The Precession of the Model

ESPN.com reports that the Carolina Panthers have won Super Bowl XXXVIII, which is scheduled for Feb. 1, 2004, by downing the New England Patriots 17-13.

How did this happen? In what is becoming standard Spectacle Industry practice (since Microsoft first called the Pats Super Bowl upset 2 years ago), ESPN.com simulated the game. For the game at hand, they had WhatIfSports.com simulate this year's matchup between the Panthers and Patriots; a 10,000-game sample saw the Panthers victorious 53 percent of the time.

Much like what I did here, ESPN.com then wrapped a narrative around WhatIfSports' statistical output:

"'I don't know what happened,' a tearful Vinatieri explained in the Patriots somber locker room. 'Maybe they opened the doors on the south end or something. I just don't know.' — this after Vinatieri "missed" two field goals in the simulation.

How long will it be until we have virtual athletes playing virtual games? How long until that filial recombination of television, console videogame, T3 broadband connection, and fantasy sports league cannibalizes professional athletes out of existence?

More importantly in the short run, how does the generation of these simulated outcomes affect the real outcome that will be played in over a week's time?

[H]ere it is a question of a reversal of origin and finality, for all the forms change once they are not so much mechanically reproduced but even conceived from the point-of-view of their very reproducibility, diffracted from a generating nucleus we call the model. … Here are the models from which proceed all forms according to the modulation of their differences. Only affiliation to the model makes sense, and nothing flows any longer according to its end, but proceeds from the model, the "signifier of reference," which is a kind of anterior finality and the only resemblance there is (Baudrillard, Simulations, p.100).

This is ESPN for chrissakes. Are you telling me that the Pats haven't seen this news story or heard about it through friends? Is it not possible that the slightest element of doubt enters the minds of Vinatieri or the other New England players leading up to the game? What about when the simulations get even better than they are right now? What about when the teams themselves use simulation software to an ever higher degree than they do now — could an adverse ESPN story at that point shake the faith of those increasingly reliant on simulation feedback?

The entire mindset of the athlete must change when placed in this situation. The game that ends up being played on Feb. 1 will just end up being one of 10,000 or 100,000 or 100,000,000 that were already simulated in a database somewhere. It is complete chance as to which one will be picked that day.

Where is the art form in that?

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