Barcalounge Skipper - A Real Look at Fake Sports

     I make no claim that this examination of science fiction and fantasy sports will be comprehensive, objective, or even, at times, accurate.  I am approaching this project as a cranky, ill-informed sports fan, much like the vast majority of the American sports-viewing public.  I know what I like.  And I know what I dislike: contentious nit-pickers who will ask why I didn't include all the other (much better) sports and games from Star Trek or Star Wars or Stargate or Stargate SG-1 or Stargate Atlantis or Stargate Universe or Stargate Infinity.  What about freaking Dom-Jot? Dom-Jot sucks. Dom-Jot is kind of like bumper pool. I want speed, action, and hopefully violence.  Trust me, my Nerd Fu is strong.
     Each of the five sports under consideration will receive a Science Fiction and Fantasy Sport Score -- the SFFSS.  On a scale from 1 to 10 -- lowest to highest -- each sport will be assessed in three areas:
          -- Playability - Despite the sci-fi/fantasy milieu, would it be possible to play this game in the real world?
          -- Spectacle - Despite risks to property and lives of players and spectators, would it be entertaining?
          -- Originality - Is it too much like existing games, or does it combine existing games in boring ways?
     The highest possible score is, of course, 30 points.  Any sport with a score lower than 15 can be generally written off as unpromising and not worth pursuing as an actual business/entertainment venture.

5th (TIE) - Quidditch/Terrestrial Quidditch (The Harry Potter Universe)
"I will try to kill Dumbledore in Book 6, Potter!"
     The strangest aspect of Quidditch -- if you can get past the whole sorcery and flying thing -- is that the sport allows 11-year-olds to play against 18-year olds.  Forget about magical protections and all -- that's just asking for trouble.  Harry Potter (SPOILER ALERT!) did defeat Valdemort in the last book, but he just as easily could have broken his neck in a high speed collision with Slytherin Beater Vincent Crabbe. But then we might never have learned that Dumbledore was gay to the end, even when that end saw him killed by Snape who was a double-agent and loved Harry's mom always and forever.  Anyway, the problem with Quidditch is that you can't play it.  No bloody way.  It makes a great show -- although it always seemed to me that it would hard to see, given that the pitch is almost twice as long as an American Football (tm) field and goes up up up into the sky.  As for originality, I like that there are three balls ("That's what she said, that skanky Lavender Brown!"), but otherwise the sport is an imitation of rugby and lacrosse, with far worse uniforms.

Star of the 2008 USA Muggle Olympic team.
     Now, there are those dedicated Potter fans who play Terrestrial Quidditch -- or Muggle Quidditch, as it is sometimes disparagingly called.  They are organized.  In fact, I believe the first intercollegiate terrestrial quidditch match was held at my own alma mater, Amherst College, against Middlebury.  This detail cancels out the other really cool sports fact about Amherst, that the first intercollegiate baseball game ever was played by the Lord Jeffs against Williams College in 1859.  The score was 73-32, a bit on the high side -- but still: Eat it, Ephs!  At any rate, Muggle Quidditch is fine if you enjoy running.  And I mean running a great deal with, perhaps, a broom stuck between your legs.  I don't know.  I haven't read the rules and don't plan to do so.

   Spectacle: 8 (or 2)
   Playabilty: 1 (or 8)
   Originality: 8 (or 2)
     SFFSS: 17 (or 12)

5th (TIE) - Parrises Squares (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Worf: "If I were wearing other pants, I would kill you where you stand!"
     During the spectacularly uneven first season of ST:TNG, a very silly episode with a very silly title aired: "10101100." For those of us who don't speak binary, unlike the alien race of "Binars" who (SPOILER ALERT!) misguidedly hijack the Enterprise.  Oh, you Binars, you.  You just want to squeeze their little heads until they pop.  A little bit of trivia: the number "10101100" is just as uninteresting in the normal decimal system as it is in binary.  This episode also introduces the sport of Parrises Squares.  It apparently involves ion mallets, as well as knee and elbow pads, which are worn over shiny, tight uniforms. Commander Riker makes fun of his subordinates for the silliness of their uniforms, but the last laugh is on him, of course, because Riker plays the trombone.  He's seen in the episode actually practicing his trombone, as all the business of running the spaceship has left him a little rusty.  Parrises Squares was one of those elements of that was mentioned from time to time -- people were always getting hurt playing it, pulling their own or someone else's groin, that kind of thing. ;But you never saw it played.  It might have made for a good episode, and certainly one that would be better than "10101100." In fact, I wrote a spec script for Star Trek based on Parrises Squares, but it was rejected. Frak you, Lolita Fatjo!
   Spectacle: 8 (or 3, for the Applied Phlebotnium Effect)
   Originality: 8
   Playabilty: 1
     SFFSS: 17

3rd - Triangle (Battlestar Galactica)
Fan art.  Of course.
     So, Season 2, Episode 4 of Battlestar Caprica Buccaneers, who were training at high altitude when the Cylons attacked and killed almost everybody. Apparently, that was why they were spared.  Yeah, right.  It's because (SPOILER ALERT!) Kara had to fall in love with someone.  That and he is really a Cylon. So, in their makeshift resistance camp back on bomb-ravaged Caprica, there's a makeshift Triangle court, and Samuel Anders and Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (who is really a prophet or god or something) play a makeshift, hot, and sweaty match against each other.  Basically, Triangle appears to be very much like basketball, except instead of a 10-foot high hoop, the idea is to chuck a little handball type thingy into a three-sided trashbin.  Thunk.  But if cute people are playing, fans will watch.  "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."  Sounds like about we are every year two months into the NBA regular season.
   Spectacle: 6
   Originality: 4
   Playabilty: 8
     SFFSS: 22

2nd - Deathball (Futurama)
One day, all sports could be like this.
     I believe in Deathball.  I believe that, in the future, some form of it will be played.  If ABC can develop Wipeout, and CBS can do Survivor, then (SPOILER ALERT!) Deathball can't be far away.  A central turning point in the plot of the Futurama crew's "The Beast With A Billion Backs," the Deathball match is played on a giant Labyrinth board, with team captains high above the action in a control booth attempting to shift the horizontal and vertical orientation of the "playing board" for their respective teams below.  In essence, the game is one continual Indiana Jones sprints-from-the-stone thrill.  By the way, Farnsworth's team beats Wernstrom's.
   Spectacle: 10
   Originality: 9
   Playability: 5
     SFFSS: 24

1st - Rollerball (Rollerball)
Prepare to feel the wrath of Caan.
     Moon Pie may die because the system is rigged, but you cannot escape the unparalleled awesomeness of Rollerball.  In no way am I talking about the John McTiernan's 2002 steaming heap of incomprehensible garbage. I will give that"remake" no further consideration after the end of this sentence.  The 1975 Norman Jewison film is a true science fiction film, a speculation on the influence of corporations in the world, on the bloodlust that lies at the root of some popular entertainment, and on the price people might be willing to name to sell out their principles.  James Caan is cocky, confused, and just a little bit dumb in his portrayal of the great Rollerball jock Jonathan E, and John Houseman is creepy as the evil corporate overlord Bartholomew.
     But the real star of Rollerball is the, er, title sport.  What's not to like? Rollerskates, motorcycles, football helmets, spiked gloves.  The Rollerball itself is basically a cannonball.  The players take drugs for their pain, for energy, for fun.  There are riots in the stands.  The rules are changed in mid-season if things get boring.  People regularly die during matches -- the record being 9.  Nine players dead, that's a baseball team -- perhaps the Chicago Cubs.  Jewison said that, during breaks in the shooting, the stuntmen used to play FOR REAL for the extras sitting in the stands, and nobody got hurt.  Jewison also admitted that, at the time -- and maybe for all time -- he had assembled the greatest group of stuntmen in the history of cinema for the production.  This only contribute to the overall awesomeness of the film: no CGI and very few special effects.  Just pure guts, and a game that Caan and the stuntmen worked out for themselves in the best playground fashion.  Only with motorcycles. And did I mention the spikes?

Less than a gallon of blood, no foul.  Fire is perfectly fine.
     Now, I know that Jewison and the screenwriter William Harrison were trying to make a set of social commentaries (see above) and that's all fine, and much of the creepiness of the fictional future comes from the -- I'll say it -- eerie resemblance that some of it has to our own here in the present.  That's just good science fiction.  But as any satirist can tell you, sometimes, people end up responding in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons that you had intended.  Just ask Dave Chapelle.  Rollerball's message -- don't be bamboozled into accepting whatever bread and circus falls your way -- is more relevant than ever.  But if they started playing matches next year -- from Pittsburgh to Madrid and from Rome to Toyko -- I'd be hard pressed not to line up for season tickets.
   Spectacle: 10
   Originality: 8
   Playability: 10
     SFFSS: 28

PN Feedburner | PN iTunes | PN Twitter | PN Facebook | PN Video | PN Goodreads

No comments: