Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Culture of Sports with Tim Wade: A "Dive into Worldbuilding!" hangout summary with VIDEO

Sports! How many fictional worlds have them? Not so many, considering how important they are in the real world. A lot of people make fun of Quidditch, but it's actually a pretty stellar example of a sport in fiction, given that she thought through the players' roles, the rules, how to cheat, etc.

Sports are a cultural phenomenon in our world. In some places, sports are associated with class, as in England where soccer is considered a lower-class sport and cricket an upper-class sport. In some places, sports are associated with race, as in South Africa where soccer was considered a black sport, rugby a sport for white Afrikaners, and cricket a sport for whites of English descent.

Sports are a means of cultural interchange. Some companies will have sports events together even when they will not maintain diplomatic relations. The Olympics are a huge deal across the world, particularly in smaller countries where all the medals are given more value.

Piers Anthony featured both sports and games in Split Infinity, and he also had the Unolympics. Jack Vance has sports in his work. Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game has the battle games, which are a kind of sport. And of course J.K. Rowling has Quidditch. One of the things that makes Quidditch special is how she weaves it into the characters' lives the way that real sports would be woven into our own lives - and at the same time, uses it to amplify the social and magical conflicts occurring in the book.

Where do you find a sport if you are looking to put one in your world? Glenda noted that many sports evolve from survival skills, such as hunting, shooting, running, etc. Archery is a big deal in Robin Hood! Ask yourself: who are the participants? Who are the spectators? How do people become invested in the results of sports competitions? Are there coaches? Organizers? How do people make money on sports, and where does that money go? Are there animal-based sports like horse or dog racing? Are there fighting sports?

In our world, sports took on a new significance and its current institutions developed in the late 1800s.

We discussed pod racing from The Phantom Menace. This was a sport that missed a chance at greater significance because it failed to connect the stakes of the races to the economy and social structures of the world it was a part of. It came across as too frivolous, and though the crashes were spectacular, the risks seemed relatively distant.

Raj asked what kind of sports would exist among non-competitive aliens. What might shape their leisure activities, and would they be considered sports? Can you remove competition from the premise of sports? Would achievement be sufficient as a core drive?

Sports bring people together who wouldn't ordinarily interact. It can bring people together across socioeconomic status, and across nations.

Sports have their own language. In addition to the way that sports announcers speak and the puns used in newspapers, the language of sports in our world becomes a way for men to communicate with one another emotionally when direct talk about emotions is heavily discouraged. Is it any wonder that sports become so important as a social outlet for men?

We spoke about sumo, which has its origins as a competition that occurred during religious festivals at Japanese temples. While it has now moved out to become a national phenomenon with special venues of its own, the sense that the ring is a sacred space has been maintained. This idea of the playing space as sacred has influenced the sport of baseball in Japan as well - Japanese baseball players will be thrown out if they ever spit on the field.

How does technology mesh with sports? It's very important in measurement. Instant replay has become quite important! Are sports centered around schools? Are sports events something that working-class people attend when they are not working?

In our culture, athletes are often considered heroes or paragons. Do we watch them because of this? Is it a desire to watch heroes perform? Athletes become a prestige class. Do they also become a protected class who can do no wrong? Sports have benefits for bodily heath and also for confidence in the workings of one's body.  Measurement in sports tends to create the idea that sports involve meritocracy - and to some extent they do, but we only have to look at Jackie Robinson and the struggles of female athletes to see that merit is not the only measure.

Do sports provide an outlet for aggressive feelings, or do they enhance aggressive feelings, or both?

Are athletes abused by the institutions that make money off them?

What kind of social conflicts arise around sports? In our world sometimes parents will fight one another in the stands over the results of their childrens' sports games.

Different sports have different cultures of toughness, rules of speech, etc. In rugby, only the team captain is allowed to speak to the referee. Soccer players tend to be good-looking - is it because they are on TV, or because they can't bump heads? Is there a perceived proper body type for each particular sport, or for positions within the sport?

Athletes come in all sizes and shapes, even though our stereotypical perception of a healthy body is much more limited. Different sports require different kinds of fitness and body type. American football requires explosive power but not sustained stamina. Soccer and Australian Rules Football require sustained running.

Gambling is inextricably linked to sports. Sometimes it drives sports; fantasy football would not exist if not for gambling. Betting goes way back to the roots of sports in history.

Another good question to ask is "who are you competing against?" Another team? Your own previous measurements? Golf and bodybuilding are very individual sports where you are not really competing directly against another person. What are the judging standards? Do they lead to problems?

Thanks to Tim Wade for joining us to talk about one of his favorite topics, and thanks to everyone who joined us for the discussion!


1 comment:

  1. I've been wrangling a SFF sports story for going on two years now because someone asked for one and I had to figure out all these questions on my own while being totally not interested in sports myself! This is a super helpful post.

    I didn't have a hard time figuring out a sport and its rules, but its wider implications in a culture that is so purpose-built and focused was hard for me. Eventually, I figured out that since it can only be "played" during a particular season that the events serve as official marking points of when the season opens and closes, which is also a huge political season among other things. Making the sport a marker of that brought onto the radar for me and made it matter much more to the culture it belonged to.