Sporcle Exposed

It’s on roughly a third of all laptops in any given lecture hall, and one of your suitemates is, I guarantee, playing it right now. A Columbia student recently featured on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire website revealed to the Spec his study habits: “I just did a lot of Sporcle and hoped for the best.” Welcome to the world that Sporcle has created. The website contains hundreds of quizzes on topics ranging from movies to history—anyone who seeks to prove that they know every Sandra Bullock film ever made, or every British prime minister, is invited to see how smart they really are. It certainly beats my old way of keeping myself awake during class—scribbling down Academy Awards Best Picture winners in the margins of my notebook. Sporcle is our everything! Game show preparation, time killer, custodian of Sandra Bullock ephemera. And it’s all in good fun, right? You’d think so—all the quizzes on the site’s main page are innocuous enough. But venture a bit further into the site’s nether regions to find a politically backward underworld. “User-created games” all bear the disclaimer “Quiz has not been verified by Sporcle”—and, um, it’s good that they haven’t been! Sporcle couldn’t possibly keep its sterling reputation as a place to develop one’s mind if it explicitly endorsed the kind of thinking its quizzes engender. Take the quiz called “HDI: Best and Worst Countries to Live In?”—if you’ve ever looked at a map of Europe, I promise you’ll do great! Eleven out of the 15 “best” countries are located in Europe while (surprise!) 14 out of 15 of the “worst” countries are in Africa. So, I guess life in Africa must really suck. You could say, “It’s just the worst.” At least the quizzes on Sandra Bullock movies don’t impart a value judgment (and that quiz might actually need one).

The first type of quiz is implicitly racist or just kind of weird-feeling. The quiz, “The World’s Most Beautiful Cities According to Forbes,” outsources the burden of authoritatively declaring the global South ugly to a listicle in a financial magazine (the hints provided are the names of the continent each city is located on—five in Europe, four in North America, and only Cape Town appears to represent South America or Africa). Does such a bagatelle really belong on a site whose geographic quizzes generally deal with the capital cities of the world and the like? You’re using the same brain muscles you would use to list the cities of North America, except this time to list which cities are “beautiful.” Same with “Most and Least Corrupt Countries.” “Least corrupt” might as well be called “Europe, the U.S., and Japan” while the “most corrupt” is made up of guess which continent? Sporcle, having primed its users to name the countries of Africa in the “Countries of Africa” quiz, is now roping together an entire continent’s discrete problems into an amalgam of value judgments of the place as “bad” or “ugly.” Taking a Sporcle quiz might seem like an educational alternative to a Facebook study break, but before you pat yourself on the back, ask yourself what it’s trying to teach you.

The other sort of quiz is usually, to use a word so common in the Internet era, random. I may not know much about the Maldives, but thanks to Sporcle’s straightforward geographical quizzes, I know it exists, and thanks to its user-generated quizzes, I know it has a high percentage of female prisoners—at least according to “aneki.com.” Ah, the Maldives: home of bad, bad ladies and, apparently, little else.

The random quizzes get even less innocuous. Little more need be said but this title: “Can you name the countries by stereotype?” Okay, just a couple more things need be said! Clues include “Poor, tacos, moustaches, gardeners, lazy.” The U.S. stereotype is “Boastful, fat, loud, fastfood, opinion about everything.” An opinion about everything… sounds about right for Sporcle, and for the nation of web-surfers whom it’s telling what to think.