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Frontlines of the Non-digital: March Madness Edition

College basketball hysteria will soon cripple the nation (in this week alone, about $3.5 billion worth of productivity will be lost to the sport) and so it’s time to stop and take a close look at what it is about the sport that has people going mad. As a devote Kentucky Wildcat fan, I’m sure I could wax something eloquent about cinderellas, buzzer beaters, and the beauties of the zone defense (wink, wink Dave Hickey); but most fascinating about the next week (really next 3 weeks) is how folks who aren’t remotely fans will become caught up in the tournament. The reason? Largely because they joined an office pool and filled out a bracket trying to predict the outcome of the 64 team tourney (actually 65 but who’s counting). What’s with these damn office pools?

I filled out my first bracket when I was about 10 years old. This was the year I moved to college basketball rich Louisville, Kentucky. My best friend’s dad worked in an office where there was a pool with a winner-takes-all $1,000 pot. After my mom gave me the $10 to join, I filled out my bracket and entered. I remembered how much I liked the feeling of making predictions inside such a perfect, symmetrical rule system — either team A or B has to win a game, and if so… they will play the winner of Team C vs. Team D, and so on. Eventually those 64 teams boil down to one, and let me say: boiling something has never been so much fun. Watching college basketball when your team is playing is great. But the bracket pool gives you a stake in every game, all 63 of them. You begin to hang on every shot of every no name player on every state/university of/tech/a&m team out there. And when I was 10, I was in 1st place in the bracket pool heading into the Final Four. Talked about getting hooked when you’re young…

What can digital games learn from the bracket pool? I’ve played games and simulation where you are offered digital points to wager on the outcome of the game you’re playing, but to describe these in a word: lame-o (hey, what a great name for a game!)… Seriously folks, the idea to place some sort of stake on the outcome of a game is nothing new. It’s called Vegas. or Gambling. I wonder if there is something else besides money to wager that could make video games be more interesting NOT to the player BUT to the people watching people play video games. This is the big question. I have no idea what this is, but the more games become social experiences even for non-players the more engaging games can become. Thoughts?

One Comment

  1. Charles Joseph wrote:

    One of the more interesting features of the new Smash Brothers is that you can watch online matches and bet coins on who will win. Unfortunately there are no larger mechanisms to make this interesting, such as odds or the ability to follow a player and learn their strengths and weaknesses.

    It’s also worth remembering that a few games, like StarCraft and Street Fighter, have already become sports in their own right.

    What would be interesting would be a game where spectators had a real effect on the game. Maybe some situation where a losing player could get a life-saving powerup, but only if a majority of the audience decided to grant one? Or is a game where spectators have a tangible effect on the outcome called ‘politics’?

    Monday, March 17, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

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