Written by Matt Bowes
Like all true sports fans, there is only room in my heart for the best game ever played: 2002-2003 vintage Slamball, which is apparently making a comeback in Guam of all places, but apart from its rising from the ashes you would be hard pressed to find any good news in the sports world these days. Between FIFA’s insistence on playing in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup (ignoring human rights issues surrounding the stadium builders, the sweltering heat, etc.), evidence of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice’s horrific spousal abuse and the seeming coverup by his team and the league, and the continued existence of the Washington Redskins’ racist logo and name, sports aren’t looking super fun at the moment.
In the pulp’s continuing mission to explore fiction for potential future scenarios, here are a few examples of how sports could change in the coming years. Note, the amazing, satirical film Death Race 2000 is not included, nor is The Running Man, because they straddle the line between death-sports and game shows. The 2008 Jason Statham remake of Death Race was also excluded, for generally being garbage.
Canadian Norman Jewison’s 1975 film was based on a short story in Esquire called “The Rollerball Murders.” In the story and the movie, both written by William Harrison, war and countries have essentially been abolished by the year 2018 and replaced by the Corporate State. Rollerball is the most popular sport in this brave new world: a combination of jai alai, roller derby, and football (with motorcycles), and Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the world’s greatest player.
When the Energy Corporation, which owns Jonathan’s team in Houston, asks him to retire from the game, Jonathan is perplexed. It turns out, in a manner reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” his aptitude for the game is actually running counter to the ruling class’ objectives. The violence and futility of Rollerball is supposed to suggest to its fans that individuality and personal freedom are things of the past, and that good citizens should sit down and do what they’re told.
The trailer for this film is awesome, featuring story spoilers, non sequiturs and out-of-place seeming music (in classic ‘70s style), but you should also check out this video directed by CANADA for Justice’s “New Lands,” which takes the already crazy game of Rollerball and amps it up even more:
In David Foster Wallace’s 1996 masterwork, Infinite Jest, most of the novel’s action takes place around the Enfield Tennis Academy in Boston, Massachusetts. Owing to the diverse interests of its founder, James Orin Incandenza, Jr., the students allowed at the academy must be geniuses both in the fields of math, science, optics, and tennis. The novel takes place in the near future, in which, a theme you’ll often see repeated in futuristic dystopia, corporations are omnipresent and all-powerful, even owning the rights to the years themselves (ie. The Year of the Whopper, The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, etc.). The United States, Canada, and Mexico have combined into one super-country: the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.).
To relax in this incredibly stressful world of corporate control, radioactive waste flung out of catapults, and rampant drug culture, the hyper-neurotic students at Enfield devised a game: Eschaton. In Eschaton, each player stands at various spots mapped out on a tennis field. They represent one of the nuclear-capable nations left in the world, like O.N.A.N., China, or Russia. Handy items like towels, water bottles, wrist bands, and that sort of thing are placed in each player’s “country,” representing cities, dams, and military installations—high-value targets for the others’ missiles. Players simply loft a ball at the country they want to attack and punch the results into a computer to see how many megadeaths ensue. This video for “Calamity Song,” by The Decemberists, explains it better than I could:
The humble Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game might be the oldest instance of this future sport gaining mainstream popularity, but robot fighting has a pretty good history in pop culture. The prolific author Richard Matheson, best known for his often-adapted novel I Am Legend, wrote a short story called “Steel” for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction back in 1956. It was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode in 1963, keeping its story intact: a down-on-his-luck former boxer named Steel Kelly (Lee Marvin) suits up to fight one last time in a world where robot boxing has eclipsed the human variety.
“Steel” was also the basis for the (to my mind, anyway) underloved Real Steel, which came out in 2011. While the similarly down-on-his-luck boxer played by Hugh Jackman doesn’t actually pretend to be a robot boxer in this one, his performance of a callous douchebag and absentee father is pretty refreshing and entertaining. I feel like this film should have been released alongside Rollerball, Death Race 2000, et al., but the robot boxing we got out of it was pretty entertaining. Don’t act like you wouldn’t watch robot boxing if it was real. It would be awesome and you know it.
Did I miss any of your favourite future sports? Let me know in the comments below.
CC cover photo credit: DreamWorks SKG