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Prisoner’s Dilemma in Twitch Plays Pokemon

Twitch Plays Pokemon was a huge internet gaming experience and social experiment in which thousands of players from around the world were inputting moves to the same Pokemon game. When the game first started, it only had an anarchy mode in which every command a user typed in the chat window was executed in the game. Due to this, a simple task that could have easily been done in two commands took hours because of the conflicting and repetitive user commands. As the game continued, a democracy mode was developed to help players progress further in the game. This mode consisted of a system in which users entered commands that they voted for, and after a period of time, the command with the highest number of votes was executed in the game.

Both of these modes present a prisoner’s dilemma in this massive multiplayer game. The prisoner’s dilemma explains a situation in game theory where individuals may not cooperate even though it is in their best interest to do so. An example that demonstrates this is using items in the player’s bag:

  • If players cooperate (via democracy mode or simply communicating), they can decide to use or save an item for later
  • If one player wishes to use an item (by pressing A) and another does nothing (but wants to save the item for later), the first player is happy while the second is not
  • If one player wishes to save the item for later (by pressing down to reach the CANCEL option) and another does nothing (but wants to use the item), the first player is happy while the second is not
  • If both players attempt to do what makes them happy (by pressing down and A) there is a good chance that the combination down + A tosses the item

In this situation, one can easily see that cooperating would provide the best outcome, because if both parties act out on their own self-interests, it could result in the undesirable effect of throwing out a very useful item. Both players would be worse off since they no longer have the item at all, whereas cooperation would have allowed them to decide whether to use the item now or later. democracy-the-politics-of-twitch-plays-pokemon


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