The Electric Commentary

Friday, April 15, 2005

Trivial Pursuit

Dan Drezner links to this article by Brian Curtis in The Slate on my favorite game of all time. Brian sums up the recent problems with the game as follows:

Then came the Internet: How could Trivial Pursuit survive in the age of Google? The Internet has rewritten the rules of the game. The old measure of the trivia master was how many facts he could cram into his head. The new measure is how nimbly he can manipulate a search engine to call up the answer. The ABC show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire included a lifeline called "phone-a-friend," in which a desperate contestant was supposed to call upon the knowledge of a smart companion. Seconds after the contestant dialed for help, you could hear the guy on the other end pecking away at a keyboard—Googling—and I thought, This is it. Trivia is dead.

That's overstating it a little. Trivia lives; it's generalist trivia, the kind of fluency that Trivial Pursuit prized, that's ailing. Just as the Internet splintered trivia into thousands of niches, Trivial Pursuit has contented itself with turning out games like "90s Time Capsule" and "Book Lover's," and, more frighteningly, those devoted solely to the vagaries of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Gone is the proud generalist of the original Trivial Pursuit, who knew the most common Russian surname (Ivanov) and the international radio code word for the letter O (Oscar). In his place is the specialist, who knows every inch of Return of the Jedi. There are many of us who have a nagging fear we belong to the latter group. "What jungle planet do Wookiees hail from?" a Star Wars card asks. Let's say, hypothetically and only for the sake of argument, that I know the answer. Who is supposed to be impressed by that?

First of all, Trivia is not dead. The love of trivia is not so much a quest for knowledge as it is a personality defect. No amount of Googling will replace the love of storing useless information in one's mind.

Secondly, Trivial Pursuit, for me, died the day they replaced the "Literature" category with the "Wild Card" category. I think they lost a lot of their die-hard fans that day, and die-hards are responsible for making a game iconic in the first place.

Thirdly, Trivial Pursuit has increasingly resorted to what my brother calls "Fun Fact" questions. These questions tend to show off the knowledge of the card-writer rather than testing the knowledge of the game players. Fun fact questions tend to be impossibly difficult. In order to give you a fighting chance, Fun Fact questions are frequently multiple choice. They often sound like this:

What is the ratio of Yaks to people in the country of Nepal: 4:1, 8:1, 20:1?


Of every 1000 cows in the US, how many are lactose intolerant: 1, 100, 500?

The fun of playing a trivia game is in showing off what you know. When the question is just a guessing game, it is no longer fun.

Finally, the proliferation of specialty versions of the game (Will and Grace Trivial Pursuit, WWE Trivial Pursuit, and of course, Trivial Pursuit Trivial Pursuit) has destroyed the credibility of the game. We recently purchased the "Book Lover's" edition of the game, and rather than containing questions about classic or iconic books, it contains questions about the Barnes & Noble top 100 list over the last 4 years or so. Unless you've read every pop-sensation to grace the B&N window display lately, you have no chance of finishing the game. Trivial Pursuit sold out the Book Lover's edition! That is just wrong.

I think I'll play Settlers of Catan instead.


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