Why Isn’t Competitive Gaming As ‘Big’ As Sports?
With the Paralympics’ closing ceremony taking place on Sunday, the Olympic Games have gone away for another four years.Yes, after a month and a half of events, London 2012 is finally over. It’s something of a relief to me. I’m not into sports, and just cannot handle the jingoism that seems to come with these major events. Still, people can be into competitive sports as much as they like. They can be nationalistic or not, proud of their countries’ competitors or not, etc. That’s really not a concern to me. The issue is…well, why not games?
Seriously. Despite the fact that the gaming community has apparently shrunk recently, at least in the U.S., it’s still a community that has grown exponentially in recent years. One that suffered horribly during the recession but managed to remain profitable. I know competitive gaming events exist but the difference in scale between them and sporting events is huge and…why?
There are obvious comparisons to be made between gaming and sports, particularly if looking at multi-player gaming. For example, both are generally focussed on – surprise – competition and inherently about conflict. Both provide a procedurally generated narrative, not a straight-forward story. Both are about simultaneously evolving and demonstrating the skills of the people involved. Hell, both end up with people rooting for certain teams (i.e., Nintendo), or events (i.e., RTS).
Also, both burn more calories than sitting down and watching TV. Yeah, it’s a marginal difference for games but it counts, dammit.
All these similarities and yet the majority wouldn’t hesitate to consider a gaming event as lesser than a sports event. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that gaming should be an Olympic event – not yet, at least. It’s just not the right time and there’s a bunch of reasons why. Like the demonisation of video games as a medium, something that really doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. Similarly, health issues. That little quip about burning calories was true, but it’s really not a huge number. Of course gaming can be part of a healthy lifestyle but some people do abuse it.
The main issue though is that gaming is evolving at too fast a pace. Think of literally any sport. How much have they changed over the past ten, fifty, one hundred years? There will have been changes but we can generally consider them to be small and/or purposeful. Video games haven’t reached that stage. There’s still a lot of experimentation going on, for both single and multi-player experiences. Moreover, with the four year gap between each Olympics, the games being played would be totally different each time. There’d be no real consistent and comparable way to place records. The only genre I can think of that has remained fairly static is one-on-one fighters. Who would like to see, say, Street Fighter IV at an Olympics? Probably no-one once they realise it’s effectively an over-the-top simulation of events that already exist.
That’s the thing. With few exceptions, the best games for competitive events currently contain at least an element of being simulacra – a copy of a real sport or activity. And that…that’s just not good enough right now. No, gaming is not in a place to be held to Olympic standards – that’s fine – but maybe it should be placed more firmly in the public eye, especially if we want it to become more important in our lifetimes.
For now, we need to support those events that do exist. Support the companies, sponsors, competitors. Give them a chance to develop and who knows? One day, those competitors might just become Olympians.
Sonic artwork by BEYX.