Rival Peak lets thousands of players control characters living in a Lost-like world

Back in 2014, a Twitch streamer launched a fascinating crowdsourced experiment called "Twitch Plays Pokemon", in which a programmer coded a system that would play Pokemon Red, controlled entirely by instructions typed into the chat by viewers of the stream. It quickly became a wild, chaotic hit. Over a million participants showed up to type in commands, which arrived in such a frantic pace that the system strained to deal with them all—including, of course, constant fighting for control by loosely-coordinated factions in the chat. It was nutty but mesmerizing.

Now there's a browser game—"Rival Peak"—that riffs off precisely this style of play. Created by the firm Genvid and hosted on Facebook (click here to jump immediately into the game, if you're logged into Facebook), it consists of twelve AI characters who are plunked into a situation that's a mix between Lost and Survivor: They're put on a mountain filled with mysterious technology that has a weird backstory, and they try to unravel what's going on, while also competing to be the last person standing, with one AI character getting voted off each week.

The AI characters have some agency, but they're also — in a Twich/Pokemon way — guided by the humans who are playing the game. If you go to the game, you can click on a character, see what they're doing, and decide to click-help them with their current task. Characters are voted off based on how much or little engagement them get from the humans who drift by the game.

But—again, as with Twitch/Pokemon—each individual act of you, the player, doesn't have that much influence on the game. It's more like nudging things in a direction. You're as much as spectator as a participant. It's a bit like playing The Sims, really, except if there were an a) an overall plot and b) thousands of people simultaneously playing the exact set of Sims you're playing. Genvid says around 600,000 people have played the game so far.

It's a weird game to create, too, as the creators note, because it required them to write 160,000 words of dialogue, though some will never be seen if the AI—and player clicks—don't create actions that initiate those interactions. (The plot that has transpired is pretty meta, though: At various points the AI characters realize, in a sort of Redshirts fashion, that they're not entirely in control of their own fates.)

Overall, a super weird and intriguing experiment! The game/story launched on Dec. 2, and it's wrapping up on February 26, so you can still check out the finale events on a daily basis. There are weekly video recaps of what's transpired in the game, hosted by Wil Wheaton; if you're in the game itself, you can click on the little book icon to read daily text recaps what's happened over the past few weeks.

As the creators describe the game here:

Rival Peak is built on the idea that interactive stories should be based around the entire audience, not just a single viewer. That your decisions should have consequences to you and to others. That there are no "do-overs", no "pausing" and no way to know who will win. During its twelve week run, the world of Rival Peak never stops, its characters are constantly in motion, and the story unfolds as the audience decides.

This means you're neither player, nor viewer. You're a participant, a director, a God. And entrusted to you is a world inhabited by 12 AI contestants fighting to survive elimination and unravel the mysteries of the Rival Peak mountain. Over the next three months, these contestants will survive the wilderness, survive each other, and maybe survive elimination. As a result, the world will be changing weekly, with the map transforming and new areas unveiled.

And while there's no "right" way to engage in Rival Peak, there is also not a predetermined winner. Facebook's billions of users will have the opportunity to pick (or fight over) on everything. Every minute watched, dialogue read, and vote cast will increase a character's score and change the story.