Screenshot: Ninja Golf

Every two years, you hear the same refrain over and over again: The Olympics are boring. Maybe it says more about us as a viewing culture, but whether it’s thanks to the events themselves or their much-maligned TV coverage, the games never garner as much excitement as a global gathering and competition of the world’s best athletes probably warrants. In an attempt to spice things up, we’ve looked to video games as the inspiration for a collection of original Olympics events that stand a chance to slake our thirst for international sporting action. Many incorporate fantastical elements or unconscionable levels of violence, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to adapt these video game sports into real-life forms, where appropriate. We hope you’re listening, International Olympic Committee.

1. Nidhogg

Strip out all the fantasy clouds and giant, man-eating worms, and Mark Essen’s brilliant Nidhogg is basically one-on-one football where you’re allowed to kill the other person to defend yourself and take the ball. Since the Olympics already have all sorts of ways to detect people fake-punching or stabbing each other—as seen in fencing and the various martial arts competitions—it wouldn’t be too hard to make a version of Nidhogg that’s mostly safe. (Give or take a fan getting nailed by a thrown sword). The hardest part would be recreating the game’s 2-D nature (we might confine everything to a series of narrow corridors) and the ability for players to respawn further down the path. The key might be to transform Nidhogg into a team sport, with members of the opposing team waiting to pop out of their trapdoors to block your path once their friend gets their neck snapped or their spine ripped out. (We’d like to officially come out in favor of more Olympic sports utilizing people popping out of trapdoors.) More importantly, it would capture that feeling of tension that makes the game such a rush, as you close in on the final goal, with just one final fencer standing between you and a victory lap in a giant worm’s gullet. [William Hughes]

2. Ninja Golf

The Rio Games mark the first time in over 100 years that golf has been played at the Olympics, and despite the efforts of the local capybara population, it remains one of the Olympics’ more lifeless events. Luckily, the developers at BlueSky Software dreamed up a more action-packed version of golf way back in 1990. Their ingenious solution? Just add ninja. Ninja Golf tasks players with whacking the ball down the course as usual, but instead of hopping in a cart and cruising to your next shot, you have to fight your way there past rock-throwing gophers and rival ninja. We imagine the real-world version would be akin to a golf-judo hybrid, where an offensive team tries to complete the course—one golfer per hole—while a defensive team rushes them down between shots. As for the gophers, well, dodging capybaras will have to do. [Matt Gerardi]

Advertisement

3. Balloon hunt (Animal Crossing: New Leaf)

In the New Leaf entry of Nintendo’s peaceful life simulator, players can engage in a variety of summer-ready events, from planting flowers to digging up fossils. The one that best translates to fierce competition is balloon hunting. With the clock ticking, Olympians would race around an arena, armed with only a slingshot and a small satchel of ammo, bursting as many balloons floating overhead as they can. Wind machines would keep the targets in constant motion, requiring athletes to prioritize each moment between racing one another to each target and taking the time to aim a perfect shot. For an added twist, like deliveries of special items in the game, there can be double and triple balloons, which are tied together and worth more points but require deft precision, as only the athlete to pop the final balloon of each cluster secures the points. [Derrick Sanskrit]

Advertisement

4. Pool joust (Skate Or Die)

Skateboarding is coming to the Olympics starting with the Tokyo Games in 2020, so here’s a suggestion: Instead of lining up another series of boring races or opting for the safe-but-bland figure-skating approach, how about introducing a fast-paced, visceral combat sport that reframes grinds and ollies as evasive maneuvers? In Pool Joust, two competitors start from opposite sides of a sloping, drained pool, one of them equipped with a pugil stick meant to knock the other onto their well-protected backside. After five passes, the stick changes hands and the defending player becomes the aggressor. The first athlete to bump their opponent a set number of times wins the bout. If a variation of an aborted American Gladiators event from the ’90s cannot rekindle the world’s faltering interest in the Olympics, it’s doubtful anything can. [Alexander Chatziioannou]

Advertisement

5. BaraBariBall

Some of the best stuff in the world—hot dogs and dadaist poetry come to mind—are made by taking existing odds and ends and cramming them together to make something new. The presumably deranged inventor of the biathlon understood this when they sought to combine cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. If the Summer Olympics wanted to introduce such a multi-sport, why not look to BaraBariBall for inspiration? A polygamist marriage of volleyball, water polo, and boxing, the game is a full-contact sport played on a court suspended above a pool of water. Teams score points by touching the ball to the floor of their opponents’ portion of the pool, and lose points by either getting scored on, or touching the bottom of the pool themselves. What would ensue would be the kind of franticly violent sport worth waking up at 5 a.m. to catch live. [Patrick Lee]

Advertisement

6. Rocket League

People have actually done a real-life version of last year’s soccer-with-cars hit Rocket League using RC cars (albeit ones that can’t jump or drive on walls.) But that’s hardly athletic enough for the Olympics. Luckily, the games already have considerations in place to bring a perfect approximation of Psyonix’s rocket-powered battle cars onto the field of competition: the noble horse. Think about it. Horses are fast, they can jump, and they’re already at the Olympics for dressage or whatever equestrian event it is that Mitt Romney’s wife does. But while this idea is clearly genius, we’re willing to address the questions you’re almost certainly developing in response. For instance: Isn’t this basically just polo—discontinued as an Olympic sport since 1936—except with no mallets and one of those giant yoga spheres as the ball? Yes, it is. Thank you. Won’t a lot of horses (and riders and spectators) get hurt when the athletes go for defense-breaking demolitions? Absolutely. Would Rocket League-with-horses be awesome to watch, at least until it got disqualified for basically being a war crime? It would, dear readers, it would. [William Hughes]

Advertisement

7. Push Me Pull You

There have been a lot of local multiplayer games in the past few years to elicit as much hungry competition as they have cackles of glee over just how silly they are. None are quite as hilarious to imagine real-life humans engaging in as Push Me Pull You, though. Somewhere between sumo wrestling and keep-away, the game involves teams of two, connected below the waist like giant worms or CatDogs, trying to corral a ball into specific areas of the arena while preventing the opposing team from doing the same. Whether the IOC wants to suit athletes in elastic tubes with only their heads and arms sticking out on either side or simply tether a bungee cord between their belts is entirely up to them. Either way, we all win for getting to watch these athletes wrap around each other like a wacky wad of wrestling Silly Putty. [Derrick Sanskrit]

Advertisement

8. Pile Of Plates (Alternative World Games)

Pile Of Plates is such a layered concept that it lends itself to not just a single event but a whole category. There could be at least two distinct rulesets for the deceptively simple task of carrying a swaying stack of plates across a predetermined length of track. Speed events would work like a traditional sprint, with contestants aiming for the fastest time but incurring a time penalty for every broken plate. Balance events allow for up to three attempts to achieve a breakage-free run within a set amount of time, with each success enabling the contestant to reset the attempt count and add more plates to the pile. It’s a schadenfreude-based spectator sport where the most exciting part is not a skillful, impeccable performance but waiting for the misstep that brings the whole porcelain tower crashing down—preferably happening to the representative of that neighboring country you especially dislike. [Alexander Chatziioannou]

Advertisement

9. Balance bubble (Wii Fit)

This aquatic obstacle course has been a staple of Nintendo’s Wii Fit series from the beginning. It’s a race down a hazardous river, where the athlete is inside a plastic bubble, running on water toward the finish line. It’s like the Winter Olympics’ luge, only with more weaving through the course, or the Summer Olympics’ 400-meter hurdles—only on water, in a bubble, one at a time. It’s a test of speed, balance, and endurance worthy of the world’s most celebrated athletic stage. Plus, those post-game interviews will be so much better when the Olympians are still inside their giant plastic bubbles. [Derrick Sanskrit]

Advertisement

10. Windjammers

With its international roster of disc-flinging athletes and a beach-ready look, Data East’s Windjammers is tailor-made for the Summer Olympics. The rules are simple. You score points by throwing a flying disc—or “Frisbee,” if you want to get all trademark-infringing about it—into the goal your opponent is guarding. Odds are they’ll catch your shot and try to do the same to you. If you do get it by them, the amount of points you score depends on the color of the net you hit, with smaller zones being the most valuable. If the video game’s tense action is any indication, a real-life Windjammers would be a blistering sport of technique and head games, as competitors try to fake out their rivals with tricky curved shots and speedy ricochets off spring-loaded walls. [Matt Gerardi]

Advertisement

11. Super Pole Riders

Die Gute Fabrik’s Sportsfriends is a treasure trove of ideas for new competitive sports. In all honesty, you could probably lift the “knock your friends over” gameplay of Johann Sebastian Joust wholesale and play it in Rio today. Super Pole Riders is a little more complex, if only because its physics don’t entirely line up with the real world. A ball is suspended in the center of the field on a rope, and pole vaulters are (simultaneously) asked to propel themselves skyward in order to kick it down the line to the other team’s goal, while fending off opponents that are trying to do the same. Legally, we’re probably required to transform Pole Riders into a turn-based sport, with each team getting one chance to kick and then departing the field so the defending team can respond. But if we’re going for pure ratings, we can’t imagine anything better than seeing four vaulters leap toward each other at once, trying to kick each other in the head, and gritting their teeth in grim determination, knowing whoever has the least breakable leg bones is probably going to be the one who wins. [William Hughes]

Advertisement

12. Lethal League

If the goal of racquetball were to get the ball moving as quickly as possible and send it flying into your opponent, then it’d be Lethal League. While there’s no way human athletes would be able to replicate the impossible speeds achieved in the video game, a real-life Lethal League could easily work. Stuff two competitors in a small room with a bouncy ball, give them each something to smack it with, and let them go at it. It could use a game-set-match format similar to tennis, with the first player to, say, 10 points winning each game. There could even be a doubles variation, with four athletes occupying a slightly larger room. The added team dynamic would bring new layers of strategic depth, as partners could coordinate their movement and shots to out-maneuver the opposition and nail them. The biggest logistical issue might actually be figuring out how to film the action without getting in the competitors’ way. We’ll let NBC handle that one. [Matt Gerardi]

Advertisement

13. Speedball (Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe)

Let’s imagine the IOC’s slap on the wrist for Russia’s doping shenanigans is the start of a slippery slope that may (or may not, but who’d care to read about that?) end up in a dystopian version of the world’s biggest sporting event, as technological enhancements complement chemistry to erode notions of natural performance while rabid competitiveness makes a mockery of sportsmanship. On a brighter note, the deplorable decline of Olympic ideals also means that Speedball is bound to be considered for inclusion. It’s a hybrid of American football and MMA, where opposing teams of angry, armor-clad behemoths beat the snot out of each other, occasionally stopping to score a goal inside a metallic arena that constantly shifts to accommodate the glorious violence. Safely sitting in cushioned seats with ice cream in hand behind blood-spattered plexiglass, the kids are going to love it! [Alexander Chatziioannou]

Advertisement

14. Mount Your Friends

It’s difficult to remember sometimes that a lot of Olympic sports are supposed to be games—as in, things people do because they’re fun. The event has grown so pompous and the stakes have gotten so high over the centuries that almost all of the joy of play has evaporated. A quick and easy way to introduce a bit of levity to the games would be to elevate Mount Your Friends to an Olympic sport. Imagine the world’s greatest athletes climbing each other like a massive living ladder, every participant flexing ferociously to ensure nobody went tumbling 50 feet down toward a spinal fracture, the whole tower eventually resembling the contents of an Olympic-grade Barrel Of Monkeys. It would be as sincere a demonstration of strength, skill, and sportsmanship as weightlifting or gymnastics but far, far less dignified—and for that reason alone, it would make a much better spectator sport. [Patrick Lee]

Advertisement


Purchasing via Amazon helps support The A.V. Club.