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Stereotypes be damned: Why gamers make excellent athletes
by Greg Mengel

Today, as I walked the fifty meters between my small Denver apartment and the treadmill and dumbbell'd corner dungeon under the leasing office that it calls a gymnasium, I noticed how peaceful the scenery was. For those of you who've never been to the Rocky Mountains during late spring or summer, the effect of warmer weather on our alpine climate creates a mix of sunny mornings, cool air, calm breezes and occasional five o'clock thunderstorms which ebb at dusk, merging with the morning tranquility to create a mountain horizon painted by some of the most serene and colorful twilight skies on this planet; the type of environment aspiring poets make pilgrimages to in search of their muse. It was while walking through this meteorological paradise, breathing in the serenity of nature, that I found myself wishing I spent as much time outdoors, being active.

I wished - God help me - that I spent more time playing sports.

Gaming has been at odds with athleticism since its earliest days, when nerds exchanged their allowances for quarters and hung out at the arcade while jocks spent their money on booze and talked to girls under the bleachers after practice. For whatever reason, the two have never completely reconciled - every high school in America has a series of gamer tables (Magic the Gathering players, over-caffeinated programmers who own their own Minecraft servers, etc.) and jock tables (separated by sport and Alpha male) that remain on opposite ends of the cafeteria. There's a definite schism that goes on in grammar school when children begin focusing their time on either athletic or game-related activities, and that's a shame.

The stereotype of a meatheaded jock who can't pass basic Algebra, let alone make it through fifteen minutes of Myst, is just as unfairly broad as that of the asthmatic gamer who instinctively raises his overly skinny/flabby arms when going outside in order to protect himself from the harmful barrage of UV rays pelting his papier-mâché exoskeleton from the sun. Just as athletes are more than capable of becoming passionate, talented gamers, so too are gamers able to thrive in the wide world of sports.

I'm willing to take that statement one step further. By tapping into their complex critical thinking, keen analytical, and confident hair-trigger decision making skills, gamers could be some of the most amazing, talented athletes ever to put on goggles, cleats, or hockey pads in a locker room. With only a slight change in lifestyle, chronic gamers who dedicate themselves to a specific sport could easily become gods of their respective arena, rising to the immortal level of a Lionel Messi, Payton Manning, or Michael Phelps.

It's not even a stretch.

Let's address why. First of all, gamers are notorious for their ability to put up with a hellishly arduous grind in order to achieve a specific goal. World of Warcraft and other MMORPG players are famous for this - they'll lay the sacrifice of their retinas upon the altar of their computer screen for hours, days, and months just to obtain that new chestpiece all of Azeroth has been lusting over. Even an impressive-looking fishing pole provides enough motivation for millions of gamers to spend millions of hours setting the mood for the proud and lusty walrus. It's already been established that gamers can call on this hardened determination in order to enhance their studies. Why not use it in a gym or on a field?

Secondly, athletics are exponentially more cerebral than most non-athletes give them credit for. It takes real intelligence to know where your body is and how best to alter it in a way that fools or surpasses your opponents. In martial arts, a fighter has to assess the skills of whoever they are fighting and develop a strategy as to how best to implement their own abiities (reach, stamina, power, et cetera) to exploit any weaknesses. It's the same process as any multiplayer game that pits human minds against other human minds. In an online first person shooter, a gamer has to find and assess the talents of his or her opponents, then strike at their Achilles heel repeatedly until they are bested. Discover. Assess. Exploit. Whether it's Mario Kart or Scandinavian Whale Wrestling, this formula applies.

If it helps, think of athletics as its own console that encompasses any setting requiring repetitive physical movement far away from a screen, be it an outdoor field, lake, pool, ice rink, mountain slope, beach, or open-ceilinged Japanese dojo littered with falling plum blossoms hailing from parent trees lingering overhead. In lieu of a controller, one's body itself becomes the conduit through which decisions from the brain are manifested into being. That's the main, perhaps only, difference separating video games and athletics - both involving confidently implementing coherent decisions in a fraction of a second via a specific conduit, be it by pressing a button o a controller or reaching one's arm out to divert an oncoming kick.

Like in games, success at athletics offers an impressive reward system: Respect from fans and peers. A feeling of accomplishment. Lifelong friends. A goal-oriented work ethic. Confidence in oneself. A compassionate winning personality. The ability to eat seven wedding cakes whole and not gain a pound. There are more than just douchey letterman jackets and tales of glory to be had. Sometimes athletic rewards can be as concrete as that shiny new World of Warcraft chestpiece, manifesting themselves in the form of gear, trophies, even multimillion dollar advertising deals and all the Wranglers you can eat.

The Ancient Romans and Greeks believed strongly in the concept of mens sana in corpore sano, "a sound mind in a sound body." To them, a person who had only one or the other was limiting their potential as a human being. To achieve true arete, roughly translated as excellence of any kind, one had no choice but to be a huge brain in a ripped-up body. It may sound douchey, or even impossible, but more than anything it's healthy. The gaming community is beginning to learn and promote, albeit slowly, the need for balance and health mens sana in corpore sano with titles like Dance Central or Wii Fit, both of which force players to get off the couch and move.

Given their near-instantaneously problem solving and decision making skills, veteran gamers have more than enough mental capability to excel at athletics. As time goes on and technologies like Playstation Move, the Wii Fit pad, and Kinect tempt gamers to replace their stretchy pants for $300 bike shorts, the antiquated stereotype of unhealthy gamers who abhor athleticism - who live on a diet of Mountain Dew and sadness - may follow the Dodo. Technological advancement blurs the line between jock and nerd a little more each day, and that's a terrific thing. After all, whether they're attempting to solve a puzzle using a gun that creates portals on their PC or striving to kick a ball through a net on a grassy field, both jocks and nerds are doing the same thing:

They're playing games.

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- Greg Mengel

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