Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Google Pursuit

A former professor of mine points to a Slate article by Bryan Curtis from last week about the death of generalist trivia and rise of specialist trivia. I responded with a comment in the professor's blog, but thought this might be an appropriate topic for here, as well.

Since many puzzles are, at their root, trivia puzzles (crosswordese, after all, is largely words known and used for no other purpose than crosswords), I would say that both generalist and specialist trivia are still going strong. Generalist trivia can serve you well in crosswords and pub quizzes; specialist trivia can serve you well in pop culture puzzles and the like. But really, both will always serve you well. Any trivia game, but especially a team game, practically demands a group of capable generalists, each with a different specialization.

Another complaint the article makes is of Google as the death of trivia. Aside from the ridiculous notion that people would be playing Trivial Pursuit with their laptops open in front of them, any more than they'd play Scrabble with an anagram generator on hand, it ignores the notion that trivia writers are capable of adapting to the situation. The Mystery Hunt has had to adapt to the new situation and my comment in the above-linked blog points to some of the many ways it has done so. Similarly, trivia competitions like those at Williams have found ways to make trivia difficult and enjoyable, even with Google readily available.

If Trivial Pursuit is dying (a claim Curtis' own story belies with statements like "23 years after its American debut, the original edition still accounts for a huge percentage of Trivial Pursuit's 80 million units sold."), it is because it is 23 years old and not suited to today's audiences, not because the trivia game is dying.


The Bryan Curtis article was interesting, though I, like Fuldu, disagree with his central theses.

The publication of a handful of special edition Trivia Pursuit sets does not convince me that trivia is becoming less generalist and more specialized. Fuldu pointed out the contradictory evidence in the Curtis article. “Jeopardy!” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and NTN (Pub) Trivia, all generalist trivia sources, strike me as having much greater cultural exposure right now than any kind of Trivial Pursuit board game.

I admit that I roll my eyes when I hear a “Millionaire” contestant’s phone-a-friend tapping away at a computer, but I would not use that phenomenon as evidence that Google is killing trivia. As the article suggested, even without Google temptation, driving people into playing trivia games unethically, card memorization and beer would still be around. I would argue that Google, if anything, is vitalizing trivia. Internet search engines and databases make trivia game construction feasible and economical, especially for amateurs. I couldn’t – rather, I wouldn’t want to write trivia games if I didn’t have Google as an available resource.

By Blogger tmcay, at 2:26 PM  

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