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Boom!
Offbeat Sports Games

Allen Varney | 2 Jan 2007 07:02
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" Shootclub: Maybe fantasy pro wrestling doesn't count as "offbeat," but check this one just to see the wrestler names.

" Fantasy Fashion League was started in 2005 by Erica Salmon, a self-described stay-at-home mom in Pitman, New Jersey. Players draft teams of fashion designers - clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry - plus three celebrities. In a 28-week season, climaxing with the Oscar ceremony, competitors earn points from mentions and pictures in Women's Wear Daily, fashion magazines and award shows. Salmon has also started a Fantasy Country Music League.

" Likewise, Tabloid Fantasy League lets you pick celebrities, then score points each week based on how often they appear in People, Us, Star and In Touch. Publisher Famfam LLC offers a wide range of gossipy pursuits.

" Survivor: The CBS reality TV series has spawned more fantasy leagues than you can believe, including promotions by CBS itself. FantasySurvivor.net is one indie effort.

" Fantasy Congress: Either silly or brilliant, this summer project by four college students at Claremont (California) McKenna College lets you manage a team of 16 U.S. legislators. You earn points when your Senators and Representatives successfully introduce bills and get them voted into law.

We can rise still higher in levels of meta-competition. With tabular rankings of national performance in dozens of categories - everything from Olympic medals and environmental protection to opera and beer - the International Match site turns civilization itself into a sport. ("This month's themes: Corruption, Volleyball.") Soon, no doubt, we'll see a Fantasy United Nations. "I'll trade you Norway for Taiwan and two Balkans."

***

Why so much competition? No, never mind. It's a stupid question, like "Why so much breathing?" People compete, period.

Joshua Davis, author of The Underdog: How I Survived the World's Most Outlandish Competitions (Random House, 2005), "survived" the U.S. National Armwrestling Championships, a Spanish bullfight, a sumo match, a backward-running race and Finnish competitive sauna. (Wonder when we'll see those computer games?) Davis theorizes, "Individuality can be hard to come by when there are 280 million other would-be individuals in the country. ... We need some way of comparing ourselves to others to prove that we are different. That's why I've always been attracted to competition. Rankings give me a way of knowing how close (or far) I am from being a champion."

Davis' explanation may be right, as far as it goes. But these computer games, besides letting you compete while nestled comfortably in your desk chair, also replicate another aspect of sports: community. All these games offer forums; some are quite busy.

The contest may drive us, but the community gives context to our struggle. The social dimension, in computer games as in real life, gives our efforts meaning.
Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay and Looking Glass.

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