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By Joel Klebanoff

Olympic Video Games

The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," which translates to faster, higher, stronger. Will somebody please tell me how any rational person on this planet can argue that video gaming squares with that motto? OK, maybe someone could make the case, but I don't see how he or she could do so without giggling hysterically. Apparently, somebody disagrees with me. He probably deserves a gold medal in honor of the extreme physical control that he exhibited by stifling his laughter. A lesser person would get a hernia trying to hold something like that in.

According to a May 31, 2006, article on CNNMoney.com, the Global Gaming League (GGL), a media company that operates in the gaming arena, is trying to convince the Chinese government to include competitive video gaming as a demonstration "sport" (obviously, the quotation marks are mine, not the GGL's) in the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing. My understanding is that this is just a first step because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would have to agree before it could become an official part of the games, even as only a demonstration "sport." Hopefully, the proposal will provide a good laugh and nothing else for the Chinese government, so as to nip this thing in the bud before it gets anywhere close to the IOC.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that video gaming requires no skill. Quite the contrary. I have no doubt that even a mediocre video game player could beat me, a non-player, 100 times out of 100 on just about any video game. Nonetheless, I think that, to make it into the Olympics, a sport should be sufficiently physically demanding such that every athlete who qualifies for the games, regardless of his or her sport, should be able to thoroughly wallop me in any athletic challenge whatsoever. That's true of most (but not all, more on that later) of today's Olympic athletes, but it's certainly not a minimum requirement for video game players. Because I'm an athletic misfit, most gamers could, in fact, beat me in an athletic competition, but my point is that it's not a prerequisite.

To play the devil's advocate, I must admit it's true that Olympic sports don't always adhere to my rule. I've watched some of the curling matches in the Olympic Winter Games. Seeing the physique of a few of those curlers has convinced me that, despite my being 53 and not very athletic, while I couldn't hold a candle to them in curling (for one thing, a candle would melt the ice), I would have absolutely no problem winning a 100-meter dash or a weightlifting competition against one or two of the more unfit of them. But at least curlers have to get up off their butts, throw a heavy rock down a sheet of ice, and practice their household skills by running down and sweeping said sheet of ice vigorously. And the skip has to exercise his or her vocal cords by shouting inspiring words such as, "Hurry! Hurry hard!" (I haven't seen many curling matches, but for the benefit of those of you who haven't seen any, no, I'm not making that up.) Video game players, on the other hand, never have to get up out of their chairs. True, they have to manipulate a joystick and click a few buttons, but faster, higher, stronger? I'm sorry, but I don't think so.

The chairman of GGL, Ted Owen, argues that there is a precedent for the IOC introducing a non-traditional sport in order to attract younger viewers. He points out that the IOC brought in snowboarding as a winter sport for that very reason. That may be true, but it's unlikely that you're going to win a snowboarding competition if your pre-game meal is a family-size bag of potato chips and a large bottle of Coke and your idea of limbering up is twiddling your thumbs. Then again, snowboarders have a reputation for marijuana use, so, if it's a justified stereotype, they're probably not immune to the munchies, but at least they tend to work it off. I don't think pushing around a joystick and punching some buttons burns off all that many calories, no matter how vigorously you may do it.

Owen contends that Beijing would be the perfect place to introduce video gaming as an Olympic demonstration sport because, according to him, "Gaming is elevated to a pastime in Asia." Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I don't think that merely being a major pastime should be sufficient to qualify as an Olympic sport.

The first three sentences of the next paragraph are going to seem like an irrelevant, prurient non sequitur, but please bear with me. They're not irrelevant, and one out of three's not bad.

A recent article on TechWeb News reported on a Nielsen NetRatings survey done for The Independent on Sunday. According to the survey, the UK is the country where Internet pornography viewing is growing the fastest. More than 9 million men and 1.4 million women in Great Britain visited porn sites in the 12 months prior to the survey. London will be hosting the 2012 Olympic Summer Games, so if the IOC accepts the GGL chairman's argument about pastimes of the host country becoming Olympic sports, what suggestion might he have for the London games? Talk about wardrobe malfunctions! Now that's a sport that the North American television networks won't be allowed to broadcast in prime time, but it would certainly boost their ratings if they did.

Owen has, so far, only presented his idea to the Chinese government. He has not yet talked to the IOC, so it's possible he'll get laughed out of its offices if he tries. However, I'm not as confident of that as I'd like to be. The IOC's Web site includes a list of recognized sports. Getting on the list is the first step to becoming an Olympic sport, although being on it is not enough to guarantee a spot in the competitions. The list includes a couple of "sports" that require only marginal athletic prowess—billiards and bowling—and a couple that require even less physical activity than playing video games—bridge and chess. What's next? Trivial Pursuit?

If you're a regular reader, you were probably thoroughly convinced that there was absolutely no way I would able to get through an entire tirade about video games and the Olympics without ever once mentioning the violence inherent in most video games. I guess you were right.



This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.



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