Tuesday, June 24

Gamers as athletes?

I thought I misread the headline, but I read it right: College recruiting gamers as athletes. And offering them scholarships.

Now this is either the best recruiting and marketing ploy ever, or this is going to set up Robert Morris University as a laughingstock. Yea, there are probably other options, like it could start to legitimize gamers as athletes, but I think that's a very long row to hoe. On the other hand. . .

I learned that professional gamers can earn up to $100K. Yes, professional gamers. Before you are too dismissive of the idea, think about riding a skateboard as a professional, or doing funky (and often death-defying) tricks on a bike or a motorcycle for a living.  Or playing chess or poker as a professional. Or shooting a basketball or kicking a soccer ball. After all, for millions of people those are recreational entertainment. But for those who are really good and really passionate, those activities are a way to make a living.

I don't know anything about the game League of Legends other than what I've read in the paper and online. Like any given day approximately 27 million play it. And that "a League of Legends championship sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles last October."

I found a link that let me watch some League of Legends competitive play, complete with commentators. I'd have to watch a lot more to figure out what the heck is going on, but yea, it's intense and requires teamwork. Is it a sport?

Dictionary.com defines "sport" as "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc."

In 2008, someone posted that golf, bowling, curling, pole vaulting, and roller blading should not be considered sports because no defense is involved. Athletic competitions, maybe, but not sports. Interesting. But by this definition, gaming is a sport because there is defense. In fact, gaming may meet all six of the offered criteria: athletic ability, strength, endurance, strategy, competition, and defense. Perhaps not the athletic ability you might see in a football, soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, baseball, softball, lacrosse, or rugby player, and probably not the kind of strength you might see in any of those sports.

Another definition is "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment."  By that definition, gaming is a sport. 

Is chess a sport or a competitive activity? Darts? Poker? It's a question that's been asked many times before and for which there seems to be no clear answer if only because of the way the participants might see themselves. 

So I don't know if Robert Morris University is on to something way ahead of the bleeding edge or if they're just going to look foolish for setting aside $450K for scholarships for three varsity gaming teams and beginning the search to hire a coach. 

I do wonder about the overall impact of legitimizing gaming in this way. Are all gamers weird and anti-social? No. Might there be concern that gamers will only encourage the kids who hunker in their rooms in the dark lit only by their monitors to retreat even further into that make-believe world which seems peculiarly marked by violence? Yes. No doubt about it. Might there be even greater need to help kids find balance between actual physical activity (like skateboarding, roller blading, bike riding, even playing on swings) and gaming? Probably. Will this invite a whole new form of bullying? Sadly, I fear so. Might this help us see more clearly the future of things if we strip away the features of the game itself and look at the skills to play the game? Perhaps. Might this help us imagine differently and more creatively as we think about the future of things as we strip away the features of the game and look to what else in inherent in the design and the play of the game? One can hope.

But is it a sport? Mmmm. I don't think so. Not yet anyway. 

Sunday, June 8

Thinking about thinking, and why thinking is good for us

A friend of mine and I were talking about Fahrenheit 451. She's "reading" it via audiobook and it's the first time she's been exposed to this book. She was commenting on some of Bradbury's insights and perceptions for a book published in 1953. (It had been a while since I read the book, so I checked out the 60th anniversary edition to re-read it and was delighted by the introduction, which was written by the incomparable Neil Gaiman.)

We talked a bit of the context for his writing: post World War II, Korean War, communism, McCarthyism, television (I Love Lucy debuted in 1951; The Today Show first aired in 1952). Catcher in the Rye was published in 1952.

Though she's not yet finished the book, my friend is particularly interested in the perception of thinking--that by eliminating books and by not allowing people to read books they will be happy because they won't think. Bradbury's television was pure pap, sort of like watching today's reality shows when people are more concerned about the Kardashians and the so-called overprivileged housewives of some city than the kidnapped girls of Nigeria or the strife in Syria, Somalia, The Congo and more places than we care to think, perhaps even know.

I get that. I get the escapism of television even though I don't understand the popularity of most "reality" shows.

The collision of thinking (gasp!) occurred when I read another friend's Facebook post about his initial response to the shooting at Seattle Pacific University: how many this time? Not being horrified but the incident; having, in some ways, such a benign response to the violence perpetrated on yet another campus. And by someone who had no connection to the campus but an obsession with Columbine.

I also understand it is easier to bury one's mind and emotions in a television show of few if no intellectually redeeming qualities. I understand it is less taxing emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually to read pulp-like magazines than actual news or actual reports on the social, political, and economic complexities in our world. I understand it is easier to ignore the harsher realities of life than confront them, especially when one feels helpless to do anything about any of those realities.

But then I wonder about the implications of those who can't or won't think for themselves, who accept whatever they read in print or online as "truth" and get angry when others might try to dispute. I wonder if in the absence of thinking--good ol' objective critical thinking--we spiral into silos of ignorance and intolerance.

So keep reading, keep thinking, and keep discussing. That's how we learn from each other, and across the reaches of time and geography.

Tuesday, June 3

Being nice

I went to a customer service center for a particular communications vendor. I chose that location for convenience. I probably should have called beforehand to be sure they had the product for which I was looking in stock, but I made an assumption that they would have at least some minimum number in stock. It's not as though they've got a lot of products. (Oh stop trying to figure it out; it was Comcast.)

Anyway, this customer service center did not have the product and the customer service person didn't exhibit an attitude or behavior I would characterize as customer-focused. She was rude. Just rude. And how did I respond? Not well. I was irritated by her behavior and her attitude, and her pointed question snarled at me, "Did you call first?" really torqued me. What I wanted to say was, "No because if I'd called first, I probably wouldn't be here so you could show me just how terrible at providing service to customers you are." What I said, tersely and not very nicely, was, "Obviously not." Yea, I made her day even better, didn't I? I can't help but wonder if I could have made things a little better for her and for customers who came after me if I'd just been nice.

Being nice isn't really that hard. It doesn't hurt. In fact, being nice can feel pretty good.

Being nice can change someone's perspective of themselves and their day.

Being nice can have lovely ripple effects for others who come in the wake of your niceness. Sure, that sounds treacly, but you know it's true.

There's a Facebook page for niceness: Random Acts of Niceness. I would not lie about this. Feel free to check it out, even like it if you're so inclined.

Sure, there might need to be boundaries for being nice, but that's a different conversation. I'm talking about situations like the one today, when I could have been nice but returned rudeness. I'm thinking about my response to the young woman at the drive-through window when I got my coffee (Dunkin' Donuts) who seemed a little stressed but who rewarded me with a brilliant smile when I thanked her and wished her a good day.

Being nice. Being kind. Making someone's day.

Monday, June 2

Of bandwagons and splinters for lack of conviction

There are actual bandwagons, and the notion of jumping on a bandwagon seems to date back to an election in 1848 when a circus performer and clown used his bandwagon to attract attention to his campaign. When the clown/candidate started to be successful, others sought to get a seat on his bandwagon to be associated with his success. I don't know if that's really true--I could spend more time researching it but I'm too busy laughing about the potential genesis of the phrase, especially in light of today's political circuses in which we have candidates/clowns running for office.

But I was actually thinking of sports bandwagons. For example, the recent Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the LA Kings. I'm not really a hockey fan. I sort of have an idea of what could be happening on the ice but don't recognize most fouls when they happen. I suppose the most important thing is cheering for "your" team when they have a power play opportunity and when they get a goal. So yes, for Game 7, I climbed aboard the Blackhawks bandwagon. Why? They were down 3-0 and made an impressive comeback to force the seventh and deciding game.

I acknowledge, however, I'm a fickle fan. The Blackhawks lost in OT on what looked to me like a cheap chip shot goal, but a goal is a goal so the Kings move on. And now? Well, I don't really care. Yep, sliding off the hockey bandwagon and picking up a few splinters, I'll wager. Next sport?

I was watching the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship game between Notre Dame and Duke. Why? It was on. I really don't know much about lacrosse, but I was hooked. Who to root for? Well, Duke. I'm a Duke basketball fan, ergo, I'll be a Duke lacrosse fan. You're expecting better rationale? Get real.

I really was hooked. I was fascinated by the game--the skill, the speed, the endurance required of those players. Duke took a commanding lead but Notre Dame came back hard after the half. But Duke on its heels and it was an incredible play of speed and deft touch that won the game for Duke. I'm still on the lacrosse bandwagon, and I want more lacrosse.

The past few days I was watching the Women's College World Series. I tend to favor the SEC because I grew up with the SEC but I'm also a Ducks fan. I watched the Kentucky-Baylor game while working on a project. I stopped working on my project in the 6th inning. Down 7-0, the Baylor Bears were 1 run shy of the mercy run rule when they did their weird water buffalo rallying thing and started their comeback. They put a few runs on the board and got their heads back in the game. Baylor held Kentucky at the top of the 7th and put 4 more runs on the board to tie the game at the end of the 7th. Un-freaking-believable. Who knew softball could be so exciting? Baylor is out of it after losing the next day to Alabama; the Ducks are gone after losing to the apparently unstoppable Florida Gators. So best of 3 series is back in the SEC between Florida and Alabama, two schools I refuse to cheer for on general principle. Pshaw. But it could be an interesting match-up, so maybe I'll watch. I like softball, so that wasn't really climbing on a bandwagon as much as paying attention; I may be rationalizing here.

My point? We climb up on bandwagons when something seems successful, fun, exciting. When it's a new shiny that captures our attention. But most of us are fickle because we don't join the party until it is a party. Unlike Cubs fans who are Cubs fans. Period. Unlike true believers in whatever they choose to believe, whether their team or group or organization is being successful, having fun, or generating excitement.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his Letters (1899, published 1951), "When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon." And just as easily and quickly as people tumble each other to get aboard, they'll tumble over each other to get off the bandwagon when things are no longer successful, fun, or exciting.

Too few of us seem to be individuals of conviction. Thomas Carlyle wrote "Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct." But it's easier to hide our beliefs, to shelter our convictions in case we are the minority, in case we might be mocked or ridiculed, in case we might not hold the popular position. Then we deserve to get splinters in our butts.