Hangin' out in the IRC game channels


I recently participated in an international game tournament, right from the comfort of my own bedroom. There were about 50 of us on-line, connected from many spots around the globe. I was playing a game called Acrophobia, and its just one of several games that can be played via Internet Relay Chat or IRC. It was a lot of fun. I often have difficulty getting out physically, so chatting via computer has become another way for me to meet people. In fact it was on a local BBS chat that I first encountered our intrepid editor Jean Sansum. But even more I've always enjoyed games and competition, so playing games on IRC is a way to indulge two of my pleasures at once. Although the tournament was a special event, the games on IRC are available to be played every day, and any hour of the day. And since I first discovered IRC games, they've become a place where I often go to pass some time and test my wits.

Some people may be unfamiliar with IRC, so for them I'll explain a little about it, and describe where you can learn more. Then I can tell you a little about the games and how I got started playing. The games on IRC are not what usually comes to mind when I think of computer games. They are played with real people on-line, and these games don't involve running around mazes trying to kill a bunch of bigger and bigger monsters.

A fairly brief look at IRC

IRC is a part of the Internet and was around before the World Wide Web (WWW) ever came into existence. It was the first, and is probably still the most popular way for people to chat with each other over the Internet. It can be a good place to meet friends, gather information, get help with computer problems, and play a variety of games. Most people know that you need a browser (like Netscape) to access the World Wide Web and similarly to use IRC you need a separate program called an IRC client, and of course, a connection to the Internet.

There are several IRC clients available. I use one of the more popular ones called mIRC that works with Windows. mIRC has always performed well for me, and its the only IRC client I've used, so I can't compare it to other IRC clients. It may not be the best, but if you use windows it's a good one to start with. It can be downloaded from the Web at http://www.mirc.co.uk . This Website also has an introduction to IRC in general, and lots of other useful information for new users. For those still using a Mac you might want to try IRCLE, which can be found at http://www.xs4all.nl/~ircle/.

IRC consists of a large number of channels, each with its own name, where people gather to chat. Anyone can start a channel, and decide choose its name and topic. A brief word of warning here. IRC embodies a lot of the original spirit of the Internet, in its best and its worst aspects. So, while you have the opportunity to talk to people you'd never have a chance to meet ordinarily, you can also run into rude and immature people who love to try and disrupt things. Usually its best to just ignore them and move on. In the game channels rude behavior is strongly discouraged. On IRC anything can be a topic for a channel. Since sex is as popular as ever, there are a lot of channels devoted to sex in all its variety. You needn't pay any attention to these, but you probably should be aware in advance that they are there.. Of course there are channels for politics, TV shows, religion, games, general chat and just about anything else you care to think of, but I want to focus on the IRC game channels.

Once you have your IRC client set up on your computer, you just have to choose a nickname and you are ready to go. (If you have problems setting up you can get help from the makers of the program. If you get it working but need more help with various features there are channels in IRC where you can ask questions.) Originally there was only one IRC network, called Effnet. When that got crowded, another one called Undernet developed. And since then perhaps another half dozen or so have grown up. I play mostly on GalaxyNet, one of the newer and smaller networks, but its easy to switch from one network to another.

Risky Business

Soon after I discovered IRC I saw a channel called #Riskybus "Where Everyday is Dangerous!" I joined it to see what it was and soon found out that Riskybus is short for Risky Business, an on-line game that is very much like Jeopardy. Each game consists of 30 questions in 6 different categories. If you are the first player to answer correctly, you are awarded points, and if you are first with a wrong answer, points are deducted. At the end of the game there is a final question where you can bet (similar to Jeopardy) all the points you have accumulated, and the player with the highest final score wins. Winners get tantalizing, if imaginary prizes like 5000 Twix Bars, or a trip to Switzerland. I guess you could call them virtual prizes. If you are anything of a trivia buff, or love to watch Jeopardy but would rather have had a chance to play, watch out because the game can become addictive. I speak from personal experience.

A great number of the questions and categories in Risky Business have been written and supplied by other players. Anyone who wishes to, can submit a series of questions in a category that they either know about or have researched. I have written one category called 3 Letter Word fun, and I'm working on another. At present there are over 1100 different categories and more than 45,000 questions.


All of the game channels have a feature that distinguishes them from ordinary chat channels in that each one has something called a Bot. On GalaxyNet the #Riskybus Bot is called Reneebot. Renee has a distinctly feminine personality. Renee runs the game, poses the questions and awards points and responds to player comments that are directed her way. Some people swear ReneeBot has more personality than Alex Trebek, and more than one person has been at least temporarily fooled into believing that she is a real person. But beware, ask Renee a dumb question and you may get a sarcastic response, something Alex would never do.

Renee isn't a live person however, but a very cleverly written computer program that was originally developed by Kenrick Mock, and has since been further refined by Michelle Hoyle one of the co-creators of the game. Michelle is a Canadian presently studying and working in Switzerland, and goes by the nickname Eingang. She is a friendly presence, and can often be found on the game channels. The reason for having a bot run the game is so that it can be available for play 24 hours a day. As long as there is at least one player answering questions the game goes on. Renee also keeps track of your stats, your wins, your highest score, and the top ten winners and scorers of all the players.

As I said, I started with Risky Business, and I still play frequently, but it is not the only game on IRC. About a month ago I participated in the grandly named First International Acrophobia Tournament. Sadly for me, I was eliminated in the first round, but I still had a good time. Acrophobia, usually shortened to Acro is another of the games that are played on IRC. It is played on channel #Acro. Players are given a series of 3-7 letters chosen at random, and then they have to make up a clever phrase or sentence using words that start with the letters in the order that they are given. NPCT for example, could be expanded into Northern People Cause Trouble, or Neil Preferred Cauliflower Tuesdays (Now you can see why I didn't make it past the first round). There is a time limit, usually 90 seconds to come up with your phrase. Then everyone gets to see all the Acronyms, and vote for the one they like best. Every vote is worth a point, and the person with the most votes gets a bonus. Games usually go to 30 points.

Cleverness and wit are usually good vote getters. Here are a few from the recent tournament:

LSD       Love's somewhat distracting. 
          Lassie: smart dog!   
          Loudmouths stifle discussion.

AOAW      Annie Oakley: Armed woman.
          Agnostics are often wondering.

Think you could have come up with ones just as good or better? Then you'd like playing Acrophobia and should give it a try. Coming up with a good acronym can be very satisfying, especially of course, if others recognize its merit. And if they don't, well surely that's because they simply don't have the same kind of penetrating insight that you do. Of course not being able to come up with one in time can be frustrating. Not to worry, there's always another chance with the next round.

Chaos and Boggle

Chaos and Boggle are two other games you can play. Chaos is a little different in that two teams play against each other. A category comes up, like 'Broadway Musicals' or 'Ways to cook chicken' or 'Countries in Asia'. Then you have a minute and a half to madly type all the answers you think would fit the category. After that 10 possible answers are listed and if any of yours match and you were first to submit it, your team gets a point. Since in a busy game there can be a half a dozen or more players per team, all answering at once you can see why its called Chaos.

Boggle is simply a computer simulation of the well known word game. You are presented with a 4X4 or 5X5 grid of letters and you have to 3 minutes to come up with as many legitimate words as possible from those letters. The player with the most words wins.

In all of the games players come and go, and you are never quite sure who will be there and how many will be playing. You tend to meet and get to know some the other regular players, and it is possible to chat briefly while the game is going on. The games vary in pace. Acrophobia is probably the most unhurried, but if you can't quite come up with the right words, time seems to run out way too soon. Chaos goes in bursts and pauses, while Risky Business can be very quick and competitive or more leisurely, depending on the other players and the categories. The majority of players are friendly and usually willing to answer questions if you need something explained. It only takes a couple of minutes observation to catch on to how the games are played.

Well, with luck I've tweaked your interest, and you'll come and have a look at the games. There is a lot more detailed information on the WWW at the following URL http://www.eingang.org/Games/. As well there's a web page devoted to some of the players on GalaxyNet at http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Realm/1936/.

And do be careful if typing it yourself, as it IS case sensitive! There you can see some photos of players and a little bit about them. Is mine there? Not yet, but I'm working on it, I promise. If you do get on-line, and see someone with the nickname Zeether playing, that's me, so be sure to say "Hello".

Hugo Nelson @1997, in The Tale Spinner.
The Tale Spinner is a newsletter edited by Jean Sansum.


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Michelle A. Hoyle
Media, Last modified: February 29, 2000