The Great Gamble

October 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was the idiot who made the mistake of reading Last Contact right before bed Wednesday night. Going to bed with thoughts of the universe ending was not exactly my ideal way to end my day, so I turned on the recap of the Cardinals-Brewers game in order to mute the unhappy thoughts resonating in my head. Postseason baseball is always bittersweet for me because I know that I will never get to experience the joy of having my team as a true competitor. As a Twins fan, disappointment is more than an tradition. It is a way of life. Trust me: if that team had a superpower, it would be falling short of expectations. But no matter how many starters I had to watch get injured this season, no matter how far I had to watch my beloved team fall in the standings, no matter how many ruthless Detroit Tigers fans I had to endure, I could not prevent myself from watching the games and rooting for my team.

I suppose that is the special character of competitive sports: no matter how many times you watch the team you support lose, being a fan is an addiction that isn’t easily cured. There is something about human nature that is willing to risk the pain of losing a contest over and over again in order to continue to have the possibility of winning. It is this train of thought that brings me back to the days of reading Ender’s Game and my initial introduction to science fiction: what will games look like in the future?

Instead of turning on my television set to find a baseball game, I can picture turning on the set to watch a virtual reality, player-versus-player competition. Instead of limiting the field of play, all people who are interested in playing would be able to participate, but only the best would make the spectator sport that I would view on live television. The game designers would create different terrains, different resources, and different challenges to every game course, which would change with every battle. It would be a constant feast for the viewer because the rules, setting, and challenges are never static. In fact, the only commonality between each game would be the prize: winners would receive a small boost in intelligence, and losers would receive a small subtraction in intelligence.

Frequent winners would have the luxury of a system similar to the vicious cycle that the Yankees have mastered so gracefully, as unmatched ticket sales, television markets, and branding leads to a larger team salary which leads to more championships which leads even more successful branding. As players become smarter in the virtual reality game, the more likely they are to win. As players begin to lose, the more likely they are to play again to regain their lost intelligence, and each time they would be at an even greater disadvantage against smarter players. This would be gambling in its most addictive and most dangerous state, which would naturally add to the excitement and fanfare associated with it.

In many ways, baseball has this same addictive allure to both viewers and players as the virtual reality game. In baseball, however, the capabilities and awards are finite. Intelligence, however, is far more powerful, addictive, and unpredictable than monetary compensation for winning a baseball title. Therein lies the problem. Eventually, a winner would become so intelligent that they would be able to outsmart all of the other players in the game, and eventually, the game designers themselves. What if the addiction of the intelligence boost became too strong? What is to stop this gamer of superior intelligence from making himself or herself the most intelligent and most powerful person on Earth? I’m not sure I have the answers yet, but it would sure be fun to write about.

-Libby

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