they managed to beat all eight Gyms, and are grinding levels in preparation for Victory Road and the Elite Four. A mob, thousands - possibly millions - strong, has formed and succeeded where many have predicted they'd fail.

This raises an important question: Why is the world working and struggling together over a videogame?

To answer this question, a detailed analysis is required.


“Guys, we need to beat Misty”

Collaboration is an interesting concept. It unites a group to perform an individual task, which is certainly the object of this experiment.

What we have here, though, is an anomaly. TPP has often been compared to the infinite monkey theorem, and has also demonstrated what happens with too many cooks. Too Many Cooks Spoil the Shakespeare? An Infinite Number of Monkeys, Given an Infinite Amount of Time, Can Write Broth? I need to work on my metaphor mixing. In any case, this is more like trying to play a Game Boy while thousands of people elbow you out of the way...but it's teamwork, nonetheless. A mob of people are actually beating Pokémon Red.

How smart is this mob?

Terry Pratchett suggests that "the intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it." That would make this mob genius-tier. Pessimists have a different equation, claiming that the IQ of a large group would be approximately the average of its members...minus a number proportional to the size of said group. In this case, the stream would be a hive mind of ditz. Maybe they're both?

One thing that can be said for certain about groups playing games, however, is "the more, the merrier!" As the group size increases, so does the fun. This is the entire premise of multiplayer games, and explains why there have been online riots over what was formerly a (mostly) single-player game.

Humans are social creatures, and evidently it shows most when they play Pokémon.


"GUISE HAVE WE SAVED YET"

But the social interactions of humankind are more significant than just interactions. In fact, we built a huge interconnected network, a world wide web, to share information on the whole of human existence with one another. Now that it has birthed TPP, it is even more beautiful.

I'm getting ahead of myself. The Internet itself is worthy of examination.

Popularized in the mid 90's, what was once a means for governments (or at least a government) to communicate became an international hit. The first thing to go viral on the Internet was the Internet itself. It is a technological wonder that, thankfully, has been shared with the whole world. It brings our cultures together, it eliminates the distance between others, and it has allowed me to start a fairly popular blog.

The human element of this electronic freeway is what gives the Internet its randomness. We have contributed countless amounts of information to this collective of human intelligence. We've formed social networks, websites, and memes. Memes such as those we might find in TPP.

So, what is a meme? Well, it's a unit for spreading cultural ideas; with the culture of the Internet, some of these ideas can be rather strange despite not being the least bit foreign. An excellent 80's song became the Rick Roll. Quotes from a videogame turned into a flurry of knee arrows, or of boss rushes, or of shorts. These Internet memes reflect our tendency to mimic the things we've seen online, establishing our culture as one of remixes. Not a bad thing to be, considering that's what I'm doing right now, in a way.

And now, the Internet has brought us TPP, which has inspired a resurgence of Pokémon-related memes and entirely new fads.

Still, why a videogame?


"Bird Jesus leveled up!"

People play videogames bec...

You know what? I think this has been explained already. Watch:



Watch on YouTube

So, videogames offer us a "triforce" of competence, autonomy, and relatedness, thus allowing us to "level up" our mind by fulfilling our psychological needs and improving our cognitive abilities.

Since these games offer people confidence, freedom, and an awesome social experience, why not play? TPP itself appears to be very satisfying of these three core needs, despite accepting very little actual input from individual players.

Speaking of social experience, we still haven't explored the nature of social experiments.


"Oh, good, Bulbasaur's cry hasn't changed in the last 5 min."

As I've said, the purpose of TPP is to see how a large community of random people from the world over can manage to beat a game of Pokémon. The results? Let's just say Hilarity Ensues.

So, why a social experiment? You know, aside from the fact a computer nerd from Australia wanted to see a bunch of people fight over a virtual Game Boy?

Social experiments are performed to understand social cues and pressures. We create and perform them, sometimes unknowingly, to test the reactions of those around us. These reactions don't lie, but the data derived from them might. Regardless, taking steps to understand the people around us brings honor to both the scientific method and to the human race itself.

Still, over a Pokémon game? The answer is a resounding yes.

We've demonstrated that people of various cultures can unite over something as simple as the original Red, established what technically qualifies as a new religion, and spawned an entire new wave of Internet memes. The world won't be the same despite the simplistic nature of the experiment.

And why do people allow themselves to be treated as part of an experiment? Easy; it's fun, and they get to take part in history. Who wouldn't?


"SPOILER: GIOVANNI IS RED FROM THE FUTURE"

Unlikely, but we all have our theories. (Our Game Theories.)

Still, the story of Pokémon Red is an interesting one. It's the story of a kid who moves away from his hometown upon receiving a powerful creature known as Pokémon. He must use it to battle other Pokémon, which would enable him to collect Gym Badges, face the League, and eventually become the Champion. Along the way, he meets a variety of friends and foes as he travels across a region suffering from the influence of a criminal organization that he is tasked to defeat. And, in the end, he succeeds.

There are a number of pieces of in-game lore, but they do not compare to the narrative that the followers of TPP have concocted.

The chaos of forcing the character to move around is explained as thousands of voices in that poor, mentally ill kid's head. He must do a number of ridiculous tasks to appease these voices, which lead him to slowly navigate the region and somehow succeed despite his worsening mental condition. What's scary is that this is played for laughs.

But that's not the only plot element the mob has introduced.

Events in the game that wouldn't make sense in single-player are explained as the will of these voices as well as mysterious deities, the most powerful of which is a rock the player can pick up early in the game. It is called the Helix Fossil, and is the counterpart to the character's other choice, a similar rock called the Dome Fossil. This choice of two, while originally simple and unimportant, has been explained as picking a benevolent god over a malevolent devil.

The Pokémon themselves have become legendary, despite all but one of them not being legendaries. The team's longest-surviving member, Pidgeot, is also the highest-levelled; for its constant success in battle, it is referred to as Bird Jesus. That's just one example!

It seems weird that fans of TPP would construct a new lore around Pokémon when one already exists. Some things just can't be explained, right? Why bother to explain them?

Well...


"Consult the Helix Fossil."

Religion tends to be a means that society uses to explain what science can't. The supernatural, the spiritual, and the unquantifiable is given a divine backstory, and several such gospels exist. It seems to me that of all of them, Christianity is the most accurate, but I would not be surprised if there were more than a few holes in the doctrine. (I'm more spiritual - focused on God Himself than an explanation thereof - than I am religious, as religion implies organized structure.)

Still, this new doctrine of Helixism is downright perplexing. It began from a simple choice in a videogame and has spread like wildfire over the past week. How did it come about?

The same way the rest of TPP's story elements came about: fan speculation - fanon. The character chose one fossil over the other, implying that it was superior, but the legend of the Helix Fossil did not stop there. It only started.

No, the belief that the Helix was actually a deity came from the chaos of the game. During battle, the items menu would constantly be selected by mistake, and of the items therein, the one most selected was the Helix Fossil. Granted, it didn't do anything and resulted in a message saying that there is no practical use for it, but fans believe that the main character kept selecting it because he was consulting it for guidance. It did appear to be quite the good luck charm, after all.

The religious sentiments grew further when the fossil's only use was, well, used. Fossils in Pokémon games can be taken to a scientist and revived into Pokémon themselves; the Helix Fossil became an Omanyte, a full-fledged fighting freak of nature ready to join the player's party. Immediately this resulted in fans saying that their lord had risen. When said Omanyte was taught how to use the move Surf in and out of battle, fans rejoiced, claiming their lord could also now walk on water! Remind you of anyone?

Before you dismiss this as a cult of popularity, or a sacrilege of your religion, or a group of freaks that worship nothing, keep in mind that this isn't the first time the Internet has adopted a patron god. Ever heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Very few, if any, take these invented deities seriously, and the few that do have simply found order within the chaos of the Internet. If that isn't religious poetry, I'm not quite sure what is.

Still, I'll stick to reading the Bible for spiritual guidance rather than a videogame guidebook, but that's just me.


"We just released another Pokemon."

Nothing quite stirs up a large group of people like conflict, however.

In the Pokémon games, there is no shortage of it. It's trivial, after all - failure is not permanent. Or is it?

In TPP and the game it is playing, there are a number of ways to lose indefinitely. Trolls could delay the progress of the game until no one is interested anymore, for starters. The real threat, however, would have been getting stuck in inescapable areas; the community feared it would be trapped in the Safari Zone forever, but managed to pass without getting stuck. Had they gotten stuck, they would have had no escape due to an error in the game's coding. There were multiple smaller areas of the game in which this was possible, but most were avoided without so much as a passing glance.

Yet they're about to beat the game! Surely no lasting hardship has occurred or will occur. Right?

Unfortunately, the TPP mob collectively cried over the loss of Pokémon. Sure, they'll faint in battle, but all you have to do is heal them and send them out again. They can't die (within the context of gaming parameters, but it is implied through the story that they are indeed mortal and can indeed die). But they can be released.

And, due to the chaotic nature of the game and the interference of trolls, many beloved team members were forever lost thanks to a mechanic that permits players to release Pokémon for good via PC. As such, players tend to avoid the game's computers whenever possible.

The community mourned the loss of a Charmeleon they nicknamed Abby, and a Rattata they dubbed Jay Leno (who was accidentally released the same day The Tonight Show got a new host, ironically)...and that was just the start. Fan favorite after fan favorite were removed, either by negligence or the will of some trolls.

This has only made the players stronger. They know how to work together to prevent these tragedies from occurring. They have plans to avoid getting caught in the same place forever. And the game has even had a few changes to reflect this.

But one of these changes divides the players anyway.


"democracy anarchy democracy democracy anarchy anarchy anarchy"

TPP, which already inspired somewhat intelligent thought about the nature of our society, our cultures, and our religions, brought another issue into the world's view again: politics.

A system devised to make the game more playable was this: In anarchy mode, the game is played the way the experiment was supposed to run the entire time; the game takes commands the players enter in the chat and attempts to follow them in order. This can lead to problems on difficult puzzles, so the anonymous host introduced democracy mode, in which the game takes the most popular command request generated in about ten or twenty seconds, and follows it. While slower, it allows for more precision.

This has divided the player base. Some players believe democracy is superior because it means the right action is selected more often. It is criticized, however, for being far too slow and subverting the will of the individual. Some players believe anarchy is superior because it plays the game as it was meant to be played, which is a rush and flurry of actions that inevitably result in progress. Opponents claim that all they're doing is going nowhere fast.

Isn't that a good metaphor for libertarianism in real life? Anarchy apologists and Democratic demagogues are each trying to prove their way of freedom is best, causing great verbal debates.

The third alternative is having one person play the game while everyone else watches, but that's no fun at all, despite that being what we've done for each playthrough until TPP. I'd like to call it Dictatorship.

The Pokémon world, surprisingly enough, has always contained an element of politics. Some claim it is a socialist nightmare with free healthcare and $350 lemonade. Others claim it to be an anarchist paradise with no government intervention in sight. Still others see it as a crapsack world that stripped itself of governments and now relies on little kids to eliminate criminals and terrorists, since the police in that world do nothing. Maybe it's all three?


"Did we just catch Zapdos? Is this real?"

And if the above sections weren't reason enough to play TPP, surely this is: Against all odds, the players are succeeding. They're making their way to the Elite Four. And soon, everyone will become the Champion!

The failures in this game were all temporary. We all mourned the loss of our fallen pals; the protagonist's Pokémon felt like our very own. We all struggled together trying to solve the annoying mazes. Finally, we all sighed as a number of opportunities fell from our grasp like Moon Stones from our inventory. But the players press on.

And it is clear that this is no ordinary game of Pokémon. This is probably the most rewarding and challenging way to go about it. It is an epic struggle to perform one move that helps the world get one step closer to victory (or, if you're a troll, one step further away). Controlling Red is simple by yourself, but near impossible by the Internet.

This success? It feels good. It's going to feel good. Feel the dopamine rush through your head as I say that when Red becomes the Champion, we all become the Champion. What's good for one of us is good for all of us.


"I wonder where my partner went."

But I'm backed into a corner and out of time. So please; share this post however you can, whether by thanks or by +1. Leave a comment, and tell me what you think.

I have a great idea for next time, but until then...peace!

Public Service Announcement: First world problems are still problems.
(This post was last modified: 10-06-2016 12:25 PM by Ky.)
02-27-2014 11:46 AM
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xcriteria Offline
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RE: Making the Internet Twitch

OMG, that's long! Razz

Seriously, that gave me a massive "tl;dr" reaction, even though it looks like it has some interesting content. I'll read it, though, probably by responding part-by-part.

Am I the only one?

(And yes, I know how that sounds coming from me...)

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02-27-2014 11:57 AM
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Gwedin Offline
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Making the Internet Twitch

(02-27-2014 11:57 AM)xcriteria Wrote:  tl;dr
02-27-2014 12:33 PM
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brainiac3397 Offline
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Making the Internet Twitch

Damn. Long. Text.

Yo.

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(06-14-2013 08:02 AM)Potato Wrote:  watch the fuq out, we've got an "intellectual" over here.

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02-27-2014 01:29 PM
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xcriteria Offline
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RE: Making the Internet Twitch

After a few attempts getting started (and a few skims through that convinced me there was worthwhile material), I read the entire post in one pass this morning.

It's an interesting case study to read about, though I'm most interested in how the general themes connect to things like connectivist learning in general, transforming education-as-usual, and community management.

Here are a couple of quick reactions for now:

* One question I had was... how immersed did you get in this game? How much time have you spent playing it, and over what period of time?

* One thought I had was how meta themes here relate to those in the TV Tropes ARG, The Wall Will Fall. I can envision a quite long post comparing themes you raised here, and ones that came up in TWWF (and that can also be found in a range of other examples.) More on that later.

* Another thought I had has to do with recent discussions in the chat, and even questions that have come up on the forums, about the best way for communities to run. These questions blend into general discussions of political views and questions of real-life governance, but looking at them through the lens of relatively small-scale communities, projects, or social experiments provides a different context for these discussions. (Again, a big topic to delve into in more depth.)

* Finally, for now, another question: how do all these themes relate to the creation of new kinds of schools and learning environments, that aren't based on factory-model structures? What might that look like?

Peter Gray & allies launching the Alliance for Self-directed Education

ASDE Newsletters: #1 Announcement | #2 History of ASDE | #6 Education Liberation


School Survival & Catalyst Learning Network featured on AlternativestoSchool's blog
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02-28-2014 02:20 AM
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Ky Offline
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Making the Internet Twitch

First of all, yeah, I know it's long. I actually intended to write something so wall-like that it would eclipse even the great xcriteria's posts...and I seem to have succeeded. Regardless, I ensured that each piece of content I included had meaning. All in all, it took me about four hours to write.

A few mere minutes of TPP were enough to enthrall me. I've probably spent less than two hours playing it, but several hours reading about it and examining the meaning of it. The sheer scope of it is what really impressed me.

I haven't exactly figured out how to tie this to education yet, but I know it's far-reaching enough for such a thing. I'll have to continue pondering. (It's also occurred to me I need to edit the formatting.)

Public Service Announcement: First world problems are still problems.
02-28-2014 07:44 AM
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mehr672 Offline
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Making the Internet Twitch

Wonderful idea to making a twitch for the internet.
03-26-2014 09:10 PM
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Ky Offline
Shadow

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Making the Internet Twitch

Possible spammer detected.

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Public Service Announcement: First world problems are still problems.
03-26-2014 11:48 PM
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