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Games and Sports

Today I received an e-mail from an old e-friend in South Africa, Chris Stewart. The Good Word restive brought returned a memory from his childhood…but wait, let him explain it.”

“I trust all is well with you? Here we have been having blazingly hot clear summer days, interspersed with days of lightning storms and sporadic torrential rainfall.”

“Today’s good word touched a nerve. As a child, I spent a term at home in quarantine due to having contracted hepatitis. It was frustrating and boring, so I read everything I could find in the house, including an entire set of encyclopedia cover to cover.”

“Then, there was a singular book called (if I remember correctly) The Encyclopedia of Games, Sports and Pastimes. This very comprehensive and wide ranging volume, which has sadly been lost to the family, took some effort to define terms.”

“A distinction which has stuck in my mind ever since, is that sports (which can indeed be engaged in purely for fun and entertainment) have a component tied to survival whereas, by contrast, games are merely for fun, even if they do teach you something.”

“I don’t recall the exact distinction between games and pastimes; perhaps it has to do with rules or the absence thereof. So, hunting, fishing, archery, swimming, wrestling and so forth are clearly Sports, whereas Rugby, tennis, soccer and the like are games. While I would consider the purpose of the card game solitaire to be a pastime, it must surely be a game.”

“So what is it that galls me? Seeing games (such as football, usually involving a ball) being referred to as sports.”

My response:

An interesting distinction you make between games and sports. I have never heard the distinction before, so it must belong to your idiolect alone.

However, having said that, there is a distinction that I have always thought the Olympic Committed should make between those sports that have inherent scores and those that must be judged, like ice-skating. I have often noticed that scores in figure-skating always reveal the native lands of the judges: they always score skaters from their country higher than other judges. If a skater is so unfortunate as to have no judge from his or her country, they do not have that prejudice built into their score.

I think sports that have no inherent scoring, should be excluded from the Olympics in order to exclude this sort of prejudice in scoring. Maybe we could fit this characteristic in your distinction. Sports would then include activities with no inherent scoring, while games would include those that do. Hunting, fishing, solitaire, wrestling would therefore quality as sports, while basketball, football, and baseball would qualify as games. Not far from the distinction you make.

We would have to have a third word for those activities that have winners without scoring. These would include racing, such as swimming, track, biking, all revolving around timing, times. We might include them with games that could be included in the Olympics without ruffling my feathers.

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