For this week’s group game design project, we discussed the idea of a game based on performance and lying: Trivial Bullshit. The title is an immediate indication of the themes and genres that the game is taking its cues from, namely questionnaire gameshows and the genre of board and card games that were based off of that same theme, such as, notably, the 1981 Trivial Pursuit. With a twist on the title of the most well-known trivia board game on the market, and the irreverence of the use of ‘bullshit’ in that title, it also advertises the game’s second theme: parody.
In this game, a player draws a card from a deck of questions (separated into category as is the case with most gameshows) and reads it aloud to the other players. Unseen to the current player is the answer to their question, which is printed on the back for everyone else to read. Among the other players, one card is distributed to each, one of which will be a TRUTH card and all others LIE cards — this tells a player whether they are going to respond to the question with the real answer printed on the back, or whether they have to make up a convincing lie. A player’s goal is to 1) discern the truth, if they are the one asking the question, or 2) convince the player who is currently out of the loop that their answer is the correct one.
Example: 4 players are involved. The current player draws a card that reads, “What is the capital city of Canada?” and on the back is printed the answer, Ottawa. Of the three others in the game, one player has a TRUTH card, and two have LIE cards. They provide an answer in a clockwise circle; the two liars say that the answer is Toronto and Quebec, respectively, and the truth-telling player says that it is Ottawa. Players then proceed to bicker and coerce, attempting to reason for why their answer is the most reliable, using both performance (i.e. “You can trust me, you know me!”) and wits (i.e. “Your first thought was Toronto, wasn’t it? Everyone knows it’s Toronto, it’s the only city in Canada anyone even remembers because it’s the capital.”) to bring the current player over to their side. Points are allocated based on the answer chosen — if the player knows the correct answer themself, they receive a point for answering; if the player discerns the true answer from the group, both they and the truth-teller receive a point; if a lie is chosen, then that liar receives a point.
Although the game lacks a narrative, being largely freeform and not grounded in any particular setting, thematically it acts as a continuation in the devaluing of knowledge as elite, which Trivial Pursuit is also a product of. While Trivial Pursuit brings knowledge from the realm of lofty academics to the realm of household trivia and “general knowledge,” Trivial Bullshit takes another step in that direction by implying that the holding of knowledge is no better than a convincing lie, and that the pursuit of truth can be outdone by a good performance.
(As an interesting note: Trivial Pursuit has its own reflection of this theme, as the makers of the game were taken to court over a case involving the content of their trivia questions. Fred L Worth, author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, was able to prove that a large portion of the game’s questions were taken from his book because they even copied typographical errors and one particular trick question that he included for this specific reason, which was a fabricated answer to the question, “What was Columbo’s first name?” The character has no first name, but the book provided the answer “Philip.” However, Worth’s case was ruled in favour of Trivial Pursuit, due to their argument that facts are not protected by copyright.)