The great thing about games is that a simple change to how you play, and how you consider reaching your goals in-game can make all the difference to your enjoyment and make for a refreshing experience. Twitch Plays Pokemon is that theory taken to its most extreme.
Right now, tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of players are playing Pokemon co-operatively; they’re trying to beat the gym leaders, beat the elite four and beat the champion to win the game. It sounds like a recipe for madness, and it is – with each inputted command in chat (left, right, up, down, start, select) resulting in the player performing an insane ballet. We’ve all played Pokemon, but nothing like this before. Even the simplest acts of using a HM to teach a move, of using the PC, and of navigating caves become infinitely more difficult when so many players are at the controls at once.
However, this novel concept can be applied to more than just Pokemon. The general idea behind this exciting new way to play is to create a huge co-op session – where everyone has input- and to aim to complete the main objective of the game. This simple concept has translated into Twitch Plays Street Fighter, Twitch Plays Super Mario Bros, even Twitch Plays QWOP. Games which were once a solitary experience, like rpgs, can now be social experiences with each player invested in this collaborative narrative, like the many stories spawned from Twitch Plays Pokemon.
But, while Twitch Plays Pokemon is the breakthrough for this genre, it is not the progenitor. If you cast your mind back to November 2012, you may remember an interesting social experiment game called ‘Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?’ Curiosity was the brainchild of resident game industry mad scientist, Peter Molyneux, who is often known for his quirky ideas – and Curiosity was no exception. The game was played by allowing all players to dig away layer after layer of tiny cubes from a single gargantuan cube in an effort to reveal what was hidden at the centre of the mysterious box. It may certainly sound monotonous, but as the layers were stripped away the gameplay evolved as well – players were able to earn coins to buy stronger picks to obliterate more tiny cubes, and, at one point, even pay real money to put thousands of cubes back and undo the hard work of legions of determined miners. The game eventually ended with a chap called Bryan Henderson breaking the last cube and winning the opportunity to be a virtual god in Molyneux’s Godus project and earn a slice of the revenue from said project.
Looking at these examples, you may ask why this intriguing idea is so popular when it has the potential to be so frustrating. The reason why is exactly because of that frustration. Every failed attempt, every setback makes any progress all the more sweet when achieved. And that’s not the only reason either, as the progress you do make is a shared experience, a shared endeavour – which, in the end, results in shared victory. It gives players the feeling of being in a team where their individual contribution makes a huge difference.
It’s for those reasons that I’d like to see games in future harness the potential of these massively co-operative experiences. We’ve all seen what we can do pitted against each other, but think, what can we achieve when we work together?