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with Chris Wolvie
Interminable Internet Interactivity
October 19

Hello, I'm Ahmet Zappa, and welcome to...

CREATOR: MTV & Spiderdance
HOST: Ahmet Zappa
(Cannot find video for it; sorry)

I can remember a time when bar trivia was NOT hosted by actual humans. A company called NTN took their "QB1" tech, used so Sunday bar-goers could predict what plays were going to occur, and made it a 24/7 thing with games like "Playback", "Showdown" and "Topix". Hell, one of the games - "Decades" - actually help find contestants for an early GSN original series. It has since evolved into including poker and blackjack to better your score. But, in the waning days of music videos on MTV, they decided it was time for the viewer - sitting with one eye on the TV and the other on their bulky CRT monitor - to get in on the trivia action. Enter "webRIOT", MTV's first computer-interactive game show, where videos were shown and questions about the video, song and/or artist. Four 18-to-25-year-olds played in a studio while everyone else downloaded a program to connect to a server to play against each other (this was before JavaScript and Flash made it much easier). It was able to last a fair amount of time at the end of the century...but the show proved that nothing was more boring than WATCHING people playing what was essentially a video game.

Four young adults - who only go by screen names - are suspended in chairs in a studio with the host talking to them via a large screen.

Several videos were played on the screen. During the video, the host asks a question with four possible answers. The players lock-in an answer when they think they know it. The faster they lock-in, the more points they earn. Over time, wrong answers are eliminated until only the right answer remains. Right answers add points (up to 250 for answering right away) and LOSE points for wrong answers. After all videos are played for the round, the player with the least amount of points is eliminated.

This round is played exactly like the first round, save the points are doubled, meaning that even one who barely escaped elimination can catch-up. Again, after a certain number of videos are player, the trailing player is eliminated.

The remaining two players compete in two minutes of questions, usually centered around recognizing an artist or a video frame that had been manipulated in a way. The first one to lock-in an answer is the only one effected. A right answer gains the player 1000 points, while a wrong answer deducts 500 points. At the end of two minutes, the player with more points is the winner and gets a prize, usually a trip.

webRIOT was one of the first shows to allow viewers at home to participate. By downloading a program that connects you to third-party servers, a viewer could log-in to a free account and play along with the same point rewards and consequences as the players in the studio as well has hundreds or even thousands of people online. Best scores were even shown on screen at the end of the show.

Admittedly, for a show nearly at the end of music on "Music Television", the idea had some merit. NTN was starting to explode in bars around the country so...why not make a version for those who don't LIKE going to bars? And, as a last gasp to keep videos ON the channel, have them rotate AROUND videos. It worked. Not for very LONG, mind, but it DID work.

Ahmet Zappa had earlier been on a pseudo-game show called "Happy Hour" on USA (think of it as the US version of "Nevermind the Buzzcocks") and parlayed it into a pretty good hosting job here. He, himself, was in his mid-20s and could identify with the contestants AND the viewers. He joked when he needed to joke and was serious when he had to be...which, thankfully, wasn't that often. He was having fun for just being a face on a projection TV.

The bottom line of the show wasn't really about the game itself but the interactivity. The internet was starting to go beyond IRC and chat rooms and emerge into graphical interface and web pages. MTV was showing the country that the internet could be used for fun contests between people from coast-to-coast. Sure, they were mostly on dial-up back then but, hey, you gotta start SOMEwhere.

The only downside I can think of is that, for those JUST watching and NOT on a computer, this was not the most riveting of shows. As stated, this was kind of like a coast-to-coast multiplayer video game, like Ultima Online. But if your internet was faulty or slow, it gets frustrating and all you can do is watch. And WATCHING people play video games got boring in the late 90s when arcades started to disappear from the US. No one wanted to watch this game CLEARLY made for interactivity when they couldn't, well, interact.


To a point? Yeah, I think so. But...not on TV. Something like this could be relegated to a Facebook game or the like. People have MMOs up the wazoo to choose from these days. Plus, they're more interested in fragging people around the globe than participating in trivia contests. But, as a casual game like an app for a phone or tablet? There MIGHT be some nostalgia points to consider there. After all, not EVERYONE has forgotten about music videos.

NEXT TIME: Where knowledge is king and lady jacked up!

Chris Wolvie's tried to start a web riot...but was only able to produce a web minor disturbance. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisWolvie and e-mail him at