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A Brief History of Gaming
Things You Don't Know About Jeopardy!
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 22, 2009   |   Episode 13 (Show Archive)  

            
EGM Issue 1
Desipte being on the cover, Alex Trebek was rarely the host of the video game versions of Jeopardy!
While quiz shows come and go, Merv Griffin's Jeopardy! has managed to outlast them all. Celebrating its 25th anniversary with Alex Trebek (45th anniversary overall), this answer and question test has managed to stay relevant no matter what the competition throws in its way. Who Wants to Be A Millionaire may have worldwide appeal (including an Oscar winning movie based on it) and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader may have Jeff Foxworthy, but Jeopardy's simple gameplay will outlast them all.

I've been an avid viewer of this Sony-produced show since I was a kid, always feeling a sense of comfort in host Alex Trebek's mustache (and feeling a little betrayed when he shaved it off). I may not be well versed enough to win big on the show, but I always feel a little smarter when I sit through thirty minutes of intense quizzing. Part of the charm

Agreed!
of the show is the fact that outside of a few minor changes to the rules (the money value has been increased, contestants are no longer stopped at five wins, etc.), the game has remained virtually the same since I started watching it more than two decades ago.

At least, that's what I thought. Recently I decided to take a look at a bunch of classic Jeopardy video games, hoping I could find one to take with me on long road trips. Between the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Genesis, Sega CD, Nintendo 64 and Game.com, there's no shortage of Jeopardy games. While I have yet to figure out which one is best, I was shocked at some of the rules
EGM Issue 1
Proof that the battle of the sexes is rarely as interesting as i sounds!
that I didn't remember from the TV show. Could it be that my aging brain doesn't remember Jeopardy like it thinks it does, or is it that the video games take liberties where they don't belong? Either way, I decided to chart out these crazy rules just to make sure that I'm not in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

I first started to question my sanity when I played through the black and white Game Boy edition. This color deprived quiz game is set up exactly how I remember Jeopardy, only with one major difference - it is men versus women. Funny, I don't remember my favorite game show turning into a two-person battle of the sexes. But

Want to rally for Israel? Fine. But you should definitely check the spelling before committing it to a protest sign!
clearly that's what it is, because no matter what character you select, your opponent will always be of the opposite sex.

Confused by this change to the rules, I pulled out the game and double checked to make sure I wasn't playing Love Connection or any of the other terrible Chuck Woolery game shows. But alas, it was Jeopardy. I guess when you take away all of the color the only thing you're left with is men fighting against women to see who is smarter.

Another thing I noticed while playing through the various old school Jeopardy ports, is that spelling is extremely important. Contestants don't have the luxury of simply ringing in and blurting out the answer, even if you couch it the form of a question. Instead you have
EGM Issue 1
It's never too late for a Dan Quayle joke!
to spell it out. And not just type it in, but you need to be completely sure that your spelling is 100% right. Think "The Beatles" is spelled like the bug? Well, think again, because you're not going to get the $500 for coming close.

To the best of my knowledge, Jeopardy has never been a stickler for proper spelling. Oh sure, Alex will look down at you if you spell a state capital's name wrong, but if it's close enough the judges will usually accept it. But not in every video game version of the game ever made. The game makes you feel like every question is part of Final Jeopardy, only with the added pressure of the National Spelling Bee finals.

In a somewhat related note, I noticed that most of your opponents will either get

Yeah, what he said!
the question 100% right or not come close at all. In fact, saying that they don't come close may be a generous. In most older versions of Jeopardy, your computer opponent will just type in random letters if they don't know it. In other words, the computer opponent is fluent in the language of garbled text.

Let's assume that the correct response would be "A Clockwork Orange." If the computer rings in and doesn't know, then they might
EGM Issue 1
For whatever reason, I have a hunch that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje isn't going to be too upset to be passed over in Celebrity Jeopardy!
say something like - "A JFDNKWFOK OAKJFE." The computer will always get a few letters in the right spot, but it will more or less be a series of random letters that no doubt spell out the death of a civilization. Of course, there's no way for the TV contestants to spell out their responses in this manner. So, the closest thing would be somebody just muffling their response hoping to get close enough (I.E. - "A Rockford Orange"). But you don't usually see that, mostly because Alex is a real anal retentive douche bag when it comes to scoring.

Another game rule that is rarely enforced in the real world is the strict limit on full names. While it differs per game and system, no 8- or 16-bit Jeopardy game allowed for anything over six characters, so "Caitlin", "Jermaine" and "Caroline" will have to figure out creative ways of shortening their lengthy names. For the most part this isn't going to be a problem, but what if you were looking to set up a mock Celebrity Jeopardy tournament? I guess that means that you won't be

Meshell N'degeocello, on the other hand, is going to be crushed!
able to use Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from "Lost"), singer Meshell N'degeocello or even the Alien killer herself, Sigourney Weaver. Now that I think of it, that's a Celebrity Jeopardy match-up I wouldn't mind seeing.

For the most part I can deal with these new Jeopardy rules, having to abbreviate a long name isn't the end of the world. However, there's one thing I can't go along with. There's one thing that I'm sure wouldn't fly on the syndicated television quiz show. I'm of course talking about the nonchalant use of blackface found in most old school Jeopardy ports.

The dirty little secret in old school Jeopardy games is that there are not minority characters. You get a number of white men and women, but no actual African American players. Instead what the game does is put massive amounts of make-up on Caucasian player's face to make them look like a minority. What may have
EGM Issue 1
To the right is the standard Caucasian character, and next to her is the African American counterpart!
just been a way to cut down on memory use and development time comes off as an incredible act of racism. Do the developers feel that somebody wouldn't notice the difference between a real black man and a white guy in blackface? The very idea that the companies like Game Tek didn't feel it was important enough to include actual minority players speaks volumes about the state of game development back in the 1980s and 90s.

What I discovered on my journey is that Jeopardy was never meant to be played on an old school console. Between spelling words correctly, dealing with blatant racism and having to abbreviate long names, I really found that much of the innocent fun of the game show was thrown right out the window. Maybe in the future there will be a Jeopardy game that allows you to map your own face, play with whomever you want and, most importantly, just respond by using your voice. Until then I'll take another quiz show for a thousand, Alex.

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