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Frank M. Shipman
shipman@cs.tamu.edu
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Fantasy sports provide participants with the opportunity to play the role of coach for a team of athletes they select. The better the athletes perform in their real-world competitions, the better the virtual teams they are on will perform. Leagues for fantasy sports started almost 40 years ago and have grown to the point that there are now approximately 30 million participants. Initially played with paper and pencil, fantasy sports are now growing rapidly due to the ease of
organizing and playing in on-line leagues. The use of computers has changed fantasy leagues from mostly being played by groups of friends or acquaintances in a local community to being played by potentially anonymous people from around the world. Newer software is countering the trend towards anonymity with the inclusion of features, such as league newspapers, polls, and message boards that provide a community context for the fantasy leagues.

The rhetoric found in descriptions and advertising for fantasy sports emphasizes competition, empowerment, and participation. Looking at the activities of current fantasy sports and the rhetoric surrounding them yields a framework for talking about games and sports based on their use of (1) real versus virtual action and (2) player versus external control. Examples include:

    * Playing a sport is real action with player control.
    * Watching a sport is real action with external control.
    * Playing a game is virtual action with player control.

Fantasy sports are intermediate in both dimensions. Fantasy sports combine spectatorship with gaming -- players must understand and anticipate the physical sport in order to perform well in their virtual league. This connection to the real world has consequences for both the digital game and the physical sport. The use of the real sport as part of the ìgame engineî reduces the predictability that leads to boredom with many computer games. The digital game increases playersí interest in the sport, causing them to gather more statistics and read more analyses of the physical sport. Players also tend to watch more sporting events resulting in increased television audiences, thereby indirectly driving up league revenue and player salaries.

In the long-term, fantasy games could, and most likely will, impact the play of physical sports. By adding to the media experience, fantasy games will change what the audience wants from the sport. Televising sporting events resulted in the addition of TV time-outs in football and the shot clock and illegal defense rules in basketball. If fantasy games drive new spectatorship, they could similarly modify the rules of the physical sport to make the fantasy game more engaging. It is the integration of activity in a virtual game and spectatorship of a real sport that makes fantasy sports a model to explore how other entertainment combining virtual and real world activities can be constructed. Fantasy stock markets already provide people an opportunity to try out investment strategies while not risking real money. Similarly, fantasy congresses or parliaments
could be used as edutainment to teach about current political issues and practices.


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