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Weekly Musings #11 - The Olympics of Gaming?
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: August 22nd 2004
Here we are, in the middle of the Olympic Games (summer subset), running for one more week. It's been an interesting week so far, with medals results pitting the Chinese against the USA in the drive for most medals and most Gold medals.

In past years, the Olympics had managed to create at least a few spinoff videogame franchises. Way back on the Atari and NES systems there were Summer Games and Winter Games titles, as well as the NES's Track & Field title and associated floor pad. In a tribute to Activision's old Atari title Decathlon, responsible mainly for the destruction of many joysticks, 989 Sports has given us  Athens 2004, "the Official video game of the Olympic Games", a so-called "game" that's a tribute only to button-mashing. If you want button-mashing that's actually FUN, by contrast, pick up a copy of Mario Party or perhaps Wario Ware.

But what would an Olympics of Gaming look like? Yes, it's a silly concept - but with attempts to make "professional" leagues for gamers, and newer and greater technology coming in all the time, we can just imagine a world with computer-generated events. The Japanese have started to create moving walkways far more advanced than a treadmill, that might supplant running from point A to point B or running in a circle for track training - runners could instead run along the dynamically adjusting path inside a properly controlled studio for their analysis. But that's just scratching the surface. Here's a few events we might see in years to come, if the "nerd games" invade the Olympics:

Tron Games / Simulators

It's passe perhaps, but some of the "games" inside the movie Tron  actually do have a basis in reality as it is. The discs arena is a sort of long-distance martial art crossed with sports like Handball; the only problem currently is designing discs that will properly return to the owner. The ring-attack game (in which players shot an energy ball to deactivate the floor under their opponent) is similar in many ways to racquet-played games that exist today, down to the goal of not letting the "ball" hit the "floor."

Even the light cycles have a certain amount in common with events like skeleton and luge. Death wouldn't be necessary; a rigged-up box of shaking, force-feedback simulators with display screens could adequately transmit to the players their situation. 

Would they be translated exactly? Perhaps not. They're a distant-future event, but they are always a possibility, or at least a source of inspiration for those who want to create new sports. The usage of outside or even powered equipment ought to be no bar for entry; the Olympics have in the past sanctioned such events as Water Skiing and Powerboating, and currently recognize sports like Scuba (Underwater Sports), Driving (Automobile), and Motorcycle Racing as legitimate sports. 

Real Time Strategy

This could at once be the most outrageous call, but also the simplest to defend. The fact is that the IOC already recognizes strategy games, provided they have the requisite organization and standard international rules, as being Olympic-caliber sports. The proof is obvious: they not only recognize Chess, they recognize Bridge.

Considering the recognition of Chess and Bridge but no standing Olympic events for either, it's perhaps a longshot to see RTS games of one sort or another as an actual Olympic event, but if gamers - perhaps taking the organization given by Blizzard's setup a step further - were to create international rules and codes of conduct for tournament play, then one or more RTS titles could conceivably be treated as events.

The popularity of any game, however, wanes and grows, and organizations tend to grow stronger. It's a good bet, for instance, that Poker could be another contender for Olympic recognition in a few years. The required rules of conduct and tournament rules, and perhaps the granting of the same opening stake to all as happens on celebrity-charity-game shows like Celebrity Poker Showdown, wouldn't be hard to create. The infrastructure and tournament Poker championships are present, waiting only for someone to push within the organization to make it happen.

First Person Shooters / Laser Tag / Paintball

Of the two of these, Laser Tag of some form or another - or Paintball for that matter - has a better chance of becoming a true event, but even the lowly First Person Shooter, properly defined, bears the possibility of becoming a recognized sport just as the Olympics today recognize Chess as a true sport even though they don't hold Chess as an Olympic event.

Consider the similarities in these with other sports: on a team front, just as in all team sports, strategy is required. For Paintball and Laser Tag, Physical stamina is required should the game go on for a length of time. In all varieties reflexes, timing, and quick thinking are required.

For one-on-one sports, the competition is mental, but this does not necessarily denigrate it as a sport. Chess, recognized by the IOC, is entirely mental, and Orienteering is largely mental as well. Fencing, an Olympic sport for over a century now, has long been described as "physical chess", a nod to the strategy and planning required to successfully score a point.

Indeed, the presence of multiple weaponry options with FPS games, Laser Tag, or Paintball could be an aid to the sport - one event for those preferring single-shot equipment, one for those preferring semiautomatics. Team and single events in each as well would give the sports more depth. In the computer gaming world, the best candidate for an initial title would likely be (though we all hate to admit it) Counter-Strike, which became the FPS/Squad tactics game of choice for LAN parties shortly after its creation and has remained so to this day.

Would it take off? It's hard to say. Both Karate and Wushu, recognized by the IOC as sports, are not currently practiced at the Olympics despite their similarities to Judo and Taekwondo. The presence of similar events is not really a hindrance. If these sports were to grow to a large enough level that an organization were to adopt standardized rules and codes of conduct and apply for Olympic recognition, it likely would be granted.

Dance Dance Revolution

Laugh all you want - DDR, or something similar to it, could eventually become an endurance sport, a performance sport, or anything of the sort. For those who disagree, consider the following:

(A) Ballroom Dancing is shortly to become an Olympic event.
(B) Many other events rely on repetition and "artistic interpretation" for scoring.
(C) Of any current videogames, it is a certainty that DDR is the most athletically challenging.

DDR, if its popularity grows, could conceivably become an event. Just as in figure skating, a certain requirement - beats per minute, number of steps/combinations of various varieties - would be required for pre-created routines that they players would then perform for judges. In addition to the physical scoring, judges might be looking for artistic interpretation in the form of smoothness of footwork and maneuvers like spins, twists, and finesse jumps. Not all that different really from the gymnastics routines today - and to put it in persepective, the Olympics already consider another event that's about as "silly" to many of us to be Olympic caliber: the Trampoline.

Again, the hurdle is organization - but in this, DDR is already on its way. Organizations like DDR Freak (they might want to change their name at some point) already organize or are associated with tournaments, as well as having local groups and associations. The creation of a truly international association and rules for play would be relatively easy for these players, compared to the relatively fragmentary nature of the FPS, Laser Tag, and Paintball groups. 

Will we really see the coming of the Nerd Olympics? Probably not for a long time to come. "New" sports are hard to organize this way: Ballroom Dancing (DanceSport) has been pushing for recognition and Olympic status for decades, and Karate and Wushu both lack the organization despite being even older. On the upside, the fact that even the lowly game of Tug of War has been an Olympic event ought to serve for those who want to see it happen that anything is, indeed, possible.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at)!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!

Weekly Musings #11: The Olympics of Gaming

Added:  Sunday, August 22, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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