Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Almost exactly seven years ago (holy shit, when did I get old?), The A.V. Club published an essay I had written about an Xbox 360 Jeopardy! game. I posited that by turning Jeopardy! into a video game with multiple choice answers and wacky customizable character outfits, the developers had lost sight of the soul of the beloved TV quiz show, and had therefore done a poor job adapting it. Jeopardy!, I argued, is not about making it easy to get the right answers or letting people have fun with their outfits—Jeopardy! is about being correct and following a series of mildly arcane rules about decorum.
To that end, the most recent attempt to turn Jeopardy! into a video game—called Jeopardy! PlayShow and developed in-house by Sony Pictures Television itself for reasons that will soon become clear—is a rousing success. Rather than fundamentally change how Jeopardy! works in order to adapt it into a different medium, the developers just… put episodes of Jeopardy! into a video game. That’s what PlayShow is: You watch actual episodes of Jeopardy! and answer actual questions along with the actual contestants. You can’t pick the categories, because the actual contestants pick them, but you get to answer the questions and make your own Daily Double wagers and sign your name like they do on TV. So, really, it’s less about playing Jeopardy! and more about watching Jeopardy! (but with an extra layer of interactivity).
That extra layer comes in the form of your preferred mobile device, which is what you use to buzz in and enter your answers. This aspect is a great idea, turning Jeopardy! into something like a Jackbox game, but the problem is that there’s no perfect way to use your phone. You can manually type in answers, but you only have as much time as a regular Jeopardy! contestant and it’s hard to type that fast without making any mistakes, so the better option is to use your phone’s microphone to speak your answer. Of course, as anyone who has used any kind of voice recognition system can guess, it doesn’t always work that well. Sometimes the game doesn’t register what you’re saying at all; sometimes it’ll hear the noises you’re making but interpret them into something else (god help you if the answer is not an English word); and sometimes it’ll think you’re saying nonsense, show on the screen that you said nonsense, and then accept it anyway.
When I wrote about Jeopardy! the last time, I referenced an infamous episode in which a kid lost because he had misspelled “the Emancipation Proclamation.” Jeopardy! PlayShow is like being that kid and knowing that every answer is a dice roll over whether or not the computer judges will accept your own misinterpretations as correct. That being said, the game requires watching full episodes of Jeopardy!, complete with the little interview bits where contestants tell terrible, terrible, terrible stories from their personal lives, and watching Jeopardy! is great. Sony did a good job picking the episodes, since they tend to include either memorable contestants or close matches, and at the end it even compares your score to the real players’ scores—giving you a chance to say, “Wow, I beat Ken Jennings!” or, more realistically, “Wow, Ken Jennings beat me by $20,000.”
The other obvious benefit of Jeopardy! PlayShow’s use of actual old episodes is that Alex Trebek is in them. Trebek died back in November, and the real show is now going through a period of interim guest hosts, but PlayShow is a nice way to remember just how great Trebek was. Answering clues from a real episode of the show alongside real contestants almost lets you feel like you’re there—telling Trebek your own terrible personal anecdotes and getting humiliated by the actual Ken Jennings.