Discipline in Virtual Sport

Shogan (2002) uses a reading of Foucault to demonstrate how spacetime constraints (micro-technologies) lead to disciplined bodies in sport.

In astrophysics, a wormhole is a theoretical construct that maps one spacetime onto another via a portal in matter. I have adapted the concept of the wormhole to describe the portal in identity between the athlete in meatspace and the virtual athlete, as one spacetime is mapped onto another. The ability to create the portal is dependent on massive amounts of numerical information that describe: the athlete in meatspace; the virtual athlete; and the morphing between the two.

If a wormhole can be created, then it could be argued that virtual sport rejects the disciplinary technologies of sport performance as set forth by Shogan (2002).


Shogan, D. (2002). Disciplinary technologies of sport performance. Sport technology: History, philosophy and policy. 21, 93-109.

He is Sci Fi

Tony Hawk combines sport and virtual reality in a neat video.

Courtesy of Adobe Systems Inc.

The Wormhole Explained (or The Mathematics of Being)

When traversing the portal into the star athlete's body via virtual reality technologies, there are certain biophysical limitations that must be overcome by the interface. For example, a definite limitation that would need to be overcome in a basketball player is vertical leap. These limitations must be mapped by a complex series of measurements that translate the home athlete to the virtually (re)created one.

"I'm Morpheus in this hip hop Matrix … exposing fake shit." — Common, The 6th Sense

The Matrix features a world of enhanced or amplified reflexes in its rendition of cyberspace, termed Bullet Time. However, these amplified reflexes really are just one space-time frame of reference mapped onto another. Suppose that the athlete at home was capable of jumping 22 inches, which took 0.6 seconds. For the athlete to execute this jump in virtual space in the body of an NBA player, they must visually and kinaesthetically complete perhaps a 42-inch, 0.9-second jump during this shorter 0.6 timeframe. The unique set of equations required for each home athlete to map onto the (ideal) professional athlete is the essence of the wormhole.

Can a human being be captured in a set of equations?


In 1997, a group of students at Helsinki's University of Art and Design developed NoSport for their year-ending Future Media Home project. NoSport presents a technologically feasible blueprint for a 3-D position recognition system to be used as an interface for home fitness or entertainment. The authors conclude that while exercise will still be hard work, at least they can make it a little more interesting.

Gadgetry aside, the question of what future household media will look like is certainly relevant. But why the title NoSport?

I suspect it has something to do with the solo pursuit of sport. If a kid is in the backyard shooting hoops, she is not playing a sport, but practising the skills required of its associated sport: basketball. Similarly, running by oneself is considered leisure, but if racing against another it becomes the sport of athletics (the irony here is that contestants are actually racing against time rather than each other).

The prerequisite here seems to be an element of competition. NoSport allows users a biophysical sport media experience, so what if the competition is from a computerized opponent? Does this still constitute sport? What if the competition is from a representation of another human opponent networked from elsewhere on the planet? Is this sport?

I think this situation parallels the basketball example above: the former is a practice of the requisite skills necessary for the sport and the latter is virtual sport. Sport philosophers take note: to the laundry list of sport's classification factors add human versus computer-mediated competition.

Virtual sport allows users to experiment with many different sports, with only basic rule understanding and skill acquisition required, and without fear of being a complete jackass for trying. Since the Internet is content-on-demand, kids can check out other sports tomorrow like they would rent a movie today, which is beautiful for the naturally curious.

All of which means that NoSport just might become mo' sport.

Dateline: 08.09.2036 @536

Hearken back to the early Nineties, when everyone wanted to ?be like Mike.? All three of the major American professional sports leagues — the NFL, NBA and MLB — had recently signed lucrative television deals, and there were still a few competitive Canadian teams left in the NHL. Cable all-sports specialty channels in the form of ESPN and TSN were flourishing on both sides of the border.

In retrospect, it would prove to be the golden era of professional sport.

Fans of different generations can recall the lucrative contract that killed pro sport — Rodriguez's $250 million in 2000, Garnett's $125 million in 1998, Ruth's $10,000 in 1936. The true culprit, though, was fathered by an engineer at a large military electronics development and manufacturing company named Ralph Baer.

Back in 1966, Baer created computer games using a two-way television interface; a year later, the concept was refined to simulate sports games. Baer's creation evolved to popular culture status in 1972 under the guise of the Atari entertainment company and its flagship product PONG.

Fast forward to the present and the videogame industry annually grosses sums reaching into the billions, with sport-related titles earning a hefty chunk of the dollars. As the Ben Johnson doping scandal illuminated the blurring of sport and science, and the World Wrestling Federation blurred the line between sport and entertainment, now videogames are blurring the distinction between sport and media, and it may soon be impossible to differentiate the two.

The irony in the decline of the professional sport empire is that virtual sport was originally an ally, serving to expand distribution in an industry that was rapidly globalizing. But as the technology driving virtual sport improved, children preferred to spend their time indoors emulating their idols via media rather than outdoors actually playing the sport. Over time, the talent base required to sustain a global sports league diminished, a situation akin to the lumber industry running short of trees. The product suffered considerably.

And like the fashion industry at the turn of the century, professional sport became a parody of itself.

The Sport Media Interface

I don't want to confuse sport videogaming with virtual sport, since they are different, although related, concepts.

Virtual sport supersedes sport videogaming, requiring by definition an element of athleticism to perform the necessary skills. Athleticism is a combination of various biophysical characteristics, including speed, strength, power, agility, flexibility, coordination and endurance.

While a Jolt-fueled late-night session of Madden 2001 resembles "speed" and "endurance," in reality the only biophysical characteristic seen in sport videogaming is hand-eye coordination (though this should not be considered trivial).

The sundry attempts to date to bring a biophysical component to sport videogames have been amusing, if not particularly successful. Nintendo's Power Pad, introduced in 1988, was a boon for parents, whose sweaty kids would collapse into bed after an evening of World Class Track Meet (a console rip-off of HyperOlympics). For the hyper athletes themselves, though, the technology proved suspect, as competitors would often lie down on the floor and slap the pad to victory much more quickly than if they had actually been running.

Radica PlayTV Baseball, released in 2000, was revolutionary in that it allowed the player to virtually "hit" and "pitch" in a game by means of motion sensors in a ball, bat and home plate attached to the game system. Unfortunately, Ruthian swings with friends had to be put on hold when the bat flew apart after a particularly aggressive cut, nearly maiming a "fan" before embedding itself in a plaster wall. Alas, the product had been recalled only days earlier.

There have been other attempts at increased user interactivity, with equally dismal results. Although rudimentary, these interfaces are in fact quite significant when viewed as a portent of things to come. They represent the next evolutionary step down the path to virtual sport.