net.wars: Trivia pursuits

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 15 August 2003

The numbers mount up faster than you think, but never fast enough. There's Aintha_Paterka way out of reach at 1750, ben22ross almost as far out of reach at 1298, WolfBen who I'll probably never catch at 592, and then three of us trading positions in the middle 400s.

Wendy M Grossman

Yesterday, I led Soranna by 200 points; now she's ahead by 20, but I've got a secret weapon in that she can't type accurately. I'm sure I can regain my lead over ChandlerBing, too; I get up earlier and stay up later than he does.

We are playing an incredibly stupid game of trivia questions about the sitcom Friends on an IRC channel that shall remain nameless because people advertise sites there where you can download whole episodes of TV shows. There are currently 1,448 questions in the quiz, and some of the players have answered them so many times that I'm guessing they associate the answers with the question number, like the old story about the group telling jokes. "22." "He didn't tell it well." "Question 704/1448 - " "Fireball." Like that.

Soranna's picked up a lot of speed since her arrival a few days ago, when she asked plaintively, "How did you know that?" after I'd answered a particularly obscure question. I'm still running across questions I haven't seen before, and I therefore have to confess the sad truth: I am working from a combination of memory of the show and an ability to parse the game's clues showing how many words of how many letters the answer has. If the question goes unanswered for a few seconds, it reveals a letter or two and asks again.

On the first version of this type of game that I saw, a tennis trivia quiz on AOL, you got progressively fewer points as the answer became more and more obvious (except that on the tennis trivia I didn't need help). On this quiz, you get one point even if the answer has four letters and all of them are showing for the last three iterations of the question. You see how dumb? On another channel there's an identical Frasier trivia game, but it doesn't have the same appeal - I wouldn't have a fighting chance, I think.

As the Friends character Chandler Bing would say, "Why ... why ... why would they do this?"

I think some of these people are bored at work.

I say it's research.

Of course, if I'm honest, I only categorized it as research after I'd been doing it for a few days. I was in the channel researching how easy it was to download American TV episodes (another time), and as I scanned the ads for servers a question popped up. Idly, I typed in the answer. A point. I didn't think much of this until, a few days later, when my score was hovering around the 50s, I noticed that I was up against a couple of other players who were apparently on live. They were talking to each other between points. Nothing terribly profound - the cyberequivalent of sticking your tongue out at the other person when you got in before they did.

But clear indications that there were live humans functioning in between the trivia game's non-Turing interjections of "That's the way!" and "Show 'em how it's done!" or sarcastic comments like "Did someone hit you over the head?" when no one answers for a spell. Sort of like chatting about the weather over a trivia game instead of a beer.

I am not addicted to this game. I know this because when three questions go by unanswered the game shuts itself down. And I have a rule: I never start it up again. If I am addicted to any game, it's tennis, where you can hit real live things at real live people really, really hard and it's socially acceptable.

Injustice! I typed that answer first and the game gave Soranna the point! THAT'S NOT FAIR!

Of course, the only way to look yourself in the mirror and play this game is to hide behind a pseudonym. Which would have been fine, except after a few more days, curious about a few things relating to the hosting of TV episodes and copyright violations, I outed myself. As in, "I'm curious. Do you worry about the MPAA or RIAA coming in here and trying to shut us all down?"

"Why?" said the first one I asked, "are you a federal agent?" So I had to show them my Web site. Then they had a long discussion about whether or not I was a girl because my screen name didn't sound "female". Trivia can do that to you. Like ChandlerBing's real name is Chandler Bing.

Curiously, the game does not include the trivia questions the Friends ask each other in the episode where they swap apartments, so no one has asked the name under which Chandler and Joey receive TV Guide. I wish they would, so I could type "Miss Chanandeler Bong". Oddly, these inveterate trivia quiz answerers cannot immediately tell me the name of that episode. (Bet they could do that on Usenet.)

At least I'm playing with live humans. IBM currently has you playing trivia games with a prototype interactive car.

"Question 842/1448: What was Phoebe's boyfriend's name who eats chalk ???" I don't know. Ben22ross gets it. I'm still five behind ChandlerBing. Six! Damn it, he came back! Seven. Eight. Twenty-two. I'm dying here.

Technorati tags:   
You can discuss this article on our discussion board.

Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).