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Friday, April 12, 2024

Crapshoot: A look back to when sports games were even worse than today

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From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, sport! Sport, sport, sporty sport. Yes. Because we all love sport. Sport is the best thing ever. Especially the completely unofficial kind.

“Good evening sports fans, my name is Chet Wanamaker…”

“And I’m Borpney McGee. We’re here live for the opening of the Epyx Absolutely Definitely Not Associated With Any Other Games, here in sunny… would you say it’s sunny, Chet?”

“Sunny? I don’t know. Honestly, I’m trying to keep my eyes closed.”

“Yup, that’ll be the CGA, folks. Four colours to choose from, and the electronic gods saw fit to make two of them magenta and cyan. I pray for a swift death that will never come, or at the very least, EGA.”

“We all pray for your swift death, Borpney. But try to hold out until after the sport, OK? We’ve got a lot of events to get through tonight, and some of them actually look like what they’re meant to be.”

“Just to be clear, Chet, we’re not actually watching a specific worldwide sporting event whose operators have somehow managed to clamp down on even mentioning its name in unapproved contexts?”

“Absolutely not, my friend, and as the Epyx torch is carried to the Epyx flame to kick off these Epyx Games, I can’t see how anyone would mis-identify these with anything else. Say, what’re you reading?”

“This little thing? It’s a collection of intriguing facts about the world’s mountains. Did you know that Mount Olympus in Greece has 52 peaks and rises to a height of 2,917 metres?”

“That’s quite an unrelated Olympian fact you’ve got there there, Borpney. Almost doesn’t even remind me of that incredibly flaccid porn movie you ‘accidentally’ rented in our hotel last night.”

“Oh! Limp Dicks? Chet, come on. I told you I mislaid my glasses.”

“Indeed, and also your pants.”

“They were in the pocket!”

“The point here folks is that this is absolutely 100% an original sporting event, and any resemblance to any other sporting event living or dead is purely coincidental.”

“Absolutely. We now go live to the grounds for the opening ceremony.”

“So, Chet, tell us about this opening ceremony. Am I right in thinking that this year’s events have been choreographed by a famous Silicon Valley director?”

“I believe so, Borpney. They say he’s the director of such classic cutscenes as All Your Base Are Belong To Us and that bit in Police Quest where all the cops just kind of ignore the stripper to make a point about how police work is a noble profession and animation is hard. This presentation has been in the works for two years at a cost of $2,000,000 in real money.”

“That’s a lot of zeros, my friend, though I’m not sure they’re on the right side of the 2, we should probably check that out at some point. Either way, I understand the theme of the ceremony will be ‘Eternity’. The finest musicians in the world competed for the honour of composing the theme, with names ranging from Leisure Suit Larry to the caveman in Frak! in the running for the starring role as ‘The Guy.’ Truly, this will be a symbol of what simulated nations can do, and a mark of pride for all who—”

“Ssssh, now. A hushed silence has come over the crowd. A guy at the back trying to start a Mexican wave has been thrown to the ground for a disciplinary head-stamping. I do believe… yes! Yes, they’re ready to go. Houston, we have spectacularly badly compressed Sport.”

“My only regret is that I cannot tear my eyes out right now to avoid ever polluting that memory.”

“I know, my friend. I know. It’s as if a million voices were forced to try and use Windows 8 to convert what should have been some basic video late in the evening, only to have it play the silliest of silly buggers. Still, special credit to the band, I think. Fifteen cans of baked beans, just to make absolutely sure they could fart out the musical accompaniment on cue. And to Mr. John Woo of course for donating the entire army of trained birds to fly that loop around the stadium. Funny story; after the events, they will all be killed and fed to the army of smelly unemployed layabouts brought in to ensure the games were ready on time. A nice treat for them, before they are banished from our sights.”

“Charity begins at home, they say. I think we’ll all be glad when they get back to theirs.”

“What sporting goodness do we have for the people today then, Chet? Diving? Judo? Footage of the audience at the women’s volleyball trying to look as though they actually bought their tickets out of an appreciation for sport when they see a camera swinging past them?”

“Always a laugh, Borpney, but no. Today, we’re looking at the classics—events that the Ancient Greeks themselves would have applauded as the pinnacle of the art, if not for that great misunderstanding.”

“That’s right, Chet. As we all know, the legendary Lost Aristophanes revealed that getting athletes to run naked was not in fact a tribute to the gods but a hilarious prank by the rather geekier organisers to see if jocks really were gullible enough to go running around with their willies flapping.”

“As far as anyone listening to this is aware, that is quite true. Did you also know that when they complained, it became permitted to wear a kynodesme penis-restraint made of leather to keep all the bits from bouncing? It was supposed to be a little pink bow, but the priest responsible for telling the athletes how to tie it around their scrotums to make them look like little faces couldn’t stop giggling.”

“My, my. I feel like I’m learning something, even though I absolutely am not.”

“What is this first sport then, Chet? Also, where did the sun go?”

“This is the Triple Jump, and clearly Zeus is angry. More importantly though, this is the first chance for the Great Britain team to show their stuff. They’ve been practicing for this moment for entire minutes to get a grip on the intricacies of this event.”

“Fascinating. It looks like they’re adopting a proto-QWOP method of running-“

“Cack-handedly going out of control almost immediately?”

“Exactly. I haven’t seen carnage like this since the days of the Destroyer.”

Daley Thompson. The one man joystick-wrecking machine.”

“Just so. It’s a sad fact that even the finest cheap plastic joystick can only take so much waggling before it can waggle no more, or a bit breaks off and takes someone’s eye out.”

“A moment of silence for the fallen.”

“That was enough. So, a bad performance for the Great Britain team. A vague hop over the first… what is the first line thing on the ground called in a triple jump, exactly?”

“A ‘line on the ground’, I believe is the technical term. From the French ‘une thingy sur le gronde’.”

“Sounds about right. A vague hop over the first thing, then a crashing, humiliating landing in the sandpit. That’s a Fault for Great Britain, though there’s still a chance they can salvage this and pull into second place. Specifically, because no other teams have bothered entering this contest.”

“Default is the worst kind of victory. It’s how the bank won my house.”

“Equestrian, Chet. The most misunderstood of all events.”

“Absolutely, Borpney. At first glance, it might look like all the Great Britain team is doing is running horses straight into obstacles and blaming it on bad controls—”

“It’s a bad workman who blames their tools. Even if they’re made of jam.”


“It’s what we call jelly over in America, where we are from, yo.”

“I see. Anyhoo, I think of this as more of a moral fable. If the horses didn’t want to break their legs and be turned into glue, they should have the common sense to just jump when they see the thing coming and ignore the idiot on their back who thinks they know better than it how to use its limbs.”

“Interestingly, you’ll note that this year, the horses are being provided by our sponsor My Little Pony. Little girls everywhere can enjoy the sight of these beautiful creatures demonstrating their power and grace, then join the party at home with the My Little Pony Friends Together Racing Set, the My Little Pony Cuddle Stable, and the brand new My Little Pony Knackers Yard.”

“Pony in one end, glittery pink Pritt-Stick out the other. It’s educational, and useful if you need to stick something to something else! Available in all good toy stores near you, along with Microwave Me Barbie and the Flabbie Kidz home liposuction kit that fits on the end of any standard vacuum.”

“It’s never too early to start conforming to unrealistic societal expectations, Chet.”

“What are you writing over there, Chet?”

“That’d be a suicide note, Borpney. Sign here.”

“Oh, you. Folks, it’s time for everyone’s favourite event of those we actually have in this frankly anemic selection of sports, and not including kayaking because that one just sucks.

“Ah, yes, fencing. I’ll be honest, I got into this much more when they switched the boring old metal swords for lightsabers. And when they added the robot opponents, even better!”

“I couldn’t agree more. We may inadvertently be dooming ourselves to a hideous future of rapier-wielding robots who can best our finest athletes, but if the world has to end, at least it’ll end with robots.”

“Again, the Great British team seems to be struggling in this one. Do you think it’s a lack of training, or simply the strain of trying to see what’s going on through the hazy four-colour hell we consider reality?”

“Could be, Chet. If you ask me, though—”

“I did.”

“Then I’d better answer because otherwise I might seem rude. The big problem with this, as with other events, is a deep lack of consistency. Every event of course has its own specific needs and thus can never play out precisely the same, but here they’re all so different that it’s difficult to jump from one to the other. Would it hurt to have more unification; a series of controls, or even flashed explanations? I realise things used to be different, and these events are from a different time-“

“1985 to be exact.”

“Just so. But even at the time, these were clunky controls. Especially for anyone who has not been trained in the sporting arts though some form of ‘manual’, perhaps due to having acquired their ticket to the Games through… shall we say less authorised sources than the average LOCOG lottery.”

“Confusion is the ultimate DRM. Though we should note that any kids in the playground wanted to pass on copies of these events will find it more complicated than in most games.”

“Indeed. A rare example of a PC game on a bootable floppy rather than an executable. That rather breaks the already tortured metaphor we have here, but I don’t think anyone is going to notice.”

“Only for this season’s event, of course. For the World Games that will follow, things will be back to normal and nobody will need risk typing commands that started with FORMAT on their dad’s work computer. A very understanding move from Epyx, really, which will no doubt help its popularity grow over the coming years. I hope their trust in their fans was duly reward—”

“They’re going to go bankrupt in 1989.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sure they’ll create many great achievements before—”

“They’ll be the the guys behind the Atari Lynx.”


“So anyway, what’s our final event?”

“Chet, unless my eyes deceive me, I am looking at kayaking.”

“That is correct, you are.”

“Why am I looking at Kayaking?”

“Do you have some objection to kayaking?”

“Kayaking, not so much. Kayaking, however…”

“It looks like a perfectly enjoyable event. For a blue and purple eyesore.”

“Call me Mr. Picky—”

“You’re Mr. Picky.”

“—but when I think of kayaking, actual kayaking, there are certain things I think help the authenticity of the experience. Water that actually moves for instance, and is not simply described as ‘whitewater’ in the hope that anyone kayaking upon it will be so convinced that they’ll start making ‘whooooooosh!’ noises and feeling seasick, when in fact they skate upon a blue platter of, to use a technical term here, sweet bugger all. It does not even pretend to understand the concept of motion. It is watered down water; homeopathic H2O at its most generous. I want a river. This is, at most, sweat.

“You sound offended by this. Is it something to do with you being 2/3 water yourself?”

“My Carbon-American heritage has nothing to do with this. Do you know how they compensate for putting a plastic sheet down instead of actual water? They just mess up the athletes’ controls so that you spend more time swearing at the screen than noticing the failure to flow. And normally I’d find that funny. But here, there is nothing quite so frustrating to watch as a boat stuck between two blocks for what feels like hours, all so that everyone gets to feel they finished a complete Olympic-“


“-breakfast and then turned up here to complete a full series at the Non-Affiliated Summer Games. This is a time vampire. It is a blight on the entire world! If I could load it into a rocket and shoot it into the sun, my only reason not to would be fear of spreading its dark putrescence amongst its plasma, darkening it to a deathly black tomb and dooming us all. But I would do it anyway!

“Out of interest, are all your friends better at this event than you are?”


“Oh, you. Remember folks, games don’t cause violence; assholes do. We’ll be right back.”

“And we’re back. Borpney, how was your sedative?”


“Splendid. Well, we’ve had a great day here at the Summer Games, which has included at least two nights for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with the strange green gas leaking into the commentary booth and making the world smell of pickles.”

“Indeed so, Chet. Of course, we’ve missed a few events, including the High Jump, Javelin, Rowing and Cycling, but I think it’s fair to say you didn’t miss anything.”

“Boring like a diamond-tipped drill, yes.”

“All that remains is the moment everyone who hasn’t already gone home has been waiting for—the epic Epyx closing ceremony. Can the organisers ever top that torch lighting ceremony? Will the video compression be any better than last time? Let’s find out!”

“Borpney, a few years ago, I was walking down the street in the pouring rain when I heard a plaintive sound from a dustbin. Do you know what I did?”

“Kept walking?”

“Oh that I had. No, I went over to it, and I lifted the lid. Inside, I saw a mother cat and her kittens, shivering and hungry; hugging against the festering remains of an old roast chicken in the desperate hope that the movement of the maggots inside would provide a tiny little bit of warmth. They looked up at me with big eyes, and I knew that I was their only hope for salvation. I picked up the first kitten to put into my pocket, but no sooner had I done so, its eyes closed. Shut. Forever.”

“Oh no.”

“The second kitten purred gently, but lasted little longer. I looked down at the mother cat, not sure if the dampness in her eyes came from the rain or tears, or even if a cat could cry. I’m sorry, I whispered down. I did what I could. Do you want me to take you to the vet? I can take you to the vet? But no. She too was gone. I closed the lid on the bin, and I walked away into the night.”

“Where are you going with this horrible story?”

“Until I saw that jetpack guy, that was the saddest thing I had ever seen in my life. Now there is a new champion. That wave. Gah! I have never so much wanted to see a man hit with a firework and fall to the ground. Though I’m sure he’d have done it in the shape of an advert for World Games.”

“Maybe next time, Chet. That’s all from us for today though. So from me, Borpney McGee—”

“—and me, Chet Wanamaker, donating my fee to the Cats Protection League-“



“Kayaking is still shit.”

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