Fantasy and reality

Baseball season’s almost here and that means fantasy leagues are gearing up. Steroid usage is all the talk too with fans on the slippery slope of a debate over what constitutes “real” athleticism. (Steven Johnson predicts that elective surgery is the next category of performance enhancement.) Meanwhile, more entertainment dollars are spent on computer games than attending actual sporting events. (And who knows how much more is spent gambling on sports — a meta-sporting activity, so to speak — than on the sport directly.) Hard to know the boundaries of the real sport.

What I’d like to see is an application that merges an online fantasy basball league, a sports-action baseball game, and a Sim Baseball-type universe (such as this). This way you could field your actual fantasy team (using current or past players) and, using the rich data of past performance, play out actual games at any level from just watching stats crunch against each other spreadsheet-macro-like to actually trying to make Aramis Ramirez hit a pitch from, say, Pedro Martinez. Then, layer in the Sim component (based on as much data as can be mined) to allow you to operate the virtual club and individual players as fully as possible. Salary caps, personality/compatibility issues, performance-enhancing drugs — you’d decide all of this. Or, at least let the data-rich simulation run its course based on a few parameters you set. For example, what would happen if everyone in the league was on androstenedione?

Maybe this kind of app already exists. Seems like it would be hellishly complex, though.

The real question is: how soon until the virtual derivatives of sport feed back into the sport itself? (Not counting gambling scandals, that is.) It happens in other forms of entertainment all the time. How long before there is a game that pits the actual human players of the two best fantasy teams — or some computer-modelled aggregate of the best fantasy teams at any given moment — in the world against each other?