Top 10 - Sci-Fi Sports

People have played and watched sports since the dawn of time, and there is no reason why that should change in the future. There is an ancient idea of Bread and Circuses that originated in the distant past but applies just as easily to the far future, too. The phrase implies a population's erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority, replaced by allegiance to sport.

Intellectual Noam Chomsky said something similar, in a more modern context: I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount... On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's at a level of superficiality that's beyond belief. 

So sport is not seen as a force for good in the development of a future society, but just how bad could sport's influence be. Find out in the following top ten. 

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I write sci-fi novels that belong to a series called Dark Galaxy, which starts with Galaxy Dog:

What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet brings to light an ancient archeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy.

The entire series is available to buy from Amazon.

To start the top ten, let us travel to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We don't see much sport in the Star Wars setting, but we do see some.

10 – Pod Racing

The Star Wars prequels are famously terrible, but there is one concept from them that is verging on good. Podracing is a dangerous racing sport that is very popular on Tatooine. Podracers are small, one-man craft pulled by large engines, and piloted by small, light beings, like a jokey on a horse. In Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker wins the Boonta Eve Classic on Tatooine, securing his freedom from a life of slavery thanks to Qui-Gon Jinn's bet with Watto. The movie is plain awful, but the race verges on exciting, sometimes.

9 – Mean Arena

The Mean Arena is a 1980s comic book story from 2000 AD. It was very influenced by Rollerball, but it brought something unique to the mix, too. The game is a blend of street football, gladiatorial combat, sniping, and whatever happened to occur to the writer any particular week. The rules of the game were constantly in flux, depending on the needs of the story. Teams include the Southampton Sharks, Mother Vlad's Vampires, and the Ellesmere Port Elephants. The Mean Arena was a popular strip and ran for 72 episodes.

8 – Basquash!

Basquash! is a sports and sci-fi anime that involves characters playing basketball while riding mecha. It has a very bright look, that is a nice relief from some of the dark and grim visuals of the other movies and TV shows on this list. The story takes place on an alternate, futuristic version of Earth where human society is split between the far more advanced lunar society and that of the planet's surface. A popular sport is BFB (Big Foot Basketball), where players ride mecha called "Big Foot" and play basketball in a giant arena. This is a sport that features giant robots playing basketball. It’s a crazy premise, but anything involving giant robots always gets extra points with me.

7 – Zero-G Squash

This sport is from a Doctor Who story called The Leisure Hive, first broadcast 30 August 1980. The plot is a little convoluted. According to Wikipedia: In the serial, a criminal organization of alien Foamasi called the West Lodge attempt to buy the planet Argolis from the Argolin people there as a West Lodge base. Meanwhile, the young Argolin Pangol seeks to start a war against the Foamasi his people had previously lost to with an army made up of clones of himself.

At one point, the Doctor and his companion drift past an ongoing game of zero-gravity squash, played in an octagonal room. The special effect on display are, hands down, the worst on this list, but the sport still somehow looks quite convincing. I could imagine people playing zero-G squash in the future, unlike some of the other sports on the list, which seem much less likely to ever happen.

6 – Rollerball

Rollerball is a 1975 film starring James Caan that features a violent, globally popular sport that is similar to Roller Derby. It’s a great looking movie which would have placed higher on the list if a better performance could have been coaxed from Caan. How it works is two teams clad in body armor skate or ride on motorcycles around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by throwing a steel ball into a magnetic cone in the wall of the arena. While its ostensible purpose is entertainment, Mr. Bartholomew, a high-level executive of the Energy Corporation, describes it as having a "distinct social purpose": to show the futility of individual effort.

5 – Death Race 2000

Death Race 2000 is a 1975 American action film starring David Carradine. The film takes place in a dystopian American society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. This is an enormously influential movie, even though it is also very obviously B movie schlock. It is so good, and it could have placed at number one if it wasn’t so unrelentingly cheesy. It has just too much of Wacky Races about it.

4 – Pyramid

Pyramid is a fast-paced combination of skill, speed, and brute force  seen on Battlestar Galactica. The way it was brought to life on screen for the original show looks so convincing, and yet so futuristic, it has to place highly, even though the game itself is not as bloodthirsty as something like Rollerball. The game gets its name from its triangular shaped court, the origins of which are supposed to go back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. This is a game that does a lot of heavy lifting in the show's world building. According to the show, most people believe that Pyramid originated hundreds of years ago on Caprica, developed as a diversion in the isolated mining outposts in the backlands. There are literally no rule books. They did not make it on anyone’s escape ship, and it has become part of the pyramid culture to disdain arcane and fussy rules. Most games happen without any referee.

3 –  Supersurf

This sport uses Powerboards and is an illegal race held on the streets of Mega-City One. Legendary riders involved in the race include Chopper, Dak Goodvibes, and Johnny Cuba. Riders negotiate set obstacles, like weaving between the giant structures of a future megacity, plunging into traffic tunnels, and avoiding gunfire from the city's oppressive, paramilitary police force, the Judges. The surfers speed through the future city, chasing prizes in this illegal sport, with many falling along the way. This is the second sport taken from the pages of 2000 AD, a comic book that has always been fertile ground for out-there ideas coupled with great art.

2 – Light Cycles

The light cycles from Tron look so cool, both in the original movie, and in the remake. I remember playing a light cycles game on my ZX81, and loving it, even though the graphics were super blocky. The new light cycles in the latest movie do not have that problem. The special effects are just gorgeous. They are an upgrade of the light cycle from the original movie, with a design that more closely resembles a real-world motorcycle. Direct collisions with a light ribbon are fatal, but the light cycle will also often dissolve underneath its rider, leaving them to sustain injuries in a more survivable accident.They deserve their place near the top of the list on looks alone, but to be number one, needs some extra element that this superficial game lacks.

1 – Robot Jox

After World War III, war has been outlawed so the fate of disputed territories is now decided by gladiatorial giant robot bouts. Robot Jox is a 1990 post-apocalyptic science fiction film about a match fought to decide the fate of Alaska. The movie was a flop, earning just a little over $1M in domestic theatrical gross, and failing to return its production cost.

Robot Jox was not liked by critics, either, and there was little audience interest during its first theatrical run, but it is now being reevaluated. I, however, loved it from the get go and it does not surprise me that people are finally starting to understand this movie. It didn’t make it to a cinema near me, back in 1990, and I had to search through video stores until I could find a copy to watch.

Finding this movie on video was an epic quest, but I still remember the excitement when I finally located a copy. I was not disappointed. This is truly the apex of sci-fi sports.If you enjoyed this top ten, there are a few more sci-fi related top tens on this site, find them right here.

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