The Infinite Pokémon Theorem


If 1,000 monkeys are given 1,000 typewriters and enough time, they will, almost surely, type out the complete works of William Shakespeare. Called the Infinite Monkey Theorem, the idea is that a random number of random inputs will eventually complete something. In the case of Twitch Plays Pokémon, that something is Pokémon Red.

Not too long ago, an anonymous Australian set up a Twitch channel with a hacked read-only memory version of Pokemon Red. The ROM, which quickly became the most popular Twitch channel with over 20 million viewers, was hacked to include all 151 Pokemon, but that’s not what makes this story interesting.

The ROM is controlled by commands given in the chat channel accompanying the stream, and the people watching the stream are the ones controlling it–all 70,000+ of them.

Each has a say in how the game is played; every viewer can give a single button input which is then registered on the stream. 70,000 denizens of the internet have been given 70,000 typewriters.

After the first week, the player character, Red, controlled by those watching the stream, has somehow miraculously achieved five of the needed eight badges.

Under the command of the legion controlling his movements, Red has navigated Mt. Moon, Rock Tunnel, the Pokemon Tower, Team Rocket’s Game Corner Hide-out, five gyms and is currently working his way through the Sliph Co. building. Each is a simple maze designed to be navigated by young children, yet it has taken about a week of constant playing and setbacks to reach beyond the half way mark.

Considering not everyone is in it to see this succeed, this is a monumental achievement.

To put in perspective how this stream operates, here are the sequence of events needed to clear the Rocket Hide-out under the Game Corner: Hit the button behind the poster, enter and navigate the maze, get the elevator key, get to the elevator, beat the boss and claim your loot.

These tasks would take a new player who doesn’t know the composition of the maze about an hour, depending on how often they are beaten in battle. It took the legion of players much, much longer.

Two days to be exact.

Here are the sequence of events they took: 25 hours in maze to get elevator key, get up to boss, lose to boss, maze again, get to up boss, dig out of maze, maze again, get to boss, beat bossdig before getting item, maze again, get to boss room, get item.

Tasks two through nine on that list took an entire day, while 11-13 took three hours.

Those controlling Red managed, with a few setbacks, to create a narrative out of their experience. Their collective story includes the Pokemon they’ve caught, the items obtained, and even the way in which the stream is run.

This narrative even has a collective mythology; a god, a savior, a devil, fallen warriors, those who were never given a chance, and hope for the future. These players have a story that will exist long after they are done playing.

They have formed factions, they sabotage, and at times it seems they never even want to finish the game.

They even argue over how the stream is run. Some of them fight for anarchy, the way it has been run so far; others for democracy, these want the ability to vote on the actions the player character, Red, should take; there are also the trolls, who are just in it to cause as much trouble as humanly possible.

Completing the game with this sizable crowd is debatable. They navigate this simple map, and it’s simple mazes with all the skill of a half-blind schizophrenic, epileptic squirrel. The fact that these gamers have even managed to make it as far into the game as they have is a miracle in itself.

Watching these 1,000 monkeys at their 1,000 typewriters is quite an enjoyable experience. In reality, it doesn’t matter if they will ever complete the gargantuan task they set out to accomplish because the journey is far better, and much more entertaining, than the destination.

John Zurz

John Zurz

John Zurz

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  1. […] drug, then the Game Boy Color was the heroin. I mean, I spent DAYS on this thing. Playing what? Pokémon, of course– along with every other kid at the time (any Blue version fans out there?). The […]