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Memory Leaks: You Don't Know Jack, Vol. 3

👨‍🦲 Go On Up, You Bald-Head...

You Don't Know Jack was a series of pop culture trivia CD-ROM games from JellyVision that first launched in 1995. The game took the form of a game show where up to three contestants would compete for cash prizes. In reality, the game was played by up to three people sitting around the same computer keyboard. 1995 was a trip, yo. The series was successful enough to have released something like sixteen titles, not counting re-titled games for different platforms. The format was simple: there would be 7 or 21 questions played out over a series of rounds followed by a "Jack Attack" final round. Whoever had the most money won. Volume 3 was released in October of 1997 and it was the last game in the series that kept to that formula.

How I Remember It...

I had a friend freshman year of college who collected trivia games. (He also had several different iterations of Trivial Pursuit and playing them was a pretty common way to kill a weekday evening for us.) He had the first two You Don't Know Jack titles along with the Movies, TV, and Sports specialty games. It was like nothing I'd ever played before. The pinnacle of CD-ROM games at that point had been Cyan's Myst. I'd played that, some flight simulators, and some RTS's, but the idea of a PC party game was completely foreign to me--especially one where the host would make fun of or just mess with the contestants. The content was a mix of medium-to-high-level-of-obscurity trivia blended with some extremely low brow humor. It was at once the smartest and dumbest game I'd ever played.

When my friend acquired Volume 3, we were expecting more of the same, but it felt like this was the one where they really hit their stride. The game had a swagger to it. The creators were comfortable and familiar with the material--not enough that they were resting on their laurels, but enough that they knew what they could push to keep things fresh. In addition to the standard questions, the DisOrDat questions, and the Gibberish Questions, Volume 3 introduced Impossible Questions, which were ridiculously hard and often deliberately obtuse questions worth huge sums of money.

The reason this game stands out so clearly in my mind is because of one particular Impossible Question. I was already doing quite well that game. I was up by over $10,000, which was noteworthy because I lost more often than I won. We picked the category "It's a Dog" and got the Impossible Question animation. The question was "What has four legs, a tail, and barks?" The answers included a dog, a coffee table, and others. My friend and I just stared at each other. It couldn't be as simple as "a dog", could it? When neither of us answered, the game invoked the "Don't be a wimp" rule and forced me to answer it since I was up by so much. I... damn near talked myself into "coffee table", but ultimately went with the obvious answer, "a dog", that turned out to be correct. It was a fantastic double-bluff and we laughed a long time over that.

The series is still going. The most recent iteration, You Don't Know Jack: Full Stream, was released in 2018 as part of Jackbox Party Pack, Vol. 5. While JellyVision--now JackBox Games, because sometimes you just lean into your brand--has branched out into more than just trivia, the ethos of those original titles lives on and got a big resurgence during the pandemic. As for Volume 3, it's available on Steam and other platforms, but I don't know if I'd recommend it. It's twenty-five years old, and pop culture games and trivia games tend to age badly. If I remember correctly, it's pegged to a 400-by-600 resolution, meaning it will run in a small box in the middle of the screen on a modern monitor. But I still love it for what it was.

In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.