In light of last night’s Super Bowl game, I got to thinking about sports and games in sci-fi/fantasy. Alas, I could hardly think of any. Harry Potter’s Quidditch is the only popular example that comes readily to mind, but with a little googling, I found that there are literally hundreds of others. Most of them I’d never heard of, but quite a few sounded familiar.
They seem to fall into a couple of categories: variations on existing sports vs. entirely new games. The variations are often to accommodate the changes that make this fictional world different from our own. Scott Sigler’s Galactic Football League has had to accommodate receivers who can leap a dozen feet into the air as well as carnivorous linebackers. Sometimes it changes to incorporate the character of the world. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Chessman of Mars combined chess and gladiatorial combat. I would also put Star Trek’s 3D chess in this realm. While Podracing in Star Wars may seem like something new, this is really just chariot racing in disguise.
As for brand new games, Quidditch is probably the most famous, but we also have Battlestar Galactica’s Triad, Star Trek’s Strategema, Tron’s light cycles and disc wars, and of course, the practice battles in Ender’s Game. While these might have recognizable elements from soccer, basketball, etc., they’re sufficiently different to feel like a completely new game. As such, they do a wonderful job of putting us into the not-here, not-now setting.
The challenge with these sports, though, is that the audience has to care who wins, and to do that, I think we have to understand the game well enough to follow the characters towards victory or defeat. That either means keeping the game extremely simple or going to some length to explain the rules. Even then, I think of all the time spent explaining Quidditch’s Golden Snitch rule and yet the game is not really all that complicated compared to such real world sports intricacies as football’s rules surrounding the forward pass or baseball’s forced out or infield fly rules.
On the other hand, I don’t think we particularly want to have to understand a fictional sport as complex as football. The official NFL rulebook for this past season is 244 pages long. Certainly, readers don’t need to know the legalities of hitting the golden snitch with a bludger in inclement weather, but even if we had to read a tenth of such a rulebook to comprehend a fictional game, it wouldn’t be worth it. So it seems that the best solution is to keep it simple and gloss over any messy details.
But then real sports still crop up in a lot of our fiction as well. Both Star Trek and Babylon 5 had love affairs with baseball, and I’ve seen various forms of boxing, fencing, and tennis show up, too. I suppose in those cases, they’re less to provide that feeling of other and more to tie them back to our own experiences. That alien isn’t all that different from us. He’s a hopeless Cubs fan just like me.
So, any fictional fans out there? Do you think the Rigel Zostik’s have a shot at the galaxy cup?