16 years ago, Sports Illustrated ran an article that examined the growing symbiosis between sports and digital technologies. Along with several terrifically prescient predictions, it also pegged one of history's worst video games as the wave of the future.
The article, "Welcome To The Electronic Arena," is on the money a lot of the time, particularly with its observations that the internet, video-on-demand, and HD technologies would play a greater role in sports media. But my favorite passage discusses how athletes would evolve into multimedia personalities and monetize their stardom — the piece uses Shaq's roundly derided kung fu video game as a sign of things to come:
Now computer-driven video games are approaching a movie-theater level of clarity; the best of the games are called "simulations" because of the way they re-create the strategic demands and sensuous experience of actual sports [...]
There are already millions of obsessed fans of these simulations who seem to care little for the real sports upon which the games are based, and most of these fans are members of the new generation that will soon be needed to fill stadiums and arenas. If these young consumers care more about the moves, history and personal predilections of a character called Shaq Fu in a best-selling video game than they care about watching Shaquille O'Neal play basketball, then is Shaq-in the world of images and consumer markets-primarily a basketball player, or is he a virtual kickboxer on a video screen?
For those of you unfamiliar with Shaq Fu, it was a downright mournful video game in which Shaquille O'Neal travels to another dimension and fights mutants using his own patented blend of martial arts.
The observation that Shaq's fame would transcend sports is not entirely off-base (Shaq invented Twitter, after all), but cherry-picking one of the worst video games of all time is kind of awesome, particularly when they could have singled out Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball or Michael Jordan: Chaos In The Windy City.
Another passage ponders whether or not Mortal Kombat is the sport of the future:
During their first week on the market, $50 million worth of Mortal Kombat II video cartridges and discs were sold to young enthusiasts who also support six different magazines dedicated to news about video games and heroes such as the Mortal Kombat characters (the "players" or "guys," as they are known). If there are more children in Sacramento who understand the athletic prowess, personal history and signature moves of Raiden, an athletic Mortal Kombat "thunder deity," than there are kids who attend a King game over the course of a season, what's the more popular sport among kids in Sacramento: Mortal Kombat or NBA basketball?
I would definitely shell out for more sporting events if I could watch Raiden battle the Sacramento Kings. The article's an interesting read from our über-futuristic vantage point, so check out "Welcome To The Electronic Arena" here.