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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

The Future of Gaming: Give Games a Sporting Chance

When you really think about it, the demise of sports was inevitable. Athletes were destined to become extinct; the poor adrenaline-soaked, lactic-acid-laden, mouth-breathing, muscle-bound, protein-shake-drinking freaks simply never stood a chance. Some say the sports franchises were victims of their own success that the pay scales for athletes not only became fiscally irresponsible for team owners, but alienating for Joe-Six-Pack fans. The limited pool of true talent was so small and the owners so desperate to win at any cost to fuel their own vicarious fantasy lives that the bidding became emotional, irrational, sensational, and ultimately vindictive as owners, eager to show off the size of their cajones, bid up even minor and mediocre talents to exact revenge for losing a more renowned competitor to a rival. Toss in the carrying costs of a small army of replacements, substitutes, farm team players, coaches, assistant coaches, coordinators, trainers, technicians, cheerleaders, mascots, schedulers, travel consultants, accountants, marketers, lawyers, trademark licensors, and equipment wranglers and you’re beginning to talk real money. Add the capital cost of the sporting venue, associated practice fields, shoes, uniforms, sporting equipment, and jock straps (always extra large) and you begin to understand why sports was dominated by rich white guys who made their fortune doing something else—something productive, something remunerative, something with an underlying economic sense to it. The money was crazy, sure, but so was the income—cities building huge, domed facilities with taxpayer funds even though the stadiums did nothing but sit idle three hundred days a year, television networks bilked billions out of beer pushers to broadcast their silly little games, and fans got ripped-off on everything from programs to hot dogs to officially-licensed shirts, caps, and all-terrain vehicles. The whole crazy sports machine probably would have lumbered along like an offensive linesman on Vicodin if not for, well, the Vicodin . . . and drugs in general. The pressure to win, but even more importantly, the desire to make a boat-load of money in the bidding frenzy for talent, drove the simple-minded athlete to a simple solution: cheating. Soon steroids to build body-mass, amphetamines to provide a performance burst, human growth hormones to become taller, blood transfusions to enhance oxygenation, and numbing agents to allow playing with pain (or at least what would have been pain, but for the drugs) predominated in the locker room. Not soon after, revelations about drugs predominated on the sports page, in fantasy-league discussions, in Olympic committee meetings, in Congressional hearing rooms, and eventually, in the federal penitentiaries. Yep, people got locked up for cheating at sports. Sooner or later, all the sports were implicated—cycling, football, baseball, track, skiing, water polo, basketball, hockey, tennis, pole-vaulting, synchronized-swimming, and even curling (you can sweep like a banshee when you’re on crack). Inevitably, the scourge of drugs in sports became a top-level concern not only of the rulers of sports, but the rulers of the world—moms. Mom didn’t want little Johnny hanging out with a bunch of guys sharing more than dirty stories in the locker room, but at the same time Mom didn’t want little Johnny coming home crying because he couldn’t compete and Dad getting all frustrated because his son played like a wuss on the field. Maybe it was better if Johnny just played a game with his friends in the basement or online. Perhaps sports could have held their own in trench warfare with games—each with a phalanx of players and fans, the ranks ebbing and peaking with a periodicity dictated by the latest fads—if not for the injury factor. While it has always been true that people get hurt when they fling their bodies or balls or pucks or pretty much anything else at one another and that sports have always been associated with a certain number of tears, breaks, pulls, lacerations, concussions, and deaths to the competitors or to the fans nearby, modern tort law as brought to you by the modern tort lawyer (living the life of financial excess his father always dreamed about) has made such inevitable bashings and the associated bleeding, pain, and death very expensive. The ascendancy of the legal maxim that there is no injury which cannot be blamed on someone else—the team, the school, the facility, the ball, the equipment manufacturer, the coach, the teammate, the opponent, the city, or the relevant rule-making body for the sport, made injuries more expensive than utility outfielders. But, again, more than the expense, there was Mom. Mom didn’t want Johnny getting hurt. Mom wanted Johnny protected from everything in life—bullies, teachers, gold-digging women, bad grades, homework, peer pressure, promiscuous women, drugs, hard work, snapped towels, athlete’s foot, and, of course, getting hurt playing games in the dirt. No sports for Johnny. Sports are dirty, dangerous, elitist, oriented only toward winning at all costs, and infested with slutty cheerleaders. Dad would have to get his vicarious thrills reading Sports Illustrated—Swimsuit Edition. At the same time as sports spun into a downward spiral, gaming was on the rise. Mom wanted Johnny to be clean and safe and able to play despite the lack of physical prowess and to cooperate with others toward a group goal that would build his self-esteem, and keep him far, far away from slutty cheerleaders. Aside from a rare case of carpal-tunnel syndrome in someone with clearly inferior gaming equipment, there is no risk of injury (no bleeding, bruising, pulling, tearing, breaking, or concussing) in gaming. There are no tryouts to fuel anxiety, rage, or suicidal dismay. There are no coteries of coaches, trainers, mascots, or slutty cheerleaders. There are no stadiums to build, no fields to chalk, no significant expense of any kind. Everything is either imaginary or virtual and much of it is built by the players themselves. And, so, it is not surprising that actual sports have become extinct (there are still sports-themed games) and games—table-top, virtual, one-on-one, team, or massively multiplayer—have become what sports once were, complete with fans, sponsorships (heavy on the caffeine-laden drinks, rather than beer), endorsements, pay-per-view competitions, superstars, box scores, televised championships, and, yes, slutty cheerleaders. Dad would be so proud.

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