Recently, the streaming service Twitch TV offered Pokemon as a massively multi-player game. Anyone with Internet access may – at least for a moment – control the game, and thousands have tried. As always in life, not everyone has the same goals, so allowing thousands to sit in the driver’s seat means that the results are not straightforward – they tend to oscillate between chaos and stasis. xkcd summarized the situation eptly (click on the image to embiggen it):
That so many would seek to play when no individual can achieve very much is not a new discovery in human psychology. NYNEX, the main local phone company in New York and New England (now part of Verizon), ran a technical trial of interactive telecommunications back in the 1990s, renting 15 minutes each week on a local Manhattan cable channel in the early hours of Sunday mornings, which they called Joe’s Apartment. They had taken film inside an apartment, walking in every direction, and then cut the film into short discrete pieces. The film showed only the apartment, nothing more. The discrete pieces were then assembled at run-time, in an order determined by a TV viewer using only their landline or mobile phone. A viewer could phone in and using the phone keypad, control the movement of the camera (left, right, forward, etc). This control of the camera was only apparent. In reality, the viewer was controlling the selection of which discrete piece of film would be seen next. Any one viewer only retained control of the camera for a few minutes.
Despite the simplicity of the set-up and the lateness of the hour, and much to NYNEX’s surprise, the program attracted thousands of viewers, all seeking to wrest control of the camera. No doubt a large number of viewers were people who’d spent the evening in close proximity with alcohol.