This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
No one could have predicted 2020. You, a famous Hater of Exercise, now run twice a week. You’ve moved all the stuff from under your bed, hovered, then put it all back again in a slightly neater way. A year and a half after buying hooks, you finally hung that print on the wall. The Prime Minister almost died. Times are weird.
As socialising disappears thanks to coronavirus, we've had to come up with new, inventive ways of spending time with the people we care about without killing them. What this means is: we all do lots of online quizzes now.
In many ways, it makes sense that the virtual pub quiz – the Zoom quiz – would become so popular at a time when we are basically forbidden from leaving the house, and therefore have had nothing new to report to our friends and loved ones since mid-March. It's a low-effort video call activity, appropriate for everyone from your school mates to your mum. But then, when you really think about it, do Zoom quizzes actually make sense? Does it make sense to sit through two hours of badly planned questions as your wifi cuts out? Is it really “fun” you’re experiencing, or is that just the comforting apathy of time passing? How many times last year would you have thought: yeah, actually, during a time of extreme stress and boredom, I'd really like to be tested on my limited knowledge of British rivers while I stare at my own pale, tired face on a laptop screen?
The Zoom quiz has become the bane of my life. Every Sunday, my family hold a c. two-hour Zoom quiz across three countries. This is the longest thing I currently do in lockdown, other than maybe, staring vaguely into the abyss. I have been on Zoom quizzes with friends, colleagues, friends’ families, even families I don’t know. Hours of my free time have now become filled with an epistemological exercise and a constant reminder of my own inadequacy as I once again forget second highest mountain in the UK. Probably because: who cares?
The critical problem is that transposing the pub quiz onto a video call doesn't translate. Pub quizzes thrive on very certain aspects. The pub part, for one, is really fucking important. Sober quizzing feels a bit like a punishment – something you’d do at a child’s birthday party or Christian camp. Spilling a cold pint across the table as you jump out your seat to tell your mate with the pen it’s S-T-O-R-M-I, has now been replaced with you forgetting to mute your mic as you mutter the answer to yourself and everyone just groans. Nice one, Ruby. Nice. Unless any of your housemates want to get involved (which I guarantee you, they don’t) you're probably doing it alone, bored and confronted by your own stupid brain.
That's not to say that some quizzes can't be fun. Running a quiz is an art. Your questions must be complicated enough to be challenging, but not so difficult that no one can get them. All those questions about the Siege of Malta or guessing the population of Chongquing, China to the nearest 1,000: No one knows, no one cares.
So, how do you run a good quiz? I reached out to Sam Hurst, a quiz master who has run Love Tester Quizzes at east London pub Sebright Arms for the last three years. He recently took his quiz online, which was streamed by 400 accounts on Instagram.
“Keep your audience at the centre of everything you do,” he tells me over email. “What are things they are proud to know about? Embarrassed to know about? Think of questions that have answers that work like punchlines, so that even if they got it wrong, they still enjoy hearing the answer. A quizmaster should try to cover all these epistemic bases.”
Crucially, don’t make it too long. “Keep it short,” says Hurst. “If doing a quiz in a pub, you are there to give some much-loved structure to a long session of boozing, chatting and smoking. Video is much more fatiguing than IRL social contact. I think 45 mins is the perfect length for an online quiz.”
Sounds great. Oh... sorry... I think my internet is cutting ou–