Use It and Lose It: Superpowers in QRank

Had an interesting experience last night. I play a lot of QRank, a quiz game, on my iPod. Certain aspects of the game mystify my, particular the reasoning behind when the “bonus” markers come up for questions (which multiply your score). So I was looking up information on this when I stumbled upon a rather shocking fact about the game:

Turns out you have select superpowers you can use.

Much as in quiz shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, you have access to certain advantages which you can activate while playing the game. In QRank, you can get it to show you where the bonuses are, reveal what the categories of the questions will be, freeze time during a question so you can think, find out what everyone else answered, and eliminate two wrong answers.

This was a revelation to me. I’ve been playing for a good couple of months at this point and, while I’d kind of half-seen the buttons associated with the superpowers at the bottom of the screen, I’d never used them or known what they did. So it was with considerable joy that I planned my inevitable victory over the QRank world once I flexed my new-found might. D-Day was set for this morning at my usual _QRank_ing hour of 7am or so.

Except that when I actually played the game while using the powers, I had one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Topped only by the time I decided to get every question wrong on purpose after a bad start (it’s an “achievement” in the world of the game). I was truly terrible at answering the trivia questions with all that help, much worse than I ordinarily am. Which leads me to an important and non-trivial question: what the hell?!

It’s interesting that help can make you worse at what you’re doing. A big part of the powers’ messing me up concerned a new interface to the game. I’m now pretty adept at the “choose category, read question, hit answer” cycle, but using the powers alters it and makes it more random. Suddenly I have to read the question really fast and then decide if I want to use a power before I lose too much time. If I use the power I have to interpret the extra information or change to the interface that the power introduced. Plus I have to monitor whether the power is available or not each time (since they take time to recharge).

All these extra tasks make the QRank experience considerably more complicated, and complicated is not good when you’re trying to eke your mind into serving up obscure facts or doing ultra-fast reasoning about something while time ticks away. Not to mention that simply having assistance changes the experience of play quite considerable because you feel like you should be doing better. But you’re not. Well, I’m not. At a fundamental level, I think that having assistance transforms the experience of play into something it “shouldn’t be”, just like auto-aim in a shooter or any other weird corrections available to us. By artificially enhancing our performance, we lose some of the crucial agency which allows us to be in direct touch with what we’re doing. By turning the simple dynamic of “answer questions” into something more complicated and “helpful”, it becomes harder to answer questions and not easier.

I suspect some of these effects will die down when I get used to using the powers more efficiently and incorporate them into my “work flow” of taking the quiz, but for now it’s like stepping into Bizarro World. Up is down. Good is bad. Trivia is a an unscalable and deadly serious monolith.

3 February 2011
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