And You Thought IRC Was Just About Kids Calling You Names

Anyone who has ever entered one of the IRC chat channels on the Internet, probably remembers how much fun it was to type "F* U!!!!!11" and have twenty bored individuals read it in real time and reply with something equally witty. After five minutes, however, the thrill sort of wears off and it seems like there is nothing much to do on the IRC. Yeah, there are those channels where you could get "tech support" or find (once in a blue moon) somebody nice to chat with and pass the time, but inevitably some KeWL DuDe will track you down, flood the channel and joyfully kick everybody out. At the bottom line, the entire IRC deal seems like something we could really do without.

Right? Bzzzzzzt! Wrong! It was a few years back when some people understood the potential which lies in the medium, and invented a new genre of on-line, IRC-based games, run by bots (a bot is a program which acts just like a user in the IRC channel), with names like "Chaos", "Acrophobia", "Boggle", and my personal favorite, "Risky Business" (RB). RB is a game very much like an on-line version of "Jeopardy", except that the contest is held against a varying number of people from all over the world, with different levels of knowledge and skill, in thousands of different topics, plus you don't have to add the stupid "what is" or "who was" to your answer like you would in the famous TV show.

The RB rules are pretty simple: The game is open for everyone and anyone who is in the channel can participate in the ongoing game. Each game consists of 30 questions where every five questions the category (topic) changes. The bot announces the question in the channel, and the first participant to give the correct answer gets the points for this question. A wrong answer will deduce the same amount from your score. From time to time, a random question will be defined as "Desparate Danger" or a "Danger Zone", and then only the last player who gave a correct answer may wager an amount and attempt to reply. At the end of each game ("Terrible Trouble") there will be one final question in a random category, and those with a positive score may wager any amount and reply via /msg (a private message) to the bot. The user who has the most points at the end of this round is the winner. Whenever a game ends, a new game immediately starts, so whenever you arrive, there's always a game in progress.

This is what a random sequence from a Risky Business game looks like. The bot in this case is Xallabot ("xal"), who's in charge of the #poprb channel (Pop culture Risky Business):

<XallaBot> Current category: Numbers Movies. Question Value: 800.
<XallaBot> _Question_ 5 of 30: A group of boys share dangers while searching for a dead body
<Victor_> xal the body
<XallaBot> victor_: Bzzt! That is incorrect. You lose 800. Your total is 600.
<tananda> xal stand by me
<XallaBot> _tananda_: That is CORRECT! You win 800. Your total is 2000.
<XallaBot> Please wait while preparing the next Even More Pop Rock question...
<XallaBot> _Category Comment_: Automatic Comment-Even More Pop Rock
<XallaBot> Current category: Even More Pop Rock. Question Value: 400.
<XallaBot> _Question_ 6 of 30: Dionne Warwick sang about this city in 1968.
<doggzilla> pass
<Normadeus> xal san jose?
<XallaBot> _normadeus_: That is CORRECT! You win 400. Your total is 1000.
<XallaBot> Please wait while preparing the next Even More Pop Rock question...
<Normadeus> do you know the way to San Jose xal?
<XallaBot> Maybe I know the way to san jose and maybe I don't.
<XallaBot> Current category: Even More Pop Rock. Question Value: 500.
<XallaBot> _Question_ 7 of 30: He sang "Like a Rolling Stone".
<Normadeus> xal dylan
<XallaBot> _normadeus_: That is CORRECT! You win 500. Your total is 1500.
<XallaBot> Current category: Even More Pop Rock. Question Value: 600.
<XallaBot> _Question_ 8 of 30: Sang: " motorcycle and a switchblade knife..."
<tananda> pass
<doggzilla> pass
<Normadeus> xal we give up
<XallaBot> Giving up after another player gives up or 7 seconds elapse.
<XallaBot> _The ANSWER is_: motley crue
<XallaBot> Please wait while preparing the next Even More Pop Rock question...

The first RB bot was launched in 1994 by Kenrick Mock (Mach), a 26 year old AI student in the University of California. The first bot was named AlexBot (after Alex Trebek), and the channel was appropriately named "#Jeopardy", but following the claims of Sony Corp. (rights owners of the Jeopardy TV show) that this constitutes a violation of copyright laws, the bot and channel names were promptly changed. The questions used in the games are submitted by the players themselves, and anyone can send a list of questions and answers to be included in one or more of the bot databases for others to play.

Enter Eingang. Along with Mock and several other fanatics, Michelle Hoyle, also known as Eingang, proceeded (and still does) to develop and improve the game and create other IRC games such as Chaos and Boggle, all of which are active today. Those of you who want to try and participate in a game, are encouraged to first read the _rules_ [] and connect to one of the relevant IRC servers (GalaxyNet and StarLink servers are recommended, but some EFNet servers are also an option. Check _this_ [] for details). The Risky Business channels are #riskybus for mainstream trivia, #einstein for some really hard questions, #poprb which specializes in pop culture and gen-x topics and #musicrb for general music trivia.

A word of warning, before we leave: The games are highly addictive! If you are among those who have to pay for each hour they spend on-line, you'd better be prepared to pay double what you used to. Joining the game is really quite easy, it's the leaving-in-the-middle part that gets difficult.

Copyright (c) 1997, Assaf Amit (FNORD0), All rights reserved
Originally written for Monitor Magazine (
Article translated from Hebrew by FNORD0


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Media, Last modified: February 29, 2000