Requiem for a Meme

In July of this year, I attempted to start a Movie Screenshot Meme. The idea was simple and (I thought) neat. I would post a screenshot, and visitors would guess what movie it was from. The person who guessed correctly would continue the game by either posting the next round on their blog, or if they didn't have a blog, they could send me a screenshot or just ask me to post another round. Things went reasonably well at first, and the game experienced some modest success. However, the game eventually morphed into the Mark, Alex, and Roy show, as the rounds kept cycling through each of our blogs. The last round was posted in September and despite a winning entry, the game has not continued.

The challenge of starting this meme was apparent from the start, but there were some other things that hindered the game a bit. Here are some assorted thoughts about the game, what held it back, and what could be done to improve the chances of adoption.
  • Low Traffic: The most obvious reason the game tapered off was that my blog doesn't get a ton of traffic. I have a small dedicated core of visitors though, and I think that's why the game lasted as long as it did. Still, the three blogs that comprised the bulk of rounds in the game weren't very high traffic blogs. As such, the pool of potential participants was relatively small, which is the sort of thing that would make it difficult for a meme to expand.
  • Barriers to Entry: The concept of allowing the winner to continue the game on their blog turned out to be a bit prohibitive, as most visitors don't have a blog. Also, a couple of winners expressed confusion as to how to get screenshots, and some didn't respond at all after winning. Of course, it is easy to start a new blog, and my friend Dave even did so specifically to post his round of the game, but none of these things helped get more eyes looking at the game.
  • Difficulty: I intentionally made my initial entries easy (at one point, I even considered making it obscenely easy, but decided to just use that screenshot as a joke), in an attempt to ensnare casual movie viewers, but as the game progressed, screenshots became more and more difficult, and were coming from obscure movies. Actually, if you look at most of the screenshots outside of my blog, there aren't many mainstream movies. Here are some of the lesser known movies featured in the game Hedwig and the Angry Inch (this one stumped the interwebs), The Big Tease, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Children of Men (mainstream, I guess, though I'm pretty sure it wasn't even out on DVD yet), Cry-Baby, Brotherhood of the Wolf, The City of Lost Children, Everything Is Illuminated, Wings of Desire, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (mainstream), Run, Lola, Run, Masters of the Universe (!), I Heart Huckabees, and Runaway. Now, of the ones I've seen, none of these are terrible films (er, well, He-Man was pretty bad, as was Runaway, but they're 80s movies, so slack is to be cut, right?), but they're also pretty difficult to guess for a casual movie watcher. I mean, most are independent, several are foreign, and it doesn't help when the screenshot is difficult to place (even some of the mainstream ones, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, were a little difficult). Heck, by the end, even I was posting difficult stuff (the 5 screenshot extravaganza featured a couple of really difficult ones). Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with these movie selections, but they're film-geek selections that pretty much exclude mainstream viewers. If the game had become more widespread, this wouldn't have been as big of a deal, as I'd imagine that more movie geeks would be attracted to it. This is an interesting issue though, as several people thought their screenshots were easy, even though their visitors thought they were hard. Movies are subjective, so I guess it can be hard to judge the difficulty of a given screenshot. A screenshot that is blatantly obvious to me might be oppressively difficult to someone else.
  • Again Traffic: Speaking of which, once the game had made its way around most of my friends' blogs, things began to slow down a bit because we were all hoping that someone new would win a round. Several non-bloggers posted comments to the effect of: I know the answer, but I don't have a blog and I want this game to spread so I'll hold off for now. I know I held back on several rounds because of this, but as the person who started this whole thing, this is understandable. In some ways, it was nice to see other people enjoying the game enough to care about it's success, but that also didn't help a whole lot.
  • Detectives: At least a couple of people were able to find answers by researching rather than recognizing the movie. I know I was guilty of this. I'd recognize an actor, then look them up on IMDB and see what they've done, which helps narrow down the field considerably. I don't know that this is actually a bad thing, but I did find it interesting.
  • Memerific: The point of a meme is that it's supposed to be self-sustaining and self-propagating. While this game did achieve a modest success at the beginning, it never really became self-sustaining. At least a couple of times, I prodded the game to move it forward, and Roy and Alex did the same. I guess the memetic inertia was constantly being worn down by the factors discussed in this post.
  • Help: Given the above, there were several things that could have helped. I could have done a better job promoting the game, for instance. I could have made it easier for other bloggers to post a round. One of the things I wanted to do was create little javascript snippits that people could use to very quickly display the unweildy rules (perhaps using nifty display techniques that hide most of the text initially until you click to learn more) and another little javascript that would display the current round (in a nice little graphical button or something). Unfortunately, this game pretty much coincided with the busiest time of my professional career, and I didn't have a lot of time to do anything (just keeping up with the latest round was a bit of a challenge for me).
  • Variants: One thing that may have helped would be to spread the game further out by allowing winners to "tag" other bloggers they wanted to see post screenshots, rather than just letting the winner post their own. I actually considered this when designing the game, but after some thought, I decided against it. Many people hate memes and don't like being "tagged" to participate. Knowing this, a lot of people who do participate in memes are hesitant to "tag" other people. I didn't want to annoy people with the blogging equivalent to chain letters, so I decided against it. However, it might have helped this meme spread out much further, as it doesn't require casual movie fans to participate more and it would allow the meme to spread much further, much faster. If I said the winner should tag 5 other bloggers to participate, the meme could spread exponentially. This would be much more difficult to track, but on the other hand, it might actually catch on. This might be the biggest way to improve the meme's chances at survival.
  • Alternatives: This strikes me as something that would work really well on a message board type system, especially one that allowed users to upload their own images. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this out there. It also might have been a good idea to create a way to invite others to play the game via email (which probably would only work on a message board or dedicated website, where there's one central place that screenshots are posted). However, one of the things that's neat about blog memes is that they tend to get your blog exposed to people who wouldn't otherwise visit.
It was certainly an interesting and fun experience, and I'm glad I did it. Just for kicks, I'll post another screenshot. Feel free to post your answer in the comments, but I'm not especially expecting this to progress much further than it did before (though anything's possible):

Screenshot Game, round 24

(click image for a larger version) I'd say this is difficult except that it's blatantly obvious who that is in the screenshot. It shouldn't be that hard to pick out the movie even if you haven't seen it. What the heck, the winner of this round can pick 5 blogs they'd like to see post a screenshot and post a screenshot on their blog if they desire. As I mentioned above, I'm hesitant to annoy people with this sort of thing, but hey, why not? Let's give this meme some legs.