“With an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters, one will type Shakespeare's plays." -- Émile Borel.
There’s a fascinating social experiment currently underway right now: Up to 75,000 people are “playing” a single game of Pokemon Red over on Twitch.tv. In the five-and-a-half days since the stream started, over 9 million people have tuned in to see what’s happening.
The exciting element of the stream is that anyone watching can help “play” the game. By typing a command into the chat (up, down, left, right, A, B or Start), you can help dictate which direction the character in the game moves. It’s often a beautiful disaster, and I can’t stop watching it.
The idea was concocted by an Australian programmer, who wishes to remain anonymous. He/She had no idea how big the stream would get: “I didn't really have any plans for it from the beginning," the creator told Polygon. “I just wanted to put it up to see how people would respond. I put it together and put it up on a dedicated server all within a few days.”
It’s safe to say the stream has grown bigger than anyone would have ever imagined.
“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.” This is the most accurate description of the stream I’ve found so far. Whether there’s 10 people in the chat, 2,000 (which was when I first tuned in, and already seemed like a ton of people) or 76,000+, there will always be people who want to cause chaos because it’s fun to watch something burn. It’s what makes the stream endlessly fascinating – and frustrating – to watch.
As I write this on Tuesday morning, the chat is stuck in the same maze of arrows that it has been stuck in for over 24 hours. Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that the creator has added a new option: Anarchy vs. Democracy. By having 3/4 of the vote lean toward Democracy, the game temporarily switched over to accepting the most popular input – not all of them. It’s a much slower process but one – in theory, anyway – that should lead to actual results.
And results have been hard to come by. The game has been on for 133 hours, and the farthest they’ve made it is a place about halfway through the game – that you could get to (relatively easily) in about four or five hours. (You can try to make sense of the biggest landmarks or milestones with this Google Docs page.) That’s a lot of “wasted” time. But it’s not really wasted, because the community has responded in a way that’s even better than the stream: fan art.
It would take too long to describe why some of these pieces were created (and, frankly, I’m not 100% sure on some of them myself). But with 133 hours of stream-time, and the internet’s tremendous ability to make greatness out of what initially seems like nothing, there’s been a lot created, and a lot of it is wonderful.
Even with Democracy mode enabled (which, for the sake of entertainment, I hope is repealed as soon as the stream gets past this section), little progress is being made. At this rate, the stream is set to go on for several more days.
You might not understand what you’re watching, and you might think you don’t care, but I urge you to check it out. I’m captivated by so many elements of the stream, as are millions around the world. And, if you tune in at the right point (probably sometime in about a week or so), you might see the team reach the end of the game, and see if those monkeys actually write Shakespeare. Or, as one Twitch commenter noted:
“Man. This isn't a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters. It’s twenty thousand monkeys at a single typewriter, and half those monkeys are screaming and desperately trying to progress while the other half throw s**t everywhere. It's wonderful.”