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I recently asked about racing in space (The new Space Race - Racing!) and as expected while there were a few options they were mostly pretty limited.

However 2012rcampion did suggest that sports in space might be an interesting subject, and I agree. So what sort of sports might people play in space? The tech level is similar to in my racing question, so current technology plus maybe 20 or 30 years more advanced and considerable experience living and working in space.

The sport in question must be similar to our own sports in that:

  • People can play it with friends
  • The costs for people to play "for fun" should be low (think children buying a football and placing a few coats down to mark out goals).
  • It can be played as a spectator sport with both a live and televised audience
  • It's a team game
  • It's physical but with only moderate risk of real injury
  • I expect the game would be played in free fall but am open to alternatives (although there is no artificial gravity so any illusion of it would need to be achieved through spin or acceleration).

Would it need to be played in a constrained space or would it actually be reasonably possible to place large enough areas in space for a more large-scale game to be played?

At the very least children should be able to play it in the corridors of a space station or in a converted canteen or similar as large open leisure areas would be rare and expensive.

Note that we already discussed zero-g basketball here: How would basketball change to accommodate zero-g this already covered basket-ball style games and touched on football, so I'm not looking to duplicate what is already covered there.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems far, far too open-ended for a Stack Exchange question. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ Also the title is useless for figuring out what the question is about. Be clear and concise rather than trying to be cleaver and interesting. $\endgroup$
    – smithkm
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby I already constrained it a lot by specifying the nature of the activity, the environment, and the tech level. What further constraints do you think would be needed? I agree it's quite broad, whether it's too broad I'm not convinced but it wouldn't hurt to narrow it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ Mariokart. Rainbow Road. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING!!! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 1:54

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There should be many sports

If sports are an important aspect of your setting, it should be important to avoid the Planet of Hats trope. Maybe your plot focuses on one sport in particular, but that does not mean it should be the only sport. Quittage may be cool, but there is no reason that that should be the only sport ever played by Wizards.

Sports that can be played with only minor changes to the rules

Most sports will need some major rule changes because they make the basic assumption that you've got to plant your feet to do stuff and that gravity will arc a ball and limit range, and changing that is a big deal, but some sports can be played almost as is.

  • Pitch and Catch: This is probably the most fundamental sport you find in every human culture. Almost as soon as a child learns thier parents can catch things, they will want someone to throw something at them to try to catch. A lack of gravity means slow throws will be easier to catch than on Earth which will make this an even more appealing game to 2-3 year children for getting them into the idea of more advance sports.
  • Dodgeball: A natural evolution of pitch and catch that most kids figure out pretty quickly all on thier own. Most dodges actually involve changing the shape of your body as full step motions are often too slow to dodge with; so, this game will see very little difference than the gravity version. Unlimited range is also not an issue because in dodgeball, closer is better anyway.
  • Darts/Archery/etc: These games require virtually no change in the rules.
  • Swimming: The only difference being that water is no longer needed. While it is much harder to get up to speed in air than in water, zero G means you can technically swim anywhere. I'd imagine this would become a very common sport since there would be so much interest in what to do if you ever find yourself free floating in an open space.
  • LaserTag / Paintball: turning a 2-d maze into a 3 maze does not meaningfully change this game.
  • Ollamalitzli: Modern Basketball fundamentally requires gravity to get the ball through a horizontal hoop. However, if you were to play it more like the original Aztec version where the hoop is vertical and the ball is carried, then something very similar to this ancient sport could see a major come back.
  • VR sports: Many sports that require gravity could still be played in VR where the program simulates gravitational effects. VR golf and VR boxing are already things that could be played just fine in zero G.

Sports that would disappear or drastically change.

  • Wrestling/boxing/karate/etc.: While some form of martial arts are going to exist, they will have to be fundamentally different than they are on Earth. Nearly every move in every style of martial arts assumes you derive power from your footing. In space, martial arts will have to most closely resemble Judo: focused mainly on leverage as opposed to momentum and striking force.
  • Baseball: being able to hit a ball infinitely far, with no real way to maneuver a large outfield to catch the ball means this game can't be played as is. The instead of a large diamond shaped field, this game will likely be reduced to a narrow hallway that the ball will bounce down to give the fielders a fair chance to naturally be in the path of the ball to catch it.
  • Rugby/Football/etc.: Lines of big guys running into each other just does not work if you can't plant your feet. Something akin to touch football might work, but like with baseball, you'll need to make the field much more narrow, since large lateral actions will be so much harder.
  • Golf and Basketball: These games will no longer be playable with horizontal holes. If any variation of these game survive it will turn into an accuracy game where you need to put the ball through a vertical goal or perhaps treat it more like darts where you are hitting your ball against a target board where your accuracy (and possibly momentum) is measured and scored.
  • Gymnastics: While I expect some variation of this to survive, it will become very different because some things that are really hard to do in gravity become trivial, and moves that are trivial under gravity will require extreme precision in zero g. Most likely, I would expect this to resemble some sort of parkour that involves a series of complex wall jumps as opposed to leaving the ground and coming back down to the same place.

New Sports

There are some unique aspects of zero G that make whole new sports possible. While there is no way to list every possible example of this, I would suggest making up at least 1 sport that is completely unique to your setting in addition to the familiar and bastardized Earth sports that people might recognize.

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Tag, laser tag and paintball would all be great games to play in a maze type arena. Arms holding pieces of 'fence' could be sticking out into an open area from different angles at different angles. if everything is padded to help reduce shock of contact it could be some what safe. I could see a similar type of arena/maze used for all three suggestions. Paintball would be very interesting since you don't have gravity pulling your paintballs to the ground making it more accurate!

On a less physical plan, 3-d pool could be a very interesting game almost to the level of chess. The 'table' could be a liquid filled sphere to add a bit of friction to the game, the sphere would have holes like a whiffle-ball. The holes could have colored rings to indicate which hole an opponents ball is allowed to leave by etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Using fluid for damping wouldn't work very well because ripples and eddies could disturb the balls. A better option for 3-d pool would be to use Magnetic Damping. The game would be played in some type of magnetic enclosure, and balls would each have core made of copper or another suitable metal. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ The easiest way to build playable 3D pool would be with virtual reality. Some glasses only slightly better than currently available and a "cue" with very precise position and motion sensing and accurate force feedback. The balls and the table (or would it be a cube?) would just be virtual. Players could actually move through balls and maybe rotate the game area with controls in the cue. So no space required. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ 3d pool actually ruins the challenge. The hardest part of pool is the balls that get between you and your objective. In 3d, you will almost always have a clear shot. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jul 2 at 16:33
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I think the obvious answer for space is free-form ball games. Anything from 3D-hackeysack in a hallway with friends, to Racquetball, Volleyball, or Soccer (non-American Football) with some basic rule changes to allow for a free-fall environment.

I was going to say hockey doesn't make sense (which makes me sad, because I'm a hockey guy) but then I thought of playing it in a rotating cylinder. You'd get some truly crazy passing options (shoot the puck straight up to the other side), and you'd have to take Coriolis effects into account, which would make things fun. Probably every team would have at least 2-3 goals too, distributed around their side.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, I don't believe shooting the puck to the other side is viable. To be playing hockey at all you have to have a fairly big cylinder. The air at ground level will obviously be moving at approximately the rotational speed of the cylinder. The air in the center is obviously standing still. Too much velocity difference and you'll have some really nasty turbulence. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 4:43
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Quidditch

Yeah, that fictional sport written by J. K. Rowling in the Harry Potter franchise.

There's a non-magical variety played by college students. I see a natural progression from running around on brooms to flying around on brooms.

I don't exactly see this as safe... can you say that any sports in space are safe? Though it is a team game, and it can be televised (there have been Muggle Quidditch games televised already). This would definitely be played in free-fall, or in an open area (space does have lots of that, fortunately). As it's a ball-sport, there's an issue of balls being lost to the depths of space. I think this can be overcome with some clever rocketry put into the balls.

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Rugby / American Football

The essential problem with having very large open areas is that once a player launches themselves out into space, there is only so much they can do to change their trajectory; if they have the ball, they can throw it, but otherwise they can't do much.

That isn't necessarily a problem, and in fact could contribute to the style of the sport. For example, one could play a game similar to Rugby or American Football, except counting a 'down' or 'tackle' as soon as a defending player tags the player carrying the ball. Play would consist of players launching themselves on trajectories to intercept other players; if the player with the ball was going to be tackled, they would attempt to pass it to another player. The defending team would also attempt to predict the trajectory of and intercept the receiving player after they catch it.


Polo

One way to overcome the fixed-trajectory problem is to give the players some sort of vehicle, such as a jetpack, or have them ride on some type of vehicle, but this has safety issues due to the potential of high-speed midair collisions. However, this could be dealt with in the same way as modern-day Polo.

Polo is a game played by teams of players on horseback, with a set of rules dictating how players are allowed to move to ensure that riders and their horses do not collide in a way that would be dangerous. Players use long mallets to strike a ball that rolls along the ground. In space, these might be replaced with some sort of racket, to make it easier to hit.


Ball Passing Games

(Basketball, Hockey, Lacrosse, Football, Handball, Water Polo, etc.)

Another way to solve the mobility problem would be to use some type of rope lattice to fill the arena. The rope would be thick enough and elastic enough that colliding with it would not be very likely to cause injury. With a lattice pitch of around 1.5-2 meters, it would be easy enough to reach out with one's hands or feet and hook a rope in order to change trajectory or come to a stop, and one could launch off the ropes easily enough. If necessary, padded columns could be added to give more support to the lattice, so that it wouldn't be able to stretch too far.

This could accommodate a large number of different games, using different implements to launch different sorts of projectiles, with different rules about moving and scoring.

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  • $\begingroup$ The idea of a lattice network in a null g space for games is mad cool, I love it. All sorts of cool tactics enabled by the fact that you are constrained by “corridors” when moving quickly on a trajectory, but can navigate freely when scrambling $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Commented Jul 1 at 21:45
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When you said games in 3D space the first thing I thought of is the book/movie Ender's Game. In the movie (haven't read the book so I will only be referring to the movie) they play a kind of training game where they float around in a zero gravity room, hiding behind big metal pyramids, shooting at each other with zapper-guns that cause opponent's suits to constrict on contact.

Your game could be played in a similar way. Paintball and airsoft would be rather dangerous and very messy in zero gravity because nothing pulls the ammo to the ground which leaves big globs of paint floating around or dangerous ricochet with airsoft (which could be fun and could add a whole other level to your game)

Just a few ideas. Hope you like them!

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  • $\begingroup$ You should really read the book. It's worth it. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 15:05
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With space I assume free fall is intended. The relevant sports are ones where the expanded freedom of movement would be directly relevant. Some examples below.

Team obstacle race

A suitable number of people (two to six) in a team navigating an obstacle course in zero-G with time counted from the last person to reach the goal. Lots of variations. Different types of track. Opposed races with two teams on track at the same time. Teams could be picked randomly just before the race.

Benefits would be that this teaches 3D movement in zero gravity and teamwork. Practising this would make your children less likely to die when something goes wrong. So I think the parental sell would be good. Also the tracks would probably be relatively cheap to construct and modify. And the variability is good enough to make it viable entertainment. Especially if everybody as had some compulsory training in efficient zero-G movement and has some personal experience.

Paintball

Essentially the same as above, but instead of trying to reach the goal as fast as possible, the team tries to hit all members of the opposing team before they can do the same to you. Benefits are generally the same as above with less weight on free fall mobility and more on thinking 3D. Might make sense, if there is a plausible way for hostile boarding actions to happen.

Free fall dancing and martial arts

Probably self-explanatory?

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How about something basically new:

Take a large room (think the Ender's Game combat room without the stars and considerably bigger.) The chamber walls are covered in the rough side of velcro, players start the game with a supply of weights with fuzzy velcro coverings and padding beneath.

The objective is to get the ball (large, light, soft--you can't throw it all that far) into the opponent's goal. You can move along the wall (fuzzy velcro gloves) but pushing off from it is forbidden--the only ways to move around the chamber are throwing things or pushing off people. If you run out of weights you are effectively immobile until you pick up enough from where they stuck to the walls.

It is not permitted to hold the ball for more than a set period of time. (The ball has a sensor that will note how long it has been held and change the color of a light as the clock runs down.)

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Ultimate Frisbee would definitely work well in zero gravity!

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Keijo, a fictional sport from a mangá:

(...) players stand on floating platforms and aim to incapacitate or push their opponent into the water, using only their breasts and buttocks. (...) Keijo matches are held atop floating platforms, referred to as a "Land", in large water-filled stadiums where swimsuit-clad players fight to incapacitate their opponents or push them out to the water, but they can only hit each other using their breasts or buttocks.

Replace water with the space habitat walls and you've got hours of fun for the whole space-dwelling, 21st century family.

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