All the world's a game, or so it could seem in the Age of Trivia
One of the few ways we've distinguished ourself lately is by not playing Trivial Pursuit. Oh, we might play it yet. Anything can happen. We might even play the first trivia game for computers - a floppy disk selling for $39.95, Trivia Fever. But don't count on it. Games just aren't our game.
Still, we can't help noticing that they're practically everybody else's game.
A confirmed game-avoider finds it hard to believe. But there's a game out there called Decipher. People pay good money to break a make-believe code that nobody's broken yet. If, by chance, you win, you will receive $100,000 from the manufacturer, who, until then, has received $14.95 from you.
The civilized world, it seems, is full of players who have the time and patience - not to mention floor space - to put together a 12,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of ''The Temptation of St. Anthony,'' by Hieronymus Bosch.
We realized that the Age of Trivia had truly arrived when we ran across an advertisement for Sixtomania, promoted as the 1960s ''Nostalgia Game.'' A contestant's goal is to negotiate the peace-symbol board without ''selling out'' to the Establishment, ''freaking out'' on drugs, or getting ''bogged down'' in Vietnam. Don't say you didn't hear our warning on the grapevine.
Whole libraries of trivia books are coming into print. Not the least of their purposes is to help us win trivia games. But they also exist to help us charm our friends. For knowledge of trivia has become as much of a social asset as a light foot at waltzing was 100 years ago.
To this end, a well-equipped trivia reference shelf would include everything from ''The Book of Bests'' to ''The Book of Lists,'' and all their subcategories. For instance, ''The Book of Rock Lists'' advises its readers on ''The Ten Greatest Rock Album Cover Designs,'' among other things. Meanwhile, ''The Browser's Book of Beginnings'' stands by with information on the ''origins of everything under, and including, the sun.'' And no trivia expert can hope to succeed without ''The Guinness Book of World Records'' - the inspiration for many a reader to turn his life into trivia in order to be recognized in its pages.
Even an august organization like the Oxford University Press has just acknowledged that the public is running madly toward distraction by publishing ''The Oxford Guide to Word Games.'' This act is roughly equivalent to Brooks Brothers introducing a line of gray flannel jeans.
Anybody not too busy remembering who played Bulldog Drummond in the movies or setting a Guinness record for chewing the most sticks of gum may well ask: Where do we get the time for trivia?
In this day of the two-career marriage - with children precociously raised in the fast lane, too - ordinary lives have become a time-and-motion study, scheduled down to the last sit-up and knee-bend. And yet, somehow, the panting overachievers double as specialists at self-diversion, too.
In an essay on ''The Tyranny of Trivia,'' James Thurber explained this contradiction by suggesting that the more ''worrisome'' our world becomes, the more devious we become at ''sidetracking'' ourselves - reading ''mystery novels in bed to shut out the terrors of the night.''
We suppose there are worse ways to make it through the night - just so long as we all know the difference between playing games and living. But, in fact, we game-avoiders do worry that the therapists playing out ''marriage conflict'' games as group sessions, and the business schools staging ''corporate takeover'' games in the classroom, may begin to think that everything is a game.
Has the human race ever been more single-minded about pursuing goals - and then systematically forgetting them?