Sports’ Violent Future

 

While The Hunger Games is captivating audiences and readers with its storyline about teenagers forced to partake in a deadly competition, the concept of futuristic blood sports isn’t anything new.

There are a few other films and books that dealt with a sport where the prize for winning was life itself. One of the more famous examples is The Running Man. Written by Richard Bachman (actually Stephen King using a pseudonym) and later adapted into a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the game took place in a dystopian U.S. and is a show broadcast in the Games Network. The game contestant is forced to evade hunters. The longer the player stays alive the more money is earned. There was another well-known deadly game book also written by Bachman called The Long Walk, where teenage boys participate in a national marathon. The contest begins with one hundred contestants who have to walk nonstop. Anyone who stops or stumbles is killed by nearby soldiers. The winner, who is actually the last boy still walking, not only wins life but any prize he desires.

Two films from the ’70s that featured violent competitive sports were Death Race 2000 and Rollerball. In Death Race 2000 the U.S. has been replaced by the United Provinces (sound familiar?) and brutal gladiatorial games are used to mollify the masses. One of the most popular games is the Annual Transcontinental Road Race, a.k.a. the Death Race. A twist to the road race is that points are earned by killing pedestrians. The idea of deadly car races has been utilized in many video games. Some examples include Roadwar 2000 and Carmageddon.

Rollerball takes place in a future world overtly controlled by corporations and war is banned. In its place the competition of Rollerball is used. Part roller derby, part football, it’s a vicious combat sport where players bash opposing teams with spiked gloves as they try to gain possession of a metallic ball and score points. While both films are cult classics they were drearily remade not too long ago. Fortunately those remakes have been all but forgotten while the originals’ legacies endures.

Part of Rollerball’s popularity is the violent, close-quarter nature of the sport, which correlates with the popularity of football. A couple of sci-fi books have extrapolated on football’s evolution. In Killerball by Gary K. Wolf, football has turned into a vicious combat sport using martial arts and weapons. Meanwhile, football is still enjoyed hundreds of years from now in The Rookie (Part of the Galactic Football League book series) by Scott Sigler and is played by aliens and humans.

But football isn’t the final word on violent sports. Just look at hockey, rugby, boxing and other combative games. In a little-known film that deserves more attention called The Blood Of Heroes one of the only forms of entertainment in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is a sport known as The Game. In it armored teams try to score points at goalposts with a dog skull. One of the objectives by individual players is to get recognized for their skills and be rewarded with a luxurious lifestyle.

In our future there may be a movement to use surrogates in combat sports for safety reasons. The most recent example seen of this in the movies was Real Steel, where huge robots are used in boxing matches. It should be noted that the popular film was a remake of a Twilight Zone episode written by Richard Matheson, based on his short story. A more obscure example is the film Robot Jox. In this scenario, humans from opposing countries get into gigantic robots and battle each other. What is interesting to note with these films is that even though humans have been removed from the equation, the games still have spirit and heart, which makes them endearing to watch.

Before The Hunger Games came along there was another book and film dealing with teenagers forced to fight each other. That property is Battle Royale, a controversial Japanese book and film where teenage contestants are placed on a remote island and wear explosive neck collars that will detonate if they try to escape. Like The Hunger Games, the contests are to the death and monitored by the government.

While outwardly we as readers or viewers may be repulsed by some of these extrapolations, one has to admit they cater to our morbid curious nature.  This goes back to ancient history with the lethal gladiator games. These works point out that their violent games serve a greater good in keeping order and maintaining the peace. And with the popularity of today’s violent sports-that seem to be growing increasingly violent, maybe some of these future sports aren’t as implausible as we care to admit.

José Soto

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Football? Bah! Give Me Some Rollerball!

I didn’t catch the Super Bowl last night. It’s not because I didn’t like the teams playing, but because I don’t enjoy football. I won’t go into how boring the sport is with the constant timeouts, overinflated egos, etc. But there is a sport I would rather watch if it existed. Which one? Why rollerball of course!

The film Rollerball was released in 1975 and was based on the short story “Roller Ball Murder.” It takes place in 2018 in a liberal’s worst nightmare: a world ruled overtly by faceless corporations. One such organization, the Energy Corp. backs the popular Houston team in the sport of rollerball. It’s a lot like roller derby. Teams in two opposing teams skate around a closed arena (th0ugh some ride around in motorcycles) and are clad with spiked gloves, body armor and helmets. The object of the game is to get possession of a steel ball and score points by slamming it into a cone in the arena. Along the way, the players use violent means to gain possession of the ball and score or to prevent the other team from scoring.

In this future, there isn’t any other sport but rollerball is wildly popular. It’s also supposed to be a sport that emphasizes the work of a team, while diminishing the efforts of the individual. There’s the film’s conflict. Jonathan E (James Cann) is emerging as a popular sports figure but the corporations disapprove of this since they don’t want an individual hero. See, they want to keep the average person down and make him or her feel powerless. That’s because the mantra of “one person making a difference” no longer applies in the new world. Most of the film concerns itself with Jonathan E being persuaded to retire from the sport and his reaction to the effort.

But enough about that, my favorite parts were with the game itself. That thing is wickedly violent, and that’s even before the corporations eliminate penalties halfway through Rollerball! See, they want the game to turn so violent to make Jonathan E want to step down, and things get very desperate for the evil corporate bosses in Rollerball’s last act. At that point, the final game is a no-holds-bar brouhaha with lots of explosions, blood and maimings. But like a true hero, Jonathan E just sucks it in and gets just as violent as the other players, coming off as some kind of futuristic gladiator. What kind of violence is in this film? Lots of bashing across the face and skull with the spiked gloves, players get dragged around the arena, players smashing into each other; it’s easy to see why this sport would placate the masses and their bloodlust.

Now ask yourself, would you see anything like that in football today? Thought so. Supposedly football is popular because of the violence. Please, if you want that go to a boxing match or a good hockey game. The players in those sports wear less body protection. And it’s the closest we’ll ever get to rollerball.

Waldermann Rivera