Working toward a July 2019 episode of Radio Free Deimos, the final part of a three-part series on Pulse, we wanted to take a look at some sports from history and fantasy/sci-fi that might make the transition to Sol 702AE. Okay, so some of these aren’t technically from scifi, they’re just fictional and too fun to pass up. And what is “history” really when you use Transcendent podcasting equipment?
So a few questions immediately came up: What is a sport, and what makes a compelling sci-fi sport?
What is a sport?
Generally, sports involve competition, either individually or against a team. That could be broadened a bit to include cross-country hiking, things that you can do on your own…competition against yourself, in a sense. They involve physical activity. There’s some gray area there…foosball/table soccer feels more like a game than a sport, ping pong feels more like a sport than a tabletop game, but both have competitive leagues and bring people together, and you can get pretty winded playing air hockey.
In general, sports are some combination of competitive, fun, physical (and usually physically challenging), involves skill, and is social. You could probably add “organized” to that list, as in “there are rules.”
Edge cases…animal sports, computer-assisted gaming, or sports with a remote-controlled agent…dog racing, falconry, remote control drone combat…fill some of these, but maybe not all of them. Blood sports (like bear baiting or bull fighting) sometimes require skill, even if they’re distasteful, and in sci-fi robot/simulations can take the place of actual critters. I included one for the bizarre gallows humor of it, may I be forgiven. Like the question “is that art/music/pornography/edible?” it doesn’t seem possible to objectively answer this question.
What makes a good sci-fi sport?
It seems like Hollywood productions and gee-whiz style sci-fi literature, you can make any existing sport sci-fi by adding the following phrases: “…but with wheels,” “but with robots,” “but with lasers,” “but in zero-G,” or “to the death!” For the most part, we’re going to look at sports that transcend these, either because the source material’s particularly important, the mechanics are interesting, or most importantly they’d fit a game world and add color. So, very sorry to robot soccer, zero-gravity squash, The Hunger Games, Death Race 2000. In this particular lens, the ideas there just don’t seem fun to unpack.
Then there’s Quidditch. Maybe this is an off-hand cricket joke at work, but Quidditch, and some games like it, just seem entirely contrived and arbitrary. The rules and terminology are obfuscated, and there’s a mechanic that allows one person to shine and throw away the rest of the game. That may be a game, it may be a sport, but unless it’s house-ruled so that Harry can’t steal the game out from under the team, it doesn’t sound fun…
Ultimately, it comes down to “did we think these games were interesting,” “do they add to the world of HSD or make sense as a part of the world of HSD,” and “would this be fun to read about, write about, or know about?”
Anyway, on to the inevitable list…but we’ll start the list with some canon HSD sporting events and a few selections made by HSD fans and the Radio Free Deimos hosts (who are also HSD fans.) Some of this is a bit work-in-progress, as I took a few days off writing to cobble together Radio Free Deimos #54, Sci-fi Sports.
is to decapitate a select player on the opposing team and throw their head through a goal post. Members of each team attack each other with hammers and swords. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible, much less unethical. But in Hilketa—a violent and fast-paced popular past time—all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.