Identity

Talk to anyone under the age of twenty-five, and you're bound to get something like this:

"I was, like, walking down the street…"

Um, were you like walking down the street or were you actually walking down the street? Why do young people incessantly talk in this fashion? (actually I'm guilty at times as well…) Has life, like, evolved into one great big simile? Is it just a simulation?

I walk to class today and I see a shirt that reads "I am Brad Pitt." Only two steps later, I run into a hat that blares "I AM Canadian," the slogan of Molson Breweries. We all are something, but there seems to be less clarity as to what that something is with each passing day, even as we desperately try to identify ourselves to each other.

This growing disconnect with reality was brilliantly captured by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman in the 1999 movie Being John Malkovich, a tale about a couple of average people who find a portal that takes them into the mind of the famous actor, and are able to take over the controls for — you guessed it — 15 minutes.

But wait, isn't that what virtual sport is about? What is it that kids really want to do when they see Vince Carter or Randy Moss on television? They want to be able to fly, to experience the adrenaline of the game-winning play, to catch a glimpse of life at the pinnacle. And modern media technologies are making that dream more of a reality every day, which results in people that are less grounded in reality, and therefore less able to cope with reality's demands.

Want to, like, see a scary version of how this whole thing turns out? I've got another movie for you: the 1995 action mystery Strange Days.

Fortunately, the Internet offers us a different lesson: it turns out that people want to communicate with like-minded others, rather than someone they have nothing in common with. This could be the one thing that saves amateur sport and recreation.

Online Gaming

A somewhat older article on the implications of online gaming, from Matt Kiefaber at Miami University.

Stunting Supply?

A point of contention to any prediction of virtual sport is "How can that be? Participation rates have never been higher!"

These increases, however, have been at least in part driven by promotional efforts from professional sport (witness NBA 2ball). As we have mentioned, promotion of professional sport creates both a labour supply and a market for the sport product. If the promotion of professional sport (and thus participation in amateur sport) is increasingly tied to the media choice of sport videogaming, and the technological improvements to the interface continue to become more organic, virtual sport will be the result.

To what degree virtual sport replaces traditional sport remains to be seen.

Big Kids vs. Big Brother

Nova Scotia plans to measure the exercise levels of children by means of a monitoring device attached at the belt.

A Halifax paper screamed 'Big Brother!!', but privacy issues aside, this news is very important to the concept of virtual sport. Remote monitoring of physical activity levels, via the sport interface, will be collected in aggregate to monitor overall health trends in the population. This information will be of extreme value to private interests as well, such as insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms.

As long as the data is accumulated anonymously to be used in aggregate fashion, I believe this could be a very useful societal tool. Privacy advocates beware, however: this will constitute a key battle in the not-too-distant future.

Pinging for Bobby Fischer

An article by Grandmaster Nigel Short offers an interesting perspective of a (possible?) match against the legendary Bobby Fischer in that earliest of virtual sports, chess.

Quoth Short, "…even if we never actually shook hands."

Enjoying the Links

Tiger has made everyone golf crazy, including geeks at home. And nobody is doing a better job at creating an online golf community than Electronic Arts. Two of EA's properties are cutting-edge ideas in the world of virtual sport: Course Architect and the forthcoming Sid Meier's SimGolf.

Course Architect is the software that EA SPORTS programmers have used for years to design and build golf courses for their golf titles. EA has recently made Course Architect available to the public free of charge so that discerning fans could design their dream courses for use with Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 2000.

Sounds reminiscent of the fan films that have mushroomed around the Star Wars saga. In this case, however, there has been little resistance from the powers-that-be to provide authentic effects for the community to use. In this case, EA has embraced the community and allowed them to become more involved in the process.

Sid Meier's SimGolf is an interesting upcoming game, designed by one of gaming's legends. Sim games are a very different genre than sport games; in this case, however, I believe the mix will work. Armchair athletes have long burned to be the one in control, and this provides a means for that to occur.

A not-too-distant future where the two games are merged provides insight into immersive sport media: allow the user to custom-build an environment and then interact with it. This already happens often with other game genres, but hasn't appeared to a large degree in sports titles. The question is this: what happens to golf course designers in the future (and game designers in the short-term) when the technology becomes sophisticated enough for interested community members to replace them with cheaper labour? And will people continue to play in the flesh?