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Far, far away from Earth, near the center of the galaxy, is the planet Nebulous VII. It is the hosting planet of the universe's favorite gameshow, “Victory Nebula”. On the show, pre-type 1 species from across the galaxy are pitted against each other in Olympic-like sports. Contests include a 90km run, bare-knuckle boxing, and swimming. The aliens who run the show want to make the show seem fair to the audience, even though a group of 16 different species from many different environments play it. How could the aliens make the gameshow fair?

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    $\begingroup$ "16 different species" and "seem fair to the audience"? Bold. We humans are only one specie and still can't figure out what does "fair" really mean. Is it fair to put both men and women on one running competition? Is it fair to separate them? Is it fair to allow some players use asthma drugs and forbid others to do so? And so on... Multiply that by 16 and here is the problem - we don't know what's fair fir us, so how would we know what's fair for 16 species that aren't us? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 11 '18 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Enigma! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Aug 11 '18 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ This question is entirely too broad and any good answer would be based on speculation about 16 species we know nothing about. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 16 '18 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Has anyone pointed you at this gem yet? $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 19 '18 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot Excuse me. This is a trivial point. "Species" is the singular & its plural too. One species, two or more species. Like sheep: one sheep, two or more sheep. That's the trouble with English, such a mish-mash. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 17 at 1:26

16 Answers 16

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Best I got is organizing the species into the galactic equivalent of weight/gender classes. In real world sports, we have women's basketball and regular basketball, featherweight boxing and heavyweight boxing, and college and professional football, as examples. Each one is seen as valid competitions even though they exclude direct competition with the most powerful contenders.

Now let's take the concept and apply it to boxing and Star Trek.

Everybody knows that a human will most likely lose to a Klingon, so that setting's version of heavyweight boxing contains Klingons, Vulcans, and Nausicaans. Middle weight is Humans, Cardassians, and Andorians. Featherweight would be Ferengi and . . . the Bynars I guess? Not a lot of species are less threatening than Ferengi.

The point is, if it's obvious that some species are much better than others (such as quadrupeds in the footrace), they would be put in their own category to compete with species that can actually challenge them. I think this would be the best solution, cause otherwise a human might end up trying to box a seven-foot tall venomous mantis.

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    $\begingroup$ “Nausicaans” clap clap clap. You need to be a real Star Trek nerd to know that name. Congrats. I had a similar idea too you, but slightly different $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 11 '18 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, Pinion Minion, have you ever noticed that some of the Star Trek alien’s physical structures change from time to time? What’s up with that? $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 11 '18 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul I never forget a species that uses their comrades as dartboards. As for the irregularities, Klingons apparently have a disease that causes smooth foreheads, which is why the Klingons in the original series don't have brow ridges. Other than that, I like to imagine that polymorphism, dimorphism, and drastic differences in racial phenotypes are more common in alien species than is discussed on camera. That, and humans are the only species said to completely outlaw genetic modifications of themselves. Who knows what Vulcans looked like before they invented warp, you feel me? $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 12 '18 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ Oh yeah, Star Trek TOS was a shoestring budget production $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 12 '18 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ @user49466 Yeah, I'll admit that I am very bias to humanoids when it comes to picturing aliens. I just kinda assume that convergent evolution would make us similar-ish, but that is a HUGE assumption on my part. What you could do is divide them by psi output rather than bodily mass or some other measure. Heck, just asking "who's okay with fighting the 300 Ibs honeybadgers?" would probably help determine the tier list. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Aug 23 '18 at 17:23
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Scores are normalised against your own species' records

This is inspired by some casual running clubs, which start runners out at different times according to their personal bests, slowest people first. They bunch together during the race, and should all finish at the same time if everyone is on form. In practice, the winner is the person who improves their best time the most.

In an interspecies race, you are started at different times so that, if you all run species records, you finish together. The winner is thus the athlete who comes closest to (or beats) the best of their species. It isn't perfect (some species may have far more variation between individuals than others), but it will seem fair to an audience untrained in statistical outliers.

This can be easily adjusted for weightlifting, throwing, jumping and the like; it doesn't fix team sports or martial arts.

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Possibilities:

A. Teams:

Competitors could be split into teams. For example, if the race is not a "cheetah-alien" vs a "sloth alien", but rather two teams with matched members of each species in a relay, this would balance out species advantages. (E.g. one sloth-cheetah pair versus a second sloth-cheetah team) Maybe each member of the winning team gains a point for their collective victories.

B. Intra-species competition:

Competitors could be matched only against members of their same species. This could be in addition to A, so that someone may gain points every time one of their teammates beats a rival.

C. Handicaps:

The showrunners could build-in penalties or bonuses, to even-out performance metrics.

D. Virtual reality / body swapping:

The competitors may not compete in their actual bodies. This is my least favorite solution, but it is an option. Maybe contestants are put into a simulation where their capacities are enhanced or restricted. Maybe they compete when their consciousnesses are inhabiting identical android bodies.

E. Change the competitions:

You can find competitions where biology doesn't matter (as much), or change the competitions to account for strengths and weaknesses. A lot of popular obstacle course shows make a marginal attempts at this, like including some challenges that focus on upper body strength + others that focus on lower body strength. This method will still have biases, but you might be able to minimize them. Like, for example, having your race be over varying types of terrain. Maybe the sloth-alien has the edge on certain parts, but the cheetah-alien is better at others.

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    $\begingroup$ Totally agree. I'll add mind games too $\endgroup$ – Kii Aug 19 '18 at 9:38
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A Challenge System

Before a game begins, one competitor challenges another (a rival, from a culture with a longstanding feud, etc.) to a game of ___. The two competitors negotiate the terms in public, in front of the audience, before playing. If the audience decides that the terms are unfair, the challenged competitor can walk away with his honor. If the audience endorses them, they have no choice but to accept, on penalty of extreme humiliation.

For example, an Ichthar Warrior, a finned and gilled alien from the planet Hydropia, challenges a Pholeanx, a scale-covered creature adapted for life in the desert, to a swimming race. The initial challenge is booed by spectators as an obvious unfair contest, but the Pholeanx decides to accept on the condition that she can fly as part of the race. The Ichthar refuses, but instead offers the compromise solution of strapping weights to his feet. The audience approves, and the challenge begins.

Audience support: check.

Multiple-species support: check.

Testosterone-fueled sports honor/humility system and incentive for not refusing the games, which make for great entertainment: check and check.

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Make it group performances and base it on a points system.

As an example you have wheelchair basketball. People with a higher disability such as paralysis or muscle atrophy would be worth less points than a fully healthy guy who just enjoys basketball in a wheelchair (yes, those people exist). You can even put restraints on someone to restrict them and make them less points.

Each team gets the same amount of points to allocate. Picking more disabled people means they are less effective individually, but you can put more on the field to compensate, and the best teams consist out of a mixture to maximize the amount of people on the field and still have the capability to deal with the opposition.

Alien races could have the same. The 90km run could be an estafette run. One species is worth so many points it can only field one individual, while the squids that can barely walk on land can field more than a hundred that use one burst of speed to get to the next guy to try to keep up with the rest.

Each species would have different points for each category of play, making it as fair as possible and still enjoyable to watch.

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    $\begingroup$ Close enough to my idea for an answer that I'm just posting it here as a suggestion for improvement - rather than dividing the show into separate single type challenge (i.e. run fast, jump high or knock the opponent out), give the teams complex challenges, with multiple goals (possibly worth different amounts of points), which can be achieved in more than a single way - for example: deliver 200 liters of water through an obstacle course, as fast as possible and with as little waste as possible to a goal (defended by some of the other teams' members?)... $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Aug 12 '18 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN's idea reminds me a little of at least our version of Fort Boyard. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 16 at 20:32
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interdisciplinary contest

Have all participants compete in all disciplines and earn point based on their performance. At the end, the athlete with highest score wins.

Similar to a decathlon, this type of competition will ensure that the advantages one specie might have in one discipline are balanced by disadvantages it has in others. For example if one species outweighs another, it will probably get a better score in boxing, but will probably not fare very well at the marathon.

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The competitors decide.

This is high science fiction and the Nebulans have an ulterior motive. Various categories of competition are established. Within these the competitors themselves work out together how to make a given type of competition fair. There might be some competitions where ground rules are similar for all competitors, or all but one. Other competitions might have different rules for any given pair of competitors. The various competitors might try to skew the rules to favor themselves or allied species. Rules might be changed, possibly even mid-competition. The Nebulans enforce the rules, but do not make any rules.

The competing species are not chosen at random. They are aggressive and intelligent and cooperative. They would probably war with each other as a first choice of interaction. The Nebulans capitalize on the aggressiveness of these species to facilitate a type of interaction which is interesting to the competing species and not perceived as condescending. The ulterior motive of the Nebulans is peace. Possibly this too has a motive: the impending arrival of a species for which the approach will not work, and to which the only possible approach is a joining of forces and cooperative resistance.

This would be a great TV series.

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I like some of the earlier ideas, including normalising scores against your species.

One more: Physical handicapping (temporary of course). Perhaps with advanced technology; based on species. For example, in a race, actually add weight to a fast runner; or using scifi tech, increase their personal gravity.

For bare-knuckle boxing; a drug that lasts a few hours, to slow down their punches. Heck, you might even have a drug to slow down their mentality.

Another twist on top of that, for a game show, would be to make the amount of these handicaps randomized to an extent; the contestant has to do the equivalent of spinning a Wheel of Fortune, tailored to their species, to learn the handicap they receive. So in the sloth v. cheetah foot race, the handicap to the cheetah may be so much the sloth is likely to win.

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It could be a sort of quiz show based on math and science, stuff that we can assume all sufficiently advanced society would need to know about and is the same all across the universe.

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  • $\begingroup$ This works fine as long as none of the races have eidetic memory, or all of them do. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 20 '18 at 10:59
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First, they realize that they can't actually make it a fair competition, but they can make the outcome fair just by assigning the outcome randomly (nothing is more fair than a coin flip after all). But that wouldn't be entertaining to watch (because watching someone flip a coin is pretty boring), so then the only obstacle left is for it to "Seem Fair". To do this they just have all the competitors compete individually, then the aliens cut together doctored footage in such a way to make it look like the predetermined outcomes are reached. It's up to you whether the contestants even know that the outcome is fixed or not.

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Public vote

Do you think that Buukuuu, the cute snail-like alien, deserve a better ranking in the race? Do you want him to pass to the next level of the competition?

Yes? Then send an SMS to 090001 with Buuk+

(Cost of 0.30 Int€r$te££ar by SMS)

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I's late to the party, and there are some great ideas already, but here is one more: each species competes in its own environment, with holograms or avatars representing its rivals.

E.g. a race. A bird species has to fly 10km, vs. a squid that has to swim 1km. (distances are adjusted each season based on past records). Both have motion-capture dots drawn on their bodies, multiple cameras along the route project a hologram of them to their rival, at same relative position along the course. E.g. if the bird is at 3 km mark, there is a hologram of the bird at 300m mark in the water. Making contact with rival's hologram is either banned, or sends an electric shock to the rival (via wearable harness).

Boxing or other martial art. Both rivals have motion-capture dots on their bodies (or motion-capture implants under their skin). Motions are translated into an robotic avatar in rival's space. Strength and fragility of avatar is matched to the live opponent that they fight.

You can even have flying or swimming creatures participate, but they must stay inside the "ring" box.

ball & net games like tennis or volleyball. Have each side play against a gel wall. Team A sends ball into the wall at certain position, speed and angle; team B sees their ball come out of their gel wall at same position and angle, and speed adjusted to for size of the species. Wall does project the image of the other team.

Hockey or soccer/football might be possible, but require mixing robotic avatars with steerable balls that mirror each other.

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Equalization.

Determine the top three to five (measurable) attributes necessary to compete at a specific sport, and equalize the contestants via technology or biological enhancement.

So for example, volleyball. We determine you need to be able to get two feet off the ground in .5 seconds, horizontally propel yourself at least five feet without major injury, utilize 800 newtons of force on an eight inch sphere in several directions, and have sufficient spacial awareness to anticipate trajectory and make adjustments so as to have the ball land in the proper area.

One alien is a gigantic daddy-long-legs, so the horizontal jump and the spacial awareness don't require modification, but they may require a low-energy rocket pack to produce a two foot jump and produce enough newtons of force. Another alien is a giant slug, so it might require an exoskeleton to meet all four of the minimum requirements.

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Assuming that athletes are expected to compete in all the events in the competition, instead of single competitors only taking part in their specialty. The events in the competition could in fact be what levels the playing field, for example:

  • Humans have unparalleled stamina, they always take top billing in the 90km, and the long distance swimming events.

  • the Glarg have incredible speed and strength, they usually take out the boxing and the power lifting events.

  • the Flarg are long on speed but short on stamina, they take out the sprints on the track and in the water.

  • the Blarg have amazing eyesight and dexterity, they'll always take out the top spots in archery and shooting events.

But the overall medals are decided not by who wins any given event but on total average placing across all events. As a result it's how good an individual is at their race's worse events that will decide their final standing rather than how good a given race is at a particular event.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is the difference between speed and stamina? Aren’t they the same? $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 20 '18 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul Speed is Usain Bolt stamina is Kenenisa Bekele. Neither one is competitive at the other's distances. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 20 '18 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ Oh stamina is long distance, speed is short. I never knew humans had such good stamina $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 20 '18 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul Stamina is about staying power, humans used to run wild horses and deer to death, the OP's version of modern humans may not be up to that standard but if they're better than all the more advanced aliens who've lost touch with their ancient hunter gatherer roots they still have the advantage. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 21 '18 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ No, their is one race that is in a late Bronze Age type situation. But their bulky and slow, as the gravity on their planet is intense. $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 21 '18 at 20:38
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Glocken

Hard Luck Hank did a really good job with this...

The website has the official rules, but it basically boiled down to weigh class and carrying capacity.

Generally speaking the less mass you are, the less mass you can carry (not as a percentage of body weight, mind, but as a raw value). This is due to the fact that muscle's strength is based on the cross-sectional area, which scales sub-linearly with size (but still scales).

Essentially how it worked was 8 players, of 8 different weight classes would pair off against their matched opposite, with the goal for the offensive team to move a token (of increasing weight by lane) across the pitch. The defender's job was to sit on it. A round would end when all 8 tokens were either scored or dead. The heavier the token, the more points it was worth when scored.

Cross-lane play did occur, but doing so meant that you'd be leaving your lane's token un-defended (or un-scorable). There were tactics were available that used two offensive players (or two defensive), but it was a strategic risk to let the higher-value token go in order to focus on a lower value token (teaming up for higher value tokens didn't occur, because that involved a lower weight class player getting physical with someone of the next higher weight class, and that was a good way to get yourself seriously injured).

This isn't to say that it's still a fair game (the fifth book, Stank Delicious, showed that to a degree), but it was believable enough that if I saw something like it again in the future I'd say, "Yeah, that works."

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What about mixed teams? Have each alien race pick a captain, who then picks team members in order (like dodge ball). The wrinkle is they must pick one team member of each species, and must suddenly try and appraise foreign races (wait, I'm sure the foo get stronger as they get bulkier, but how quickly do they lose agility as they bulk up? Are those barr all similar enough that I can delay picking one of them to pick a good Baz? )

Each team member then competes in one event; possibly determined by the rules, or possibly team captains choice... So at Foo tentacle wrestling, you might get mostly Foo competing, but they're doing it for different sides.

presumably each winner gets something (to stop match fixing in favor of their own species team) , and the captain of the overall winning team (or his race) gets something too

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