Mixing fantasy with reality extends far beyond sports

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

October 26, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

A buddy did me the immense favor the other day of sending me a link to a wonderful New York Times piece about fantasy congress.

The game, created by four students at California's Claremont McKenna College, asks players to pick teams of 16 legislators (two senior senators, two junior senators, four senior representatives, four junior representatives and four rookie representatives). Teams accumulate points as their elected officials push legislation toward becoming law.

As usual, I applaud these folks for taking fantasy and applying it to their area of obsession. But they seemed a tad idealistic in how they set it up.

I was disappointed, for example, that the game offers no points for pork projects. Could you imagine having Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and receiving a bonus every time he got a planetarium or something named after him?

Or think what it would have been like to have Lyndon B. Johnson when he was majority leader in the '50s. It would have been akin to drafting Babe Ruth in the season when he hit more home runs than any other team. Except Johnson pulled the strings so deftly that he often left no fingerprints. So maybe he would've been a fantasy underachiever.

I also felt that interest groups should have some place. If the religious right manages to persuade a state to abandon stem-cell research, or if environmental advocates score a tax that drives big business out of a region, fantasy players should get some sort of credit, shouldn't they?

And what about a senator who parlays a commanding performance on a Sunday talk show into speculation about a presidential run? That's a special skill, like base-stealing in fantasy baseball or shot-blocking in basketball. Reward it, I say.

I suspect fantasy politics has been around for a while, though I hadn't previously encountered it. There was a subplot in The West Wing a few years ago in which Josh and his girlfriend, Amy, had laid bets on seemingly every political race in the country. It felt like something that must actually happen. I've covered athletic seasons and political campaigns, and they seem similar enough (the fascination with minutiae, the love/hate relationship with fickle audiences, the inevitable rush toward victory or defeat) that they should be linked by fantasy.

So it's a relief to see that they are.

There are those who are uncomfortable with all things fantasy because our little games seem to shove too many layers between us and real experience. But I don't sweat it because it's obvious to me that creating worlds upon worlds is something we like doing as humans.

Philosophers and literary critics long ago got past arguing about ideas and books and boiled it down to the good stuff - arguing about the best way to argue. You think a Redskins fan can't abide a Cowboys rooter? Well, try throwing a Freudian critic in a room full of books with a post-structuralist. And no, I don't know what I'm talking about, either.

But my point is this: We take things we like, such as football or books, and create schools of thought around them. Then, we pit those schools against each other in elaborate competition. Fantasy seems a natural outgrowth of this as we try to measure and predict the winners.

I mean, really, what is the stock market but a big game of fantasy business? In most cases, we're not rolling up our sleeves and making anything. We're watching those who do and trying to predict who'll be best at it.

It won't surprise me a bit if someone creates fantasy fantasy football. By this, I mean you wouldn't draft NFL players. You'd draft the guys drafting the players for their fantasy leagues.

Some already join pools based on predicting the deaths of celebrities or play simulated games based on the feats of dead ballplayers. If I wanted to bet on the next NFL player to be embroiled in a sex scandal, I have an e-mail telling me how to do it. So why pretend there are any lines that can't be crossed in our meta-world?

I just look forward to the day when I teach my firstborn the ways of fantasy school. Yes, that's right. I want Junior to spend more time handicapping the likely performance of his classmates than worrying about his work. It's the American way, people. And you think I'm kidding.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Go to www.baltimoresun.com/fantasy for a podcast on fantasy sports.

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