Salem’s Fire #44: Digital Olympics


The day will eventually arrive when a mere computer game will qualify as an Olympic event. It is as inevitable as curling becoming a cult hit in the United States and beach volleyball receiving prime television time slots. Somewhere in some subcommittee of the International Olympic Committee is a scheme to bring the Olympics into the modern era with an event that will bring the attention, media coverage, and gamers. And I think I know what that event will be.

Think about the typical Olympic event. The events tend to have a few basic characteristics. Namely, they are accessible to many people around the world, and they are pretty fun to watch. Water polo can be played at many colleges across the United States and is apparently rather big in Eastern Europe. Gymnastics clinics seem to be about as popular as youth soccer fields in the United States. Where there is deep water, there is swimming. You get the idea. With a few exceptions (such as sailing), just about anyone just about anywhere could, if they really wanted to, find a way to participate in that particular sport with out going too far from home. Any digital event must meet that standard. It must be playable by anyone with access to the equipment. This is even more important in the case of the first digital event. The more people who play it, the greater the number of people who will take it seriously as an Olympic contest. Access is important.

And so is the spectator enjoyment. The event must be rated PG-13 or less. Any game containing blood and gore would probably have to be a little less than realistic to qualify. Most games let you set this to some extent, at least as far as how much blood splatters when some poor zombie finds itself missing its left shoulder. But beyond the icky factor, the game must be fun to watch when played well. Any game is boring to watch when both opponents are terrible. Likewise, nearly any game is great to spectate when both opponents know their stuff. But some are better than others. The first digital game will have to be at least as much fun to watch as curling or beach volleyball has proven to be.

With the criteria set, we can know start the process of elimination. All real time strategy do not make it out of the qualifying rounds. The entire RTS genre looses as a result of the spectator criteria. Base micromanagement does not evoke cheers from the beer drinking crowd at home. ?Did you see how he placed that tower Johnny! Man, is this some match!? Um, no. The battles that would be scattered through the game would likely be worth the price of admission, but I have a hard time believing that a large international audience could really get excited about clicks per second and build orders. Then again, stranger things have happened. Curling, for instance.

Even though there is plenty of action, I think we can eliminate racing games, as well as just about every simulator on the market, in one swoop. Why watch digital cars crash when you can watch real ones? Cars going one hundred fifty miles per hour in real life is much more exciting than representation of cars going three times that on a computer screen. You can test this yourself. Play a pod-racing game (or the demo of one), then go drive on the nearest interstate at rush hour. One of those experiences will turn your hair gray. And pod racing is not it.

So what?s left? Spiffed-up Duck Hunt on a JumboTron? As much as blasting ducks two stories tall might be fun, I do not see this one as a winner. Unreal Tournament? UT2K4 has very real possibilities here. Very real. Accessibility is an issue in some areas, but this game definitely meets the spectator sport criteria. It is also not very realistic, making it a better bet than the typical Quake 3 game. But no first person shooter will make the cut. Consumer advocacy groups would flip if something that gave the appearance of glorifying violence was sanctioned by the Olympic committee. As slow as the IOC may be about keeping French skating judges from being paid, they would jump through hoops to avoid that kind of outcry.
And jump is what all the athletes in the first digital Olympic event will be doing. Lots of it. I recently watched two individuals play the golden game in an arcade. Both were very good, and it was very entertaining to watch. Even better, the action does not occur on a screen. Real people play the game in real life, with real actions. No mouse clicks. No mice. No controllers of any kind. Just the gamer, and the pad. That?s right… power-up your console and break out your dance pad. Dance Dance Revolution is coming soon to an Olympics near you!

It is playable on the PS2, the single most sold console system on earth. It is easy to play, fun to watch, and leaves plenty of room for odd outfits and commercial endorsements. Toss in an opportunity for the occasional judging scandal, and DDR has all the makings of a certified Olympic hit. Practice, anyone?


Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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