Shoe Technology

"Think about the technology of sports footwear. … Before the Civil War, right and left feet weren't even differentiated in shoe manufacture. Now we have a shoe for every activity." — Donna Haraway

From the undifferentiated to those that can change characteristics in real time.

Cyborg Semiologies

"The entire universe of objects that can be known scientifically must be formulated as problems in communications engineering (for the managers) or theories of the text (for those who would resist). Both are cyborg semiologies." — Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto

Notes on Cybersport: The Opponent

Dennis Hemphill recently published an article in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport (2005) entitled "Cybersport". His purpose was to explore the possibility that computer-based simulations, videogames, and other virtual worlds might constitute new vectors of experience that may be considered as forms of sport.

Obviously, the topic is of great interest to me, since the concept of what I referred to as "virtual sport" is at the very heart of sportsBabel's genesis several years ago.

While Hemphill's goal is to critique some of the underlying philosophical assumptions underpinning the idea of "sport" to determine if there are, in fact, theoretical opportunities for a "cybersport," I plan to play the foil and critique parts of his argument in a series of posts here at sB.

Critique No.1: The Cybersporting Opponent

Obviously, not every sport involves the competition of one human being against another. We may consider mountain climbing, surfing, or bullfighting as sporting practices that involve a human "competing" against an immovable object, flowing weather, or animal, respectively.

Do we extend this possibility to human versus machine?

Put another way, who is one playing against when participating in a virtual sports simulation (Hemphill's cybersport)? Is it:

  1. versus another human opponent, temporally synchronous, via a layer of technological mediation?
  2. versus another human opponent's digital construct, which was created from an archive of that individual's previous embodied performances (ie. temporally asynchronous)?
  3. versus an abstraction of many performances by many individuals (ie. temporally asynchronous), which forms a simulation that we currently refer to as "artificial intelligence" in today's sports videogames?

I would argue that #1 most closely approximates my definition of virtual sport. But what of the other two scenarios?

Hemphill spends a great deal of time discussing the notion of embodiment as it relates to sport and cybersport. What also seems clear is that there is room for spatiality to be negotiated — virtual sporting spaces are definitely possible and consistent with a definition of sport. However, if that is the case, then temporality becomes a key consideration: can sport (versus another human being) be asynchronously contested?

Or, on the other hand, do we consider human versus machine sporting practice possible?

Fight Club

Donna Haraway would certainly endorse the latter, given her thesis that the boundaries between human, animal and machine are "leaky" at best. And if she is "right" then we must acknowledge that cockfighting and robot wars constitute sporting practices, as do any pugilistic/sporting combination pitting human against animal or machine, as in the bullfighting example above or versus digital constructs.

All of which is to say that the way we currently understand sport is about to change dramatically. Perhaps it all ends in a ritualistic Flesh Fair? More to come.

Ludobot

Click on Julie Chen to play…

TVgasm compiled a montage of Big Brother host Julie Chen to commemorate the show's season finale, which I have re-posted here. I won't spoil it for you — you'll have to click and watch.

It is very easy to imagine similar sportocratic montages made for "We just have to take it one game at a time," "We have to give it 110%," "You have to respect the team in that other locker room," and many others. [Insert your personal favourite here.]

Resample:

When Haraway discusses a shift from labor to robotics (elsewhere in the essay she says that "microelectronics mediates the translations of labour into robotics and word processing"), is the sportocratic equivalent not Rasheed Wallace and his perfectly-assembled soundbite — "Both teams played hard." — which the typing classes then turn into content? Wallace's perfect quality control gives truth to the lie about the nature of professional athletes, who are in fact I3-producing techno-bodies.

Of course, the Chen montage above crystallizes the point that 'Sheed, deliberately or not, makes with his "Both teams played hard" production. The only difference is that normally this perfect repetition is non-linear. Only the pastiche alerts us to each unit's startling resemblance to the next.

Highlight Reel: Informatics of Domination

After posting Haraway's thought framework from "A Cyborg Manifesto," I wanted to jot down a few notes as to how I see her interpretation of these "scary new networks" overlapping or meshing with what I have developed here at sportsBabel.

Labor ›› Robotics

When Haraway discusses a shift from labor to robotics (elsewhere in the essay she says that "microelectronics mediates the translations of labour into robotics and word processing"), is the sportocratic equivalent not Rasheed Wallace and his perfectly-assembled soundbite — "Both teams played hard." — which the typing classes then turn into content? Wallace's perfect quality control gives truth to the lie about the nature of professional athletes, who are in fact I3-producing techno-bodies.

Physiology ›› Communications engineering

Gatorade changes from a drink that will provide fatigued athletes with fluid and electrolytes to a circulating image-sign indicating superior athletic performance available as consumptive possibility.

Representation ›› Simulation

Can something be represented that has never taken place? This is the situation in which sport finds itself once we begin to introduce motion capture into movies and videogames. The recombinant nature of fantasy gaming is another postmodern take on the sporting text, the "anterior finality" (cf. Baudrillard) of simulation that irrevocably shapes both product and producer.

Perfection (Heat) ›› Optimization (Noise)

Haraway could be speaking specifically about sabermetrics with these points. Rather than diatribe myself, I will resample a talk from Paul DePodesta, GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, that I posted earlier:

I was on a quest to find relevant relationships. Usually it wasn't as simple as "if X then Y." I was looking for probabilistic relationships. … We may not always be right but we'd be right a lot more often than we'd be wrong. In baseball, if you win about 60% of your games, you're probably in the playoffs.

One of the other problems is that the traditional metrics and stats used in baseball are muddied with so much noise that just didn't matter that I was having a tough time distilling all the information.

Biology as clinical practice ›› Biology as inscription

Though obsolesced, the administrative numeration found on the extended skin of the sports uniform, which finds its contemporary manifestation in the jersey number tattoo, foreshadows the inscription on the body of DNA recombination and other communications/biotechnological practices.

Informatics of Domination

I am a sucker for these sorts of thought frameworks, so today I wanted to post this sample from Donna Haraway's seminal watershed essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century."

(Don't just take it from me … listen here.)

"comfortable old hierarchical dominations" "scary new networks"
Representation Simulation
Bourgeois novel, realism Science fiction, postmodernism
Organism Biotic component
Depth, integrity Surface, boundary
Heat Noise
Biology as clinical practice Biology as inscription
Physiology Communications engineering
Small group Subsystem
Perfection Optimization
Eugenics Population control
Decadence, Magic Mountain Obsolescence, Future Shock
Hygiene Stress Management
Microbiology, tuberculosis Immunology, AIDS
Organic division of labour Ergonomics/Cybernetics of labour
Functional specialization Modular construction
Reproduction Replication
Organic sex role specialization Optimal genetic strategies
Biological determinism Evolutionary inertia, constraints
Community ecology Ecosystem
Racial chain of being Neo-imperialism, United Nations humanism
Scientific management in home/factory Global factory/Electronic cottage
Family/Market/Factory Women in the Integrated Circuit
Family wage Comparable worth
Public/Private Cyborg citizenship
Nature/Culture Fields of difference
Cooperation Communications enhancement
Freud Lacan
Sex Genetic engineering
Labor Robotics
Mind Artificial Intelligence
World War II Star Wars
White Capitalist Patriarchy Informatics of Domination