By Gabriel San Roman
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Imagine, if you will, a pasty, bespectacled stringbean draped in an American flag, an Olympic medal tugging at his pencilneck, all backed by John Williams' orchestra swells and the impassioned cheers of thousands. Yes, friends, this is the moment: America has just taken home the gold in professional video gaming (classic arcade division). Brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?
But video gaming could never be an Olympic event. It's just not as challenging or entertaining as, you know, curling. That's the stance of International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who spits at the very suggestion of the idea. "You will never achieve in a video game," Rogge told the press in May, channeling the Big Lebowski. "It is not really success." Wow, I didn't know Hater-Ade was a sponsor this year. Maybe he's bitter because he sucks at Sonique Le Hedgehog.
With the Olympics mere days away, two things are clear: Rogge's statement is incredibly ignorant, and mainstream America's interest in the Olympics is at its lowest since athletes competed in the nude. So, until there's a return to bare-ass sports (surefire ratings boost), competitive video gaming in the Olympics would be welcomed by, well, nearly everyone but Rogge. And maybe Uzbekistan, who suck at Halo.
Funny how Rogge and co. have no problem lending their image to gaming merchandise every year, most recently in the Wii's sucktastic Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, but then call everyone who plays them unremarkable losers. "Video gaming is nothing next to the time-honored sport of Olympic korgball," he seems to say. Yep, there's something called korgball, and you can get a medal for it.
Just how does Rogge define "achievement," anyway? Because I contend that success in Olympic speed-walking is a pretty piss-poor definition. In fact, video-game glory can both rival and surpass many of the Olympics' heartily sanctioned events. I'm eyeballing you, synchronized swimming.
One only need watch Steve Wiebe's incredibly dramatic attempt at becoming Donkey Kong world champion—in the masterful documentary The King of Kong—to see the dedication, superhuman reflexes and mind-boggling challenge most classic games present. Hell, one need only watch their little nephew play Guitar Hero on Expert to realize how staggeringly impossible some current titles are. Olympic chess players have clout, but why not the guy who has the mental muscle, dexterity and lightning-quick decision-making skills necessary to play Tetris on its hardest level? Don't tell me that's not an achievement. In fact, it's gotta be worth at least 10,000 Achievement Points on Xbox Live.
Reuters cites today's average Olympic viewer as being older than 40. Korgball isn't helping things. They've tried introducing BMX biking this year to lure the X-Games crowd, as well as an announced Youth Olympics in 2010, but all anyone on this side of the pond is worked up about is Michael Phelps' swimming events. When millions of advertising dollars and viewers are at stake and the most exciting thing in 17 days of high-definition broadcasting is men's swimming, it's time to accept that our definition of sports achievement has gotta change to keep up.
Competitive video gaming may never fully capture the thrilling emotion or physicality of a Jackie Joyner-Kersee victory, or a good ol' American cheat-to-the-gold ("Go NBA Dream Team! Red, white and blue in '92!"), but it's certainly got a leg up on sailing, which Rogge hopes kids everywhere will thrill to in the 2010 Youth Olympics. I'd rather play any crappy, Olympic-licensed video game, like Torino 2006, than watch children race sailboats. So would Jacques Rogge's kids, I'm willing to bet.