What is Trivia? A sport? A game? Neither?

It has been two weeks since the Great Midwest Trivia Contest (GMTC). Now that the dust has settled and sleep has been caught up on—to one degree or another—we can reflect on it. Throughout my Lawrence career, I have always wondered how to categorize the GMTC—is it a just a game, or should it be considered a sport?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “game” as “a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other.” The GMTC certainly fits all of the criteria to be a game: teams compete for a prize that can be won by only one team, and players use their mental capacities in this competition. This can be said for many activities, such as card and board games, but one would be hard-pressed to say that the GMTC Contest is very similar to a game of Red Tens or Monopoly.

The main difference between the GMTC and what most would label as “games” is the physical toll players place upon themselves. In order for a GMTC team to win, its members must have the stamina to compete questions for the entire the two-day span of the game. While games like Settlers of Catan and Texas Hold ‘Em can last for extended periods of time, it would be highly unusual for them to go to the lengths that the GMTC does. The grueling length of the GMTC is a defining, necessary condition of the contest, whereas other activities categorized as games do not require participants to subject themselves to such physical conditions. Additionally, some of the GMTC’s questions require physical activity.

Since the GMTC’s physical demands distinguish it from other activities labelled as games, can it be considered a sport? Merriam-Webster defines a sport as a “physical activity engaged in for pleasure [or] a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in.” The definition of sport emphasizes the physical nature of the competition—something that differentiates the GMTC from other similar activities. The contest is even more physically taxing than a match of bowling or golf—two activities that are defined as sports.

It is important to note that the physical focus of the GMTC is not nearly as great as sports like football, soccer and rugby. A certain degree of physicality is needed for success in the GMTC, while in many other sports physical prowess and technique are the main requirements for success—for example, one cannot play soccer if they cannot dribble or shoot the ball, but one can still play without familiarity of offensive and defensive tactics. Even in sports like darts, one cannot succeed without the proper physical technique, regardless of their knowledge of rules and strategies. Senior Ryan Lofstrom comments, “[the GMTC] is not really designed around displays of athleticism. They are incorporated occasionally and peripherally to enhance the trivia experience.”

The GMTC requires more physicality than most games, yet it does not emphasize physical ability to the same level that sports do. I argue that the GMTC is in fact a sport. While physicality is not the most important aspect of the sport, it does still play a vital part in teams’ ability to stay competitive, thus making it more than a game. The question now becomes: what other Lawrence activities can be classified as sports?

 

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