As an adult, if you were to ask me if I like sports, I would probably say no.
If you were to ask me as an adult if I would buy the new Mario Strikers and pretty much every other Mario sports game, I would say yes.
There’s something I’ve been trying to unravel for a while.
As of this writing, the Super Bowl starts in a few hours. When you’re not watching the Super Bowl, it’s a bit like the Game Awards in that there seems to be a lot more interest in the commercials than the actual game being talked about. But it’s an event that many people, even those who hate sports, follow religiously because it’s a massive cultural event like a natural disaster or a Spider-Man movie.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like sports as a child. As much as my dad wanted me to be interested in her, it just never happened. And to be clear, he wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t exercise. He was disappointed that I made fun of him because he likes sports. I was a child. If he wanted to make me go to a Miami Dolphins game, I would bring a copy of a romance novel to prank him on. This is our relationship.
That said, my aversion to sports never really came from an external conflict. Jocks never bothered me. Every gym teacher I had in high school was underpaid to even try to yell at us. There really wasn’t anything that turned me against exercise other than the fact that I found it boring and frankly, it was hot outside. There’s a reason the only sport I still sometimes watch live is hockey: I literally enjoy a sport because it’s cold.
I have to admit that I have no problem with sports. I’m no better than her. I am not above them. In fact, the reason I don’t like sports isn’t because of the sport, it’s because of the subject matter. Video and board games have taught me that if a robot or an alien hits, I’m going to fucking hit it.
To some extent, video game sports have always been my only way of understanding how to enjoy them. As a kid who grew up wearing an oversized Make 7 Up Yours shirt, it’s safe to say I wasn’t a fan of physical activity. I also grew up in South Florida, a place where the humidity and the sun conspire to hate you. My parents didn’t force me to do sports either. They just stared into the distance as their son brought home a Mathlete shirt.
But the moment you turn football into blood bowl, I’m on it. Sure, sure, sure, you could say the rules are abstracted differently, so what looks like American football is actually a version of American football that’s completely different! Keep your mouth shut. Stop it. Listen to yourself. Blood Bowl is just American football with an orc saying “Zug zug” or something. Also, don’t correct me on which franchise has an orc saying, “Zug zug” because I know and I don’t care.
This fine line of fictionalization makes sport more fun for me. Same goes for the old Mutant League Football and Mutant League Hockey games. They’re sports, but they’re comic book sports with superpowers and random events. Even games like NFL Blitz and NBA Jam add special effects and weirdness to “enhance” the gaming experience.
Admittedly, this is all down to personal taste. I don’t like esports either for a similar reason: I just feel like I’m watching people I don’t know having fun. They have fun at the highest level, and they have the kind of fun that takes years – if not decades – of training to achieve. But there’s still someone else having fun while I watch.
Then there’s the sheer amount of knowledge I would need to know in order to have a lot of fun in professional sports. I’m 37 and I just don’t have the time to find out which teams and clubs hate each other because of leagues and tournaments decades ago. At this point, most of my sports knowledge comes from NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and living with a dad obsessed with Dan Marino. Also, real sports tend to have more complicated rules than those where anime girl power shoots a golf ball into a hole across the course.
I’m not saying regular exercise is boring, I’m saying regular exercise is boring to me. When game companies add a layer of fantasy or sci-fi color, I get the actual pure form of why the sport itself is fun. If you remove the stories I don’t know and the people I don’t care about and add a topic I like – no matter how thinly done! – I can enjoy really fun games with really fun rules.
The same goes for completely fictional sports like Blitzball in Final Fantasy 10 or the entire Rocket League. I 100% guarantee that if Blitzball was played by regular athletes in regular uniforms in regular countries, I wouldn’t give a damn. But because it’s a fantasy sport played by the guy who voiced Bender in Futurama, I was in.
That should teach me more than anything else. I should give the sport a chance. I don’t hate her. I don’t think they are stupid. I don’t say sportsball, mostly because it’s not 1999 anymore and we can crack some new jokes every now and then. But I still struggle to take them seriously or watch them without adding experience points and spells.
As much as I was, and probably still is, destined to never get excited about people playing sports live, video games have at least helped me admit that sports are fun in their own right. They’re more complicated than they seem. They require more thought than they seem. And they are more interesting than they seem. I only needed a coat of polish that I understood to get there. It seems obvious, but imagine the relationship I would have with my dad if he found out this shit early on.
Just saying, as big as the audience is for the World Cup, it could probably be even bigger if they added blue shells.
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