April 28, 2016

WEISSMANN | Virtual Reality

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I wasn’t raised in a household where we watched a lot of sports. I was a biological Giants fans, by which I mean my father and his father and his father’s father were fans, and therefore I was. I remember very clearly being in the fifth grade in 2004 and being asked whether I was supporting the Red Sox or the Yankees. I didn’t know which sport we were discussing.

The sports in my family were mostly fictional: Quidditch, for example. We were readers. We didn’t have cable television until I was in college and Time Warner upgraded us by default because you couldn’t physically have only six channels anymore. To this day, my mother still borrows audiobooks from the library to play on family car rides. It wasn’t exactly that literature was replacing sports, it was just that sports were absent from our lifestyle, not by boycott but by circumstance.

Thus, today I watch my friends in mild confusion as they celebrate or mourn their respective teams. I have never understood how a person could be so invested in a sports game, or why. Obviously, watching live sports created an atmosphere of excitement. Clearly, it was something that could provide people a particular joy. But I could never quite understand how the outcome of a sports game could affect someone’s day or week or entire year. I have friends who still talk about victories from years ago and who speak about buzzer-beaters and famous plays with reverence. In awe, I listened as they rattle off statistics or showcase jerseys on their walls. I didn’t find it annoying — I just didn’t get it.

So I started asking, and everybody had a slightly different answer. For some, it was a family tradition to hole up on Sundays and watch the game. For others it was a way to connect with their dad, their mom, their older siblings. Sometimes it was a sheer love of the game itself, stemming from their own stints in peewee basketball or touch football. Sometimes it was a chance to makes friends by rooting for a common goal. The constant in each response was this: the reasons we like sports are a product of our environment, then and now.

It seems that sports are a chance to forget your problems and live vicariously through your favorite players. To throw off the limits of our own lives for a few minutes. And ultimately, that’s not that unlike reading. Or being a movie fanatic, or being really into video games. Having a favorite soccer player is no different than a favorite Jane Austen character or Super Mario icon; we cry and laugh and shout at books and movies and games alike. By my observation, we are all engaging in our own versions of living vicariously, and we call it the entertainment industry.

But it’s still interesting to me, how deeply we all fall into our respective virtual realities. Enjoying outside entertainment implies that we are not fully entertained by our own lives, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Ultimately, it’s fun to try on different hats sometimes. There are limits in each of our lives — time and space and location — that prevent us from doing everything, from being everything. Living vicariously through these outside sources allows us to invest in new situations, if only for a few minutes. Sports and books and movies, they are life’s Choose Your Own Adventure.

It’s such a big part of humanity that it often gets lost — the entertainment industry is too big for us to imagine a time before we had the opportunity to periodically escape reality. And doing so is a very human thing. But I think it’s equally important to keep sight of the fact that this life, right now, is the real adventure. We are living the great reality. Whatever your preferred method of vicarious living is, your life should be your ultimate entertainment. Ask yourself whether you are remembering to make it so.

Two days ago, my friend called me over on a weeknight to watch the highlights of a Miami Heat basketball game. I couldn’t care less about basketball, and I’m not from Florida. But I went, because she was offering to share her alternate reality with me. After I admitted to barely understanding the rules of the game, she offered to teach me sometime. I laughed, because there it was again: life imitating art.

Ruth Weissmann is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at raw287@cornell.edu. A Word to the Weiss appears alternate Fridays this semester.

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