Take a break away from the onslaught of all the daily sports headlines and let’s take a magical trip into the world of fictional sports to see makes them so interesting.
Some of you may be aware I studied creative writing during my undergraduate studies, so it’s not too much of a stretch to understand why I would be interested in the world of fictional sports. For today, I thought we could take a break from all the big real-world sporting headlines and instead look at some of the most interesting fictional sports.
When it comes to fictional sports, there are a few different approaches to incorporate a sport into a piece of fiction, whether it’s a movie, book or video game. The reader might ask: is the sport included only for symbolic reasons to function as a plot device, as one example I use. Or is the sport an integral part of the story with fully realized rules and a governing body? Most often it's a mixture of the two.
In the first case, the sport may or may not actually have fully developed rules or teams. As such, often the sport functions as a figurative representation and draws the audience’s attention to how sports are a product of culture.
For the latter, as several of my examples show, the sport has been fully realized by the creator, not only functioning as a plot device but also standing on its own outside of the narrative. That is to say, the sport could exist in the real world, or within the world constructed by a given piece of fiction.
When coming up with this idea, I had to think hard about the best examples of fictional sports. Please let me know in the comments if I forgot a good one. Now let’s dive into these examples.
Calvinball – Calvin and Hobbes
Some of you readers who live outside the US may not be familiar with the comic Calvin and Hobbes, but I grew up reading it. The comic was sincere, insightful and hilariously profound. Bill Waters, the creator, was able to weave big concepts into little comic, and today we are looking at one of those proudly clever motifs in his work.
Calvinball is the only listing that is not so much a sport itself but rather commentary on sports. What is the one thing that all sports have in common?—basketball, baseball, football, soccer, hockey, and so on and so on. Each game of football or basketball must be played with the same rules from game to game. The rules for basketball don’t change from game to game nor do they for any other sports.
The idea that the same rules must be applied to all games of a given sport is quintessential for any legitimate sport. Any sport would quickly breakdown if the rules changed from game to game. However with Calvinball, there is only one rule: the game can never be played the same way twice. To be able to play Calvinball, the rules must be different each time you play it.
Calvinball becomes an anti-sport, taking the one thing that must be true for a sport and turning it on its head. In this way, Calvinball is the antithesis to a sport. It is a sport, but it is the exact opposite of a normal sports. It’s a deconstructionist’s idea of a sport, and for this, it deserves a spot on this list.
BASEketball (1998) - The Movie
Anyone who lived through 90s cinema is probably familiar with this goofy sport-comedy movie. Brought to you by the guys who created South Park (Trey Parker, Matt Stone), the movie is about a new hybrid sport, a mix of baseball and basketball, that was invented in the driveway by the two main characters.
The new sport becomes a national sensation, and a league is quickly created. But unlike other professional sports, this league has a few unique rules. First: all players get paid the same amount of money. And second: no teams can be bought and moved. Of course, it doesn’t take a film critic to see the parallel commentary being leveled at current professional sports by the movie.
The actually rules for Baseketball are pretty simple and can be played with just a simple basketball hoop. After seeing the movie, my friends and I played baseketball all the time, and let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun. Come to find out, even to this day there are basketball tournaments and league play being held. Anyone who wants to try it themselves should give it a go. Thanks to Iowa State University, you can read all the rules and procedures for Baseketball right here. I really encourage anyone looking for a fun game to play with their friends to take a look at baseketball. It's a good time.
Blitzball – Final Fantasy X / X-2
The only entry on this list to appear in a video game and nothing else. Final Fantasy fans will likely be very familiar with blitzball. Appearing in FF X / X-2, blitzball is a sport, akin to something like soccer, that is played in big floating pools of water centered inside large amphitheater stadiums.
The sport is played by two teams with 8 people on each side (3 attackers, 4 defenders, 1 goalkeeper). Players move and pass the ball along and try to kick it into the goal. The game is very intense and only lasts 10 minutes, broken up into 2 five minute halves. Within the fantasy world, there are a whole host of different teams inside a larger league and a bunch of different stadiums that those teams call home.
Blizball players aren’t only good athletes, they also make very good fighters and combatants. Wakka, a main character in the game series, is both a wonderful blitzball athlete and a deadly fighter. Anyone who played much of Final Fantasy X knows the exhausting amount of blitzball you have to play to receive Wakka’s ultimate weapon. Needless to say, if you want to get 100% in the game, you better get good at blitzball.
Quidditch – Harry Potter Series
I think it’s safe to say that quidditch is probably the most famous fictional sport of all times. This form of entertainment is at the center of the magical world in Harry Potter. As many know, flying broomsticks are then one way of transportation for wizards in Harry Potter, but broomsticks are also used to play quidditch, as the sport takes place up in the air with nobody on the ground.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into all the fine details of the sport, but I will briefly cover the general rules. Quidditch is played between 2 teams with 7 players on each side, but unlike almost all other sports, quidditch is played with 4 balls (a quaffle, 2 bludgers & a golden snitch). Players try to score by knocking balls into the opposing team’s goal—in this case a series of 3 elevated rings. One player on each team is designated “seeker” who’s one job is to find and capture the golden snitch. Doing so ends the game and gives the team who caught it 150 points. The team with the most points wins.
Readers and movie goers alike were first introduced to quidditch early on in the Harry Potter story when Harry is chosen to play on the Hogwarts quidditch team in the first movie. It is here that we are introduced to the sport, the rules, and how it is played. However, the best part about quidditch doesn’t come until several books later. In the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we get to see the biggest and grandest display of quidditch: The Quidditch World Cup. The QWC takes place every 4 years, and in the Goblet of Fire, Harry gets the chance to go cheer his favorite player along at the World Cup, but things don’t go as plan. I’ll leave it there, but the opening Quidditch World Cup scene is one of my favorites in the entire series.
But it’s not just me who finds quidditch fascinating. To my surprise, there are entire quidditch leagues being played in real life. It is so popular that when you google search “quidditch” the real life sport shows up and not the fictional version. To be specific, the guidditch that is actually played is often called “muggle quidditch” since they cannot actually fly, although they do ride on broomsticks.
The sport was started in 2005, and since then, a governing body, the International Quidditch Association, was developed to oversee the sport. Some changes to the rules were adopted to better facilitate fair play. Some of you may wonder how they address the issue of the golden snitch. Catching the snitch will give a team 30 points instead of 150. The snitch is often represented by a tennis ball attached to the waist band of a 3rd party neutral official. This official tries to avoid letting the “snitch” get grabbed by one of the seekers. They do a excellent job trying to replicate the sport in real life.
Something for Everyone
The fact that many of these sports are played in real life is a testament to how well the source material handles them. If a fictional sport can have such an impact on the audience that it causes them to actually want to go out and play the sport, I think that is something really special. Things like quidditch and baseketball could be great opportunities for people who have tried to play sports before but will little success. Perhaps it wasn’t them. They just need to find the right sport, real or fictional.