Saturday, February 9, 2013


We don't play Trivial Pursuit in my family, not any more. It's my fault. I demanded a correct answer and that was the end of it. I can't even remember the question but I can recreate the scenario with a similar question. It was the middle of the game, nobody was particularly far ahead or behind, the category was sport.
"What," my dad pauses dramatically and distractingly as he always does when reading trivia questions or Christmas cracker jokes, "sorry, who. Who," another pause "won Australia's first ever Winter Olympic gold medal at the two thousand and two Salt Lake City Olympic Games?" Four deflated looks from the players not getting to answer. An easy question if you're an Australian, an answer that has literally become a byword for undeserved victory.
"Um." My brother and I look at each other in hopeful disbelief. Does my sister not know? Is she going to miss a piece on a gimme? "someone Bradbury?" Hah! She doesn't know. I go for the dice.
"Yup," says dad. And so begins the end of Trivial Pursuit in the Dibley family. The answer is in fact Steven Bradbury. My opinion is simple: the answer on the card, the correct answer, is Steven Bradbury. Getting the last name is a good effort but it's not the full answer. There is some disagreement. My brother doesn't care and didn't want to be playing in the first place. Mum and dad are of the opinion that it's close enough. Close enough? What happens when there's a question about the start date of World War 1? Is "early 20th century" close enough? As can happen in my family things get quite loud and lively, people start throwing around "it's only a game", the score is left to stand after I am outvoted, and the game continues. We haven't played since that day because "Bice gets all worked up about it".

Only a game. It drives me mad when people say it about the playing of a game. They don't want to stick too tightly to the rules because that's not nice, reasonable, whatever. After all, it's only a game. What is meant is that not too much attention should be given to the act of playing, it's just an amusing distraction. But consider a slightly different interpretation of "only a game": it is a game and nothing else. Picking up and putting down cards is not fun, moving small wooden blocks around at random is not a leisure activity, and throwing a dice has no self contained context. Removing the rules from a game leaves a series of meaningless actions. All the game has in order to provide meaning is the structure of the rules that define it. Do you always have to play to the strictest interpretation of the rules? No, but you do always have to play strictly to the interpretation of the rules that the players have agreed to. Otherwise it becomes something else. I'm not sure what it is at that point but it's not even a game, never mind only a game.

Meanwhile, later in the same game, I got a question "what is the only American state whose name is in the name of its capital city?" I answered Indianapolis. The answer on the card was Oklahoma City. The ruling was that it wasn't the answer on the card so I didn't get a piece despite the fact that the answer I gave was correct. We're all adults so I'm sure nobody actually stuck their tongue out at me, but it sure felt like it.

I hate Trivial Pursuit.

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