Sunday, August 12, 2012

More Olympic musings!

For the last hour now I have been replaying A01, the first level in TrackMania Nations Forever. At first, I wanted to beat the time required to win the Gold Medal. (25.87 seconds.) Then, I wanted to beat the time for the Author Medal. (25.54 seconds.) And now, having surpassed both of those marks, I want to get as close to 24.04 seconds, which is the current fastest time recorded on CyberScore. Eventually, should I beat that, I will attempt to do it in less time than the 23.92 seconds that sit atop the official Nadeo leaderboard, verified by linking to a downlodable ghost file for me to race against.

My time improves by one or two hundredths of a second at a time. It doesn't improve every time I race the track, but once in a while I hit the turns just SO. I take that first corner with the optimum tightness, which enables to not lose any speed, and then carry this through into the home straight. On the occassions that I do get everything right, it is electric. And the reason it is electric? Well ...

It is because those times are rare. Increasingly so as my times get faster. I am much more likely to not improve than I am to even match my previous best time, let alone beat it by any significant margin. My hour has consisted, mostly, of failure following failure. Each failure has not been a complete waste of time, however. Many times, I have learned from the failures. I can turn a run where I don't take the first corner properly into one where I can try an alternate approach on turn 2. I can see if letting go of the accelerator leads to an overall improvement anywhere on the track. In short, I am doing more than just playing this game. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, practicing. I am training.

I am dedicating myself to getting better at the game, for the sole purpose of being better at the game. I want that name at the top of the leaderboard to be mine. I want to hold the World Record for track A01 in TrackMania Nations Forever.

Over the last couple of weeks, you may have been aware of a bit of a shindig taking place in London. From all around the world, competitors arrived to test their skills against the very best in their respective fields. Sprinters, weightlifters, gymnasts, swimmers, cyclists, rowers; we really could spend the rest of the day listing disciplines in which events took place. These athletes have spent their entire lives improving, and the last few years training specifically to be at the peak of their performance when it matters. They all wanted to win Gold Medals, and hope to set World Records.

When looked at like that, one may well be inclined to ask "What is the difference?" between what I have been doing, admittedly for only the last hour, and what they have been doing for their whole life? Some of the races were decided by hundredths of a second. Well, some of my TrackMania scores are improvements of THOUSANDTHS of a second. So, even if it can't compare to the physical demands that the marvellous Mo Farah put in during his training, the mental focus required is surely somewhere close.

Of course, the Olympic games themselves are not just about the physical at any rate. There were several different Shooting events. Shooting! The very thing that videogames are most singularly synonymous with is an Olympic sport. Please, somebody; explain to me how different Olympic shooting is from Hitman: Sniper Challenge? In both, you take aim at a target in order to score the maximum amount of points inside a time limit. The sport and the game require practically identical skillsets, and practicing for either would be a simple case of doing the same thing over and over again. An injury would impact participants in either exactly the same way, too. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we might as well just make Olympic shooting into a virtual version of itself.

Think of the advantages with this. Not only would there be less chance of equipment failure, but we could also have a mixed event. The 2012 Olympics have already seen two absolutely major equality firsts, which is reason enough to celebrate. Not only were there female athletes from all competing nations for the first time in history, but the life-affirming sight of Oscar Pistorius running against able-bodied atheletes was truly inspirational, and certainly offered hope to many around the world. So, try to imagine how inspirational it would be to see an event where there is no segregation at all? Virtual Shooting, and by extension videogames, could offer this.

As we move towards an ever more integrated society, surely this could be seen as a way forwards? I know that many will sneer, with proclamations that videogames are "For kids" or "Played by couch potatoes". To which I would respond with "And, your point is ... ?", because it is 2012 and we just don't do that sort of thing anymore. And then, I would point them in the direction of YouTube to watch a StarCraft II player with his 300 APM and ask them to do the same. APM? That means "Actions Per Minute", and is a count of key presses and mouse clicks. I could possibly reach that count if I just randomly bashed away, but to assign meaning to each action? Put it this way; I would be happy if I could achieve 40 APM, and I have years of play behind me.

Who knows what is likely to happen? Barriers have been broken in the past, and it is reasonable to expect that they will be again. Videogames keep on getting more popular, and the lines between what is and what isn't a sport keep on getting more blurred. When ESPN cover League of Legends, albeit in an article, then there are signs that things are moving in the right direction.

The 2016 Olympic Games will take place in Rio, Brazil. There, we have a gameplaying community that is growing at an incredible rate. This not inconsiderable mass of potential players could easily provide the weight required to tip the balance. I am not saying that we need virtual versions of all sports, by the way, just that I think the idea that to include videogames in some capacity is surely an idea whose time has come?

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