I’ve spent a lot of time on this site talking about my inquisitive nature, my love of games, and my own sense of humor, but I’ve never mentioned the greatest manifestation of those interests and skills, an event that just so happens to be occurring this weekend: The Great Midwest Trivia Contest. I’ve more or less sworn off trying to explain the details of this contest to people (if you want that info, just go ahead and check out the wikipedia article on the event), but for me, it’s a two-night slumber party with entertainment seemingly tailored to my exact interests. More specifically, while playing captured my imagination, there was nothing in this world I wanted to do more than run this contest.
I suppose I should back up to my own history with the contest. It’s run out of Lawrence University, my alma mater. I heard about the contest as I was applying to Lawrence, which of course struck me as a huge reason to attend. Freshman year, I played for my dorm’s team, a rag-tag group of nerds with nothing better to do on a weekend during the desolate Wisconsin winter. I had a blast, but as much as my experiences made me a good player, I knew they were better suited for being a Trivia Master — one of the team of students that run and write the questions for the contest. I applied the next year, and served the remainder of my time at school as a Trivia Master, stepping into the role of Trivia Grand Master my final year.
It’s hard to talk about how much I enjoyed being a Trivia Master without making the fact that I can no longer do it sound really depressing, but I really did feel like everything I had done in my life had led to that experience. I’d finally found the place where all those hours spent dividing my attention between Encyclopedia articles and MAD Magazine paid off. But then, just as quickly, it was over. Graduation meant leaving the mantle of Trivia Master behind, as well as moving on to a world that has no idea what a Trivia Master is. It’s the same feeling high-school quarterbacks feel when they graduate. Sure, I was only the king of a very small dung-heap, but it was my dung-heap, and I cared about it dearly. I had to move on because I’d graduated, not because I wanted to, and I can’t help but feeling wistful when I think about it.
When I graduated, I thought this wistfulness would force me to avoid the contest forever, but between it’s irresistible pull and the fact that my friends were all huge trivia fans, I found myself playing last year. I enjoyed myself well enough, especially when our team headquarters were busy enough to remind me of the bustle of the radio station during the contest, but I still found myself wishing I were behind the mic instead of in front of the speaker. It didn’t help that I knew so many of the Trivia Masters to really envy them for getting to keep doing what I missed so dearly.
At least, I’d like to think that was why I wasn’t perfectly comfortable with playing. I kind of suspect that I may have been a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations that people might have of someone who held the title of Trivia Grand Master. After years spent crafting questions, I thought I might be bad at finding answers. I like taking my time with new knowledge, turning it over in my mind and connecting it to other things I already know. This serves me well when it comes to writing questions (where I can take all the time I need), but it makes me a little sluggish at finding answers in the heat of the contest. I’d probably be self-conscious about this anyway, but the pressure of people expecting me to be good is kind of a lot for me to deal with.
It speaks to the depth of my poseurphobia that my fear of being discovered to be an imposter even extends to the thing I feel I was born to do. In the end, I think I’m about on par with my friends, but I wonder if this specific fear is that I should be much, much better than everyone else. I don’t know if that’s a reasonable expectation, but I fear others will hold me to it, and be snide about it when I’m not. Who are these others? I must not know them, because that sounds like deal-breakingly dickish behavior, but still, I’m insecure that I’m not supernaturally gifted at playing.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve always said, and firmly believe that the point of this contest is not to win, or even to do well, but to just have fun doing it. And I did have fun, and was especially inspired last year by the enthusiasm of newcomers on our team. Playing on a team mostly made up of Lawrence alums already duly familiar with the contest was fun, but this year, I find myself in a very different situation. Boston doesn’t have the dense network of Lawrentians that Chicago had, so I’ve had to work to make new fans, which has the added benefit of aleviating my fear of expectations.
I’ve gotten the go-ahead to mount a team at my office, and have invited (okay, my girlfriend has invited) all kinds of people in the area. Some friends (and my brother) are coming in from out of town, but many Bostonians have only committed to dropping by on Sunday (way to risk actually liking it, guys). I don’t know if we’ll amount to much of a team, but I know I’ll have fun. I don’t know if I’m really over that insecurity — or the pangs of nostalgia — I get from playing, but there’s no other way I’d rather test my limits.