Thursday, August 16, 2007

Online Trivia.

With almost a week left before I have to go back to work, you'd think that I would find a more productive way of spending my leisure time than playing online trivia. But that's what I've been engaged with for the last 24 hours. I had a craving yesterday to go play NTN, but I couldn't find anyone to go with me and I didn't feel like going to a bar by myself in the middle of the day. Determined to get the compulsion out of my system, I planted myself in front of the computer and searched for just the right site.

I'm no stranger to trivia on the internet. Back in the golden days (the 1990's) I used to frequent the AOL chat rooms, and I spent hours playing live trivia. The quality of the games was inconsistent. Often the good ones would be held in virtual rooms that would meet their capacities minutes before they began rolling out the questions. It was interesting to see the different styles of the various moderators. The chat would scroll by rapidly as people made their infrequently clever comments as they played. They even had to employ a separate user as a scorer, and this introduced a factor of human error. Not only that, but the screen often froze- making the whole enterprise extremely frustrating. Whenever they weren't running formal games, folks would make up extemporaneous trivia challenges. Naturally there was a loose protocol that you were supposed to observe. If you got someone's query right, then you were allowed to come up with the next one. Invariably there were a bunch of kids passing through that failed to understand the simple rules. And then you had spammers and trolls too. Every few minutes someone would post a general request for virtual sex. These distractions eventually made the whole thing unbearable.

Needless to say, I was skeptical about what I would find after the intervening years. At first I landed on a pay-to-play site (see it here). After registering for an account, I was credited with exactly $2. Users are invited to join others in putting up money for a quick round of theme-oriented trivia. They had "movies", "music", "sports", and "general" matches. For 50 cents, $1, or $5, you get the chance to pit your knowledge directly against someone else. The amount of prize money you can win depends on how many people take up the challenge. The house takes 30% of everyone's stake. This occupied me for about an hour, and by the end I had accumulated $5. But I felt an inordinate amount of pressure playing for real money. I certainly wasn't going to whip out my credit card and put money on my account. And I couldn't figure out who the predators were. This was an intriguing site, but I decided to move on.

Next I found Quick Trivia. com. This is a static website where you can take pre-written, user-submitted quizzes. Each time you take one you build up a certain amount of points. But the individual sets of trivia are so idiosyncratic that it only held my interest for about fifteen minutes. In addition there are 94 pages of tests, and each time you complete one you have to go back to page 1 and work your way back to wherever you were. This is a glitch that I would assume someone could have easily corrected. Ultimately there was no real action there. I didn't agonize over my choice to keep searching.

Finally I found what I was looking for- InteracTrivia. This provided many of the features I was looking for. The interface is simple and engaging. Games are broken into four rounds of nine questions each, and there is only a thirty second wait between matches. There's no time to take a piss or get up for a snack- this is serious business. For each item you can change you answer within an allotted period- but speed counts and your score is affected by when (and if) you choose the correct option. There are seven different rooms you can choose from, but most of the activity happens in "General Trivia". Those rooms can accomodate 250 simultaneous players. The stated philosophy is, "The more, the merrier". And if you register for an account, they keep personal stats for you that include the average amount of points you receive per answer (maximum=1000) , your all-time highest score, and the percentage of all questions you got right.

One of the elements that makes InteracTrivia particularly interesting is the "Cheat Chat" option. Users can input answers in an accompanying chat screen, and if they are correct these answers will either be censored or exposed, depending on your settings. The same screen allows friendly banter between players. I like that extra level of interaction. Because of "Cheat Chat", there is a certain collegial atmosphere that is generally absent in other trivia platforms. It makes it seem less competitive, but doesn't eliminate the satisfaction of attaining the lead. Somehow it did feel especially rewarding to see my name at the top of the "leader board"- both in individual matches and for the total score for the day. Yet you need not feel an urge to win... it's fun regardless. I know I'll be going back, and I invite y'all to join me.

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