In the old days, if you wanted to experience the life of a sporting superstar you needed to spend years nurturing your talent, putting in endless hours at the gym and sacrificing a normal life to achieve your dreams. Now though, you just need an Internet connection and a pair of eyes, thanks to the rise of virtual worlds where you can not only simulate sports but also enjoy the fame and the riches that go with making it to the top of the game.
I’ve recently joined the Beta testing program for Football Superstars, a new massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) which includes both an online soccer simulation and a Second Life-style social networking aspect. You start by creating your own character, join a team, then hone your skills playing matches online. Once you get good enough you’ll start earning virtual cash for new clothes, cars, houses, etc. You’ll also be able to hang out and compare bling with the rest of the Football Superstars community in one of the game’s many bars and clubs.
Football Superstars isn’t the first game to allow players to live out their sporting dreams in this way. For instance, in Fantasy Tennis, players must defend the mythical FantasyLand by playing tennis against the gods. Likewise, Project Powder appeals to extreme sports fans, who will get the chance to snowboard on unspoiled mountains across the whole of Space; while Shot Online offers budding golfers the chance to pitch and putt their way to the very top. There’s even an X-Factor-style MMOG called Super Dancer Online, which allows players to bust moves against each other using their dance mats.
Clearly today’s MMOG developers are turning to sport as a way to attract new communities into the market, and if the formula’s right there’s every chance virtual worlds will move into the mainstream. After all, a teenage girl is much more likely to get excited by the prospect of becoming a dancing queen than she is of being the goblin princess.