REALITY REDEFINED

As a kid, I played sports. I also was a fan. And, having a vivid imagination, I created my own sports reality. America’s doing the same. It could lead in unexpected directions.

I loved board games played with dice or spinners and based on actual player statistics. Later, I created my own generic baseball, basketball and football games. I ran my own leagues. Today, pro sports are shut down, but the hunger for games remains. Video and board games satisfy that.

Moreover, the media, particularly newspapers, need stories. The San Francisco Chronicle briefs readers on the Giants and A’s during Strat-O-Matic’s simulation of the 2020 baseball season. The Chron co-sponsors APBA’s series between all-time NorCal and SoCal baseball players. In game two, the Giants’ Barry Bonds (NorCal) homered twice off legendary pitcher Walter Johnson (Washington Senators, 1907-27).

It’s like following baseball before television. Even during radio days, most Americans never got to major league baseball parks. They experienced the national pastime in their heads.

Literature understood. In 1968, Robert Coover published a fascinating novel, The Universal Baseball Association: J. Henry Waugh, Prop. A lonely man lives through his dice baseball league—teams and players his own creations. One roll of the dice presents that most rare phenomenon—it happened only once: Cleveland’s Ray Chapman, 1920—a player struck by a pitched ball and killed. J. Henry Waugh faces an agonizing decision. The player is a young star, who has renewed his lagging interest. Should he let him die? If he rolls the dice again, he negates the game’s integrity. We could go on and on about God’s role in history.

Actual baseball, basketball and hockey may resume by July, football in September as scheduled. As with baseball now in South Korea and Japan—and German soccer; English soccer’s coming soon—no fans will attend. Games will be staged for television. Of course, professional sports originated and grew with paying customers filling seats in ballparks, stadiums and arenas. But gate receipts, important as they are, lag behind TV dollars. TV presents reality at a distance, but sports fans long have embraced that.

As play resumes, athletes face real health concerns. They also pose a major expense to franchise owners. Might they and their salaries be replaced with avatars—digital fictions? J. Henry Waugh created his own players, including detailed biographies. They were as authentic to him as the actual Henry Aaron and Mickey Mantle, both 1968 baseball all-stars.

Sports leagues could eventually use holograms of faux players while filling stadiums with real crowds. The action, based on advanced algorithms, would be as exciting as it is now. Outdoor games might be rained out but be played in-studio and on TV. Seasons would avoid interruption by labor strife and—pandemics. Over time, as long as the software remained uncompromised, would anyone miss flesh-and-blood athletes?

Today’s Zoom business meeting, worship service, classroom and family get-together create a new—at least different—sense of reality. What if the people we see and speak with on our devices, not just athletes and entertainers but family members—the ones we wish we had—also were digital fabrications? What if we had a role in creating them? Would we perceive them to be any less real?

Would wefeel any less real?

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