Something I find interesting about the Internet. Back in the day – and probably still – we run from people who ask if we want to take a survey. On the Internet we flock to them. It doesn’t matter if it is our favorite game asking about content we might want to see (who chooses anthropomorphic pandas, by the way?), something offering us the chance to win $5000, or quizzes (when did we start loving a pop quiz?) with random questions meant to match us to a character to determine who we are. Online, we love surveys.
Sometimes, these surveys, or quizzes if you prefer, work out pretty well. We answer the questions and we get a favorite character. Maybe we think of ourselves as a Ginny Weasley and discover we are secretly a Bellatrix Lestrange. Maybe our outer Joffrey hides an inner Eddard Stark. When we read books or watch television shows that appeal to us, we tend to internalize certain characters and identify with them. When a quiz confirms that, we feel our own self-image is bolstered. When an alternate is presented, sometimes it gives us a moment of introspection.
But mostly, we just comment about it online, bemoaning or sympathizing with each other.
So, why do these quizzes and surveys seem so on the mark sometimes, and other times could not be more wrong?
That’s simple. They rely on tropes and stereotypes. Yours truly, thanks to one quiz, learned she is actually a male in her mid-thirties who just started or is about to start a family.
The quizzes set up a set of questions and answers. Then they weight the answers based on certain assumptions about class, ethnicity, gender, age, and experience. If you are an intellectual type, you must be good with computers, enjoy science books and classes, and be able to quote Big Bang Theory and Hitchhiker’s Guide with equal fluency. All Star Trek fans must have a preference: Picard or Kirk. Anyone who does not follow geek culture thinks the Doctor’s name is Who.
The result is that quizzes designed to match personality to characters or stories often get it wrong. Colors have different meanings in different cultures. A person’s perception of gender roles differs based on where they are from, their upbringing, and their age. Just because a person enjoys things like graveyards does not mean they are obsessed with death. Very shallow and selfish people may enjoy natural settings because they also enjoy hiking.
The best that most quizzes can do is play with enough varied stereotypes that the test logic manages to match the person with the result. It’s easier said than done, and unfortunately, even moving opposite to a stereotype does not help. A girl may like soccer and basketball, but that does not mean she is an Arya over a Sansa. Just because you like artsy things doesn’t mean you’re a Fenchurch rather than your favorite character, Trillian.
Not everyone who bumbles is an Arthur Dent.
That said, I did find a quiz that put stereotypes and tropes together pretty well.
This one works because it is not matching stereotypes to personalities. It is actually evaluating your language choices to match you to a regional dialect. How many syllables Caramel has, what I call a soft-drink, or how I pronounce “pin” and “pen” are not good indicators of my religion, my opinion of politics, or what I think of gender differences. It is, however, a good indication of what regional dialect I actually speak with.
The take away?
Like all things in pop culture, online quizzes depend on tropes and stereotypes to deliver entertainment. Just like your opinion of a blockbuster movie, how you respond to those tropes will determine what you think of the outcome. Are you a prince or a pretty princess? If you fall into tropes, or think you do, well, that will be what decides the answer and if you agree, not what color you like or your favorite animal.
Quizzes we’ve taken at StreetWraith Press: