From Heroes at the Colosseum to Heroes in Mobile Games

Sport was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in ancient Rome. Armed combatants called gladiators in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire would entertain a tightly packed colosseum with violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals in the presence of their emperor. Gladiators, who reached the height of popularity under their emperor Claudius, either fought to death or till the first shedding of blood, and would eventually place the decision of the outcome of the fight on the emperor. He would then either signal death with a raised fist with the thumb sticking out upwards or deliver mercy with a raised fist with no extended thumb. Most of these gladiators were either slaves or came from socially marginalized races and would fight till their last breath to exemplify the Roman martial ethic of ‘fighting or dying well’. The heroes of this violent sport have been celebrated in both high and low forms of art and commemorated in the Roman world though they were mostly treated as social outcasts during their lifetime.

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Coliseo, Coliseum by Vicente Villamón is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Other sports such as cursus (running), lucta (wrestling), pugilatus (boxing), pentathlon (consisting of jumping or leaping, the foot-race, throwing of the discus, throwing of the spear, wrestling), and pancratium (a combination of wrestling and boxing and martial arts) were also common sports in ancient Rome. Violence and bloodshed were two common threads that linked one Roman sport with another. Records say some Roman heroes were felicitated while others were segregated even in death.

Sports on the field

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2012 0921 JPII football 17 by Tim Donovan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today, sports have evolved. Though there still exist, violent sports like rugby, wrestling, and boxing, they are played adhering to strict and fair rules and regulations. While the winner is commemorated, the loser is not humiliated either. Events such as the Olympics and World Cups offer fair ranks to first, second and third runners up in case of tournaments with many teams. While wrestling and other fighting sports have evolved into Krav Maga, Freestyle boxing, Judo, and kickboxing, soccer and football have evolved into modern day rugby, freestyle football, Paralympic football, futsal, cubbies, flag football, and more. You’ll be wrong if you thought these sports are played only on the fields and indoor arenas. With evolution, they have moved beyond and further. They have migrated to electronic gadgets such as our phones and tablets and taken the world by storm. Children who are shy to take to the fields and prefer to watch these sports on television sets have started to play such participatory sports.

Sports on mobile phones and other electronic devices

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“Worm Attack!” Mobile Game Helps Rid Communities of Intestinal Worms by USAID U.S. Agency for Inter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

GameDay Heroes is an app from the NFL stable aimed at getting kids on board. It can be played over a Wi-Fi connection with friends and family. The game consists of multiple football-based mini games that give children the scope to indulge in participatory sports. The game acquaints kids with NFL teams, jerseys and other gears, and allows them to dabble a little with shadow football. In a nutshell, it gives children a chance to explore the world of football and grow an interest for the sport in the most encouraging and entertaining way. While “Spot What’s Not” is a mini Game Day Heroes game where children have to spot the differences between two scenes straight from a football field, “Scrimmage Swap” is a tile swapping game where NFL helmets act as the different tiles. Anybody and everybody can be a hero in this mobile game, without shedding a single drop of blood or having to fight it off in real life on the field in front of a tightly packed auditorium!

It has been a long journey for sports – from the Colosseum to phones and tablets in young hands.

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Taking American Football to Europe

I was surprised to see the spread of American football in Poland. This is one game which has not spread rapidly outside of America, however loudly we cheer our ‘world champions’. The European League never really took off. In fact most of the world calls a completely different sport as football!

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Image Credit: J J Hall

There are other games like basketball and rugby which have caught on elsewhere, but our football has found it hard to leave our shores. Perhaps its the expensive gear or it could be the fact that the world already has a sport called football which is very-very-very-very popular across the globe. When good players emerge in the small pockets where American Football is played, the stars move to the center of the ‘football galaxy’ which is America. That works against the development of the sport where the star developed. Like a football-talent-drain problem!

Our football is a true blue American game – most players are either born or groomed here, viewers are American and other viewers outside our borders are generally American expats. The European league was set up to popularize the game. It failed because it did not catch on at the grassroots.

There is an IFAF Federation List which is long and well populated with leagues in 64 countries and they even have a World Cup. Something which really helps in popularizing the game is NFL’s new strategy to play one regular-season game in Britain every year. One thing is for sure, I have read that the Super Bowl parties have increased!

Gaming Grandma

I saw a strange scene last week. Grandma and grandson were sitting very companionably and playing a computer game – she on her tablet, a gift from her daughter, and my son on his device!

I picked up my poor surprised jaw off the floor and walked into the kitchen. As the door shut, I could hear my mom shout out, “Beat you!” with great gusto. My mom watched a lot of sports (and she could be very vocal about her support), but she had never played a single computer game as far as I knew. She and my son had spent many wonderful hours playing other games at the park and at home.

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Image credit: makelessnoise

Maya, my wife, explained that a few days ago, my mom had asked our son if she could watch him play his computer game. After many instructions and explanations, they seemed to have found a nice rhythm to their play. They started taking turns playing on his device. Once she got comfortable, out came her as-yet-unused tablet. Now, she was playing a multi-player game on her tablet, against her grandson on a different device!

Curious to know what they were playing, I sauntered over and watched. They were playing something called Food Flick, flicking food to people in the stadium. Busy flicking burgers and sodas they answered me in grunts and monosyllables. I interpreted their communication and understood that my football mad mom and son had downloaded the NFL Rush Zone app meant for kids called – Game Day Heroes. What they were playing  was a mini game from the app.

Gaming which is beneficial for Seniors

With the rise of memory loss in the elderly, doctors and researchers have been suggesting games as a good way to keep the brain active so as to slow down the effects of age-related cognitive decline. It’s believed that certain problem-solving skills and strategizing, that is required in gaming, might slow down the effects of aging on the brain.

Interestingly, gaming, which was considered an industry that targeted the youth, now also targets the elderly! For the elderly who have restricted movement, gamification of real life activities (which they can no longer do, like walking a forest trail) will add a new dimension in their lifestyle. The challenges are many as seniors might be hesitant to use digital media. This could be eased if real world experiences are created with easy to use interfaces. Also, they can use digital media to keep in touch socially.  Interestingly, games have been found to be better than anti-depressants for solving depression problems.

Other Grandmas and Gaming

This old commercial actually features a gaming grandma and her grandson on a game which was very popular, but that’s just an old commercial. Here’s a real life gaming grandma on MTV.

Perhaps it was the effect of one of her oldest and dearest friends being diagnosed with dementia. I’m not sure what had got my mom interested in her grandson’s games, but I’m glad she was. Computer games are a great way to bridge the generation gap.