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Miscellaneous Fantasy Football

I have some scattered thoughts about Fantasy Football that don’t really fit together into a single coherent post, so I’ve decided to just throw them up more or less as is.

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Fantasy Football Season

NFL ‘s season started this week, which means that, perhaps more importantly for some people, Fantasy Football season started this week. For those of you who may be unaware, Fantasy Football is a game where each player manages a team composed of real world players in the NFL. Each player’s achievements on-field are translated into fantasy “points”, which are used to determine the winner in a series of head-to-head matches with other players in the fantasy league, culminating in a final bracket that completes just before the playoffs begin. For instance, running 10 yards might be worth a point, and scoring a touchdown might be worth 7 points. Many leagues require a cash buy-in, with various portions of the money going for various awards throughout the year (overall #1, most total points, etc). However, many leagues don’t, and are played just as a friendly casual supplement to the season.

Based on a complete lack of research, it seems likely to me that fantasy sports started with Fantasy Baseball, which honestly makes more sense. Baseball is essentially an individual sport, so the activities of each player could be abstracted to the fantasy team more easily. I suppose people may have played fantasy sports on pen and paper in the old days, but they’ve really taken off with the rise of the internet, where on-line leagues can automatically tabulate the scores and keep track of the teams in a central but easily accessible location. In the past few years, as the American public has drifted more towards embracing football as the American pastime, fantasy football has really taken on new prominence. Some adjustments had to be made for football, such as many leagues abstracting “defense” to a single “player” per fantasy team. There’s some interesting design implications there, which I may look at in the future (short version: offense is more fun), but overall, it seems to work pretty well. The weird thing is how many people have been tricked into playing what is essentially a market valuation and information game under the guise of watching a sport. Read more…

Sportsman-like: Matt Griffin and Action Shooting

Sportsman-like is a (hopefully) recurring feature in which I talk to an expert in a relatively obscure sport, and have them explain to me some of the rules, and also talk a little bit about whether they think their sport qualifies as a game, or if it’s something else entirely. This installment also takes the form of a podcast, marking another first both for the site and for myself.

My guest today is Revolver Grand Master Matthew Griffin, and we talked a little bit about Action Shooting, and what differentiates it from all the other shooting events out there. Much to my chagrin, we never quite got around to directly addressing whether or not it counts as a game as well as a sport, but I have a handy excuse: it’s self-evidently very game-like, complete with objective (if arbitrary) scoring standards, level design, interesting choices, and enough other stuff to fit just about any definition you can come up with. I wish I’d thought to ask about a little more detail regarding the design of courses, but for the most part I was struggling just to keep up with the basics.

Many thanks to Matt for his time and also for putting up with my down-right amateurish interview and podcast skills.

[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/14348258/ROTF_Podcast_1_MattGriffin.mp3]

Direct Download link.

Resources mentioned on the podcast:

If you know somebody who would like to be the subject of a future Sportsman-like feature, please leave me a message or drop me an e-mail at charles<at>therulesonthefield.com.

Olympics Links!

I know the Olympics are over, but in my usual timely reporting fashion, I thought I could squeeze in one more post, rounding up a handful of great links that I saw over the course of the games.

First, Deadspin had some great coverage of the games, but some of the highlights were in a series called “What the Hell is This Sport?“, a feature where they’ spot-lighting the history and rules for some of the more esoteric sports, including Rhythmic Gymnastics, Pentathalon, Race-walking, and Trampoline. It’s a series that I wish I had thought of, or that I had the skill and depth of knowledge to write. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s limited to just those four, but I could read articles like those all day long.

As I mentioned, Deadspin had a lot of great Olympics coverage, and also ran a feature making the case for video gaming as an Olympic sport. I think that it’s kind of an old chestnut in the game industry now, but this particular article has some nice quotes from some smart people, and does a good job of touching some of the more interesting concepts, such as spectatability, which I’ve touched on briefly. Frank Lantz also brings up the physical component in reference to Starcraft, and while I’m not sure I agree (see: Actions per Minute), it remains one of the most obvious distinctions. I’ve been working on a grand “definitional statement” for sports, and I suppose I’ll have to finish it someday, but there’s also a lot of other reasons I don’t think games are appropriate for the Olympics.

I also have David Sirlin’s take on the Badminton scandal that I posted about last week. I’ve mentioned Sirlin before, but he’s a competitive fighting game player and a great game designer, with a particularly harsh and somewhat unpopular opinion on competitive game design, encapsulated in his philosophies on “playing to win”. His game design writings have been a pretty big influence on my own, so it’s no surprise that his view isn’t that far from my own. An excerpt:

A player should be able to forfeit for any reason or no reason, and this must be make explicitly clear in the rules. Further, it should be explicit that if a player (or team) wants to forfeit, then they should NOT play a fake match. Playing a fake match is about the worst possible thing for a competition because of the impact on spectators. If the rules make it clear that simply forfeiting is far preferable to playing a fake match and that forfeiting comes with no penalty, then the rules will have stomped out 90% to 100% of fake matches right from the start. It’s just a lot more effort to play a fake match and there’d be no benefit over forfeiting.

That’s not the whole solution though, not even close. That’s just the failsafe you need in case there is any incentive to lose on purpose in the first place. It should be self-evident that if a tournament system ever gives players an incentive to lose, then it’s a problematic tournament system.

This is the core idea: the players are always going to play towards where their incentives lie. If their incentives are to lose, then that’s a failure of the designers to properly design those incentives. Adding spurious rules about “the spirit of the game” are just band-aids on that original failure.

The Olympic Badminton Scandal

In my previous post about the Olympics, I said I wasn’t planning on talking about them, but on the other hand, I didn’t say that I definitely wouldn’t either. This is a good thing, because it turns out that there is something I’d like to talk about: badminton.

This past week, a “huge scandal” rocked the Olympics and the world of badminton. The best summary of that I could saw was from Slate, which describes not just what happened, but some of the motivations behind those events. Essentially, because of the structure of the qualifying round, several of the teams found that they had already clinched spots in the finals with a match remaining to play. In a bit of an athletic spin on The Producers, these teams found that they could throw their last qualifying match in order to tweak the seed order of the final round to their advantage. The teams that were found guilty of this were then ejected from the competition on account the basis that their activities were “clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport”, essentially, the provision for cheating.

But losing a game on purpose is kind of the opposite of cheating. If the players have an incentive to lose, that’s really the fault of the game (or in this case, tournament) designer, and we can take a look to see why this is.

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On the Olympics

If you have access to the internet or a television, you’re no doubt aware that the 2012 Summer Olympics started this weekend (and if you don’t, one wonders how you’re reading this). So, it’s once again time for Americans to spend several weeks pretending that they care about archery, badminton and fencing for as long as it looks like we might win a medal. Which isn’t to say anything about the merits of those events, just that the American public tends not to spend a lot of time thinking about them in the off years.

I don’t have any plans to do anything special for the Olympics. Timely reporting of current events isn’t really my thing, and besides, I’m afraid of running afoul of NBC’s US broadcast monopoly and the Olympics’ terms of use for linking. But I will be availing myself of some of the broadcasts of less popular sports, events which you never see on TV otherwise, yet may provide some interesting fodder for thought or for future posts.

During the last winter Olympics, the schedule arranged itself such that I spent a lot of time in front a TV that was featuring live broadcasts of the curling finals. And after the standard period of derision, I found myself strangely entranced by it. Curling is so unlike any sport that I have any real familiarity with, save maybe shuffleboard, which is in my mind indelibly associated with retirees on cruise ships rather than world-class athletic competitions. The rules themselves yes, and the physics behind them, but even moreso the actual means of interacting with the game was completely foreign. Brooms? Being used for sweeping? On ice? It hardly seems credible, and yet: there it was. I’m not going to claim that it was a particularly significant moment, but it was a broadening of horizons nonetheless, and one that I think I’m a better person for.

So my recommendation for this year’s Olympics is this: take advantage of this chance to explore the weird and unknown. Turn on the TV sometime outside of prime-time hours, and just watch what’s happening. Pick a sport in which you have no interest, or better yet, one you know absolutely nothing about. Find a hook to keep yourself watching for a little while. Try to figure out what’s going on. If you’re into the athletes’ tales of personal struggle and dedication, then roll with that. Or just look at the economy of motion, the specific actions honed through hours and years of practice. The Olympics feature some of the best in the world at what they’re doing, even if you don’t particularly care what they’re doing or why. There is some beauty to mastery of something, regardless of what that something is. Gymnastics and track and field, yes, but so too judo, dressage, noodle making, or piloting a tug boat. Look for the beauty in whatever they’re doing, and try to appreciate what it is about this thing that makes people want to dedicate their lives to it. It’s only a couple hours every four years.

America’s Cup (Sailing)

I’ve been fairly busy this past week, and among other things I’ve been following the Tour de France for the first time ever. I intend to talk about it a bit more in the future, but I want to put some more time into it, and so for the time being I’m going to talk about another kind of race that probably mystifies most red-blooded Americans: sailing.

A friend of mine drew my attention to an article in the New York Times last week highlighting some major changes going on in the world of competitive sailing. Apparently a couple of years ago, the organizers of the America’s Cup realized they had a bit of a problem: they were running out of money. They attributed this to the fact that a) sailing is very expensive and b) nobody watches it. So, they set about trying to re-invent the sport in order to be more spectate-able. Spectat-ability is perhaps the most important aspect of a sport’s success, and one of the primary differentiators between sports and other types of games. I mentioned in a previous post that I would have more upcoming on spectate-ability in the future, and I still intend to, but in the meantime it’s interesting to see how professionals decided to address the issue with literally millions of dollars on the line.

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