Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pursuing Trivia

In my real life I occasionally attend pub quizzes, which are semi-standardized trivia games held in bars on off nights. Boozehound traffic might taper off on Mondays or Tuesdays, but sometimes the nerd crowd can be lured in—and lots of nerds drink, so the bars are good with it. Pub quiz rules vary, but generally folks group into table-based teams, each team antes up, and the collective pot serves as prize money for the winners. Teams can be as large as eight or ten people…but that's for suckers, since even if you win, you have to split the winnings eight or ten ways. So I usually do pub quiz as a team unto myself, or with one (or maybe two) other people who can hold their water. And, yeah, I win.

I have three main problems with pub quiz:
  1. I hate being hit on
  2. I don't really drink
  3. Cheaters annoy me
First point should be obvious: guys, if a girl shows up on her own at pub quiz, it doesn't mean she's trolling for boys. Really. Second, hate to say it, but beating drunk people at a trivia quiz isn't as challenging as it might seem…and most of you aren't as funny as you think you are. And third, sheez, put the mobile phones away. (And stop having your non-playing friend you think we haven't noticed over at the bar text you answers.) It's just pathetic.

So when a real-life friend hesitantly suggested I might like doing trivia games in Second Life, I thought I'd give it a shot. Although SL's Linden Dollar is tied to the real world economy (about $220L to $1CAD as I write), you're never going to get rich playing trivia in Second Life. But I not going to get rich playing pub quiz either. He warned me about SL's seedier side, but said it's pretty easy to avoid.

Most trivia games in SL have a similar format: a host calls out (well, usually pastes) questions into general text-based chat, and the first person (or, sometimes, first two or three persons) to answer the question wins. Games are typically 20 to 30 questions; some pay a small amount (say $15L to $25L) for each correct answer, and others pay a larger amount at the end to the person who got the most questions right. Some games award prizes or gift certificates rather than money, and sometimes trivia games are combined with other events like costume contests or even life music shows.

At first I thought SL trivia games were essentially typing contests, measuring who could type the answer the fastest. For easy give-away questions, that's essentially true, although now I think it's probably more important to read fast than to type fast. But speed is definitely a factor, since, on the Internet, anyone can google. The best SL quizzes use well-considered questions that aren't common knowledge, but aren't as obscure as some of the stuff pub quiz gets into (quick: which province contributed the least to Canada's GNP in the second quarter of 2006?). Done right, the result in SL quizzes is that people who honestly know the anwer have more than enough time to beat the googlers. But we're still talking seconds, not the minute or more teams get to dicker about answers in pub quiz.

A gaggle of trivia players at a recent Double Standards event

So a typical SL trivia game is a bunch of cartoon characters standing (or sitting) in a radius around the host (because if you get too far away, you can't "hear" the questions), doing nothing but typing to each other. It's essentially a 3D chatroom, not a video game. The avatars don't really interact with each other or do anything: a few might play dancing animations if there's music at the location (or, even if there's not), but the serious trivia folks tend to just sit or stand. A weird fact is that few of them actually see the tableau they form: a lot of the players have their "cameras"—their computer's view of the SL world—zoomed into the ground or some other non-moving object to reduce "lag." Because if your computer spends its time drawing another avatar's hair and sparkly jewelry, you might not see a question until it's too late.

Now, at real life pub quiz, I've found myself wishing I could zoom through the wall or the floor and not see what's happening in the room. It'd make some things so much simpler.


  1. We're not cartoon characters we're attractive people!

    You can go a a step further at trivia...
    hit CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+9 and watch the lag disappear :)

  2. Realize this is months after the fact but I include it now for the sake of future SL Blog Archeologists:

    - You probably need to have SL's Advanced/Debug menu enabled to do this. Press CNTL+ALT+D on Windows to enable it; Cmd-Opt-D on a Mac.

    - On a Mac, the equivalent keystroke to CNTL+ALT+SHIFT+9 is Cmd-Opt-Shift-9.


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