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It was difficult to sum the entire question into the title, but here's more context:

I'm working on a proof of concept for a game where you are racing vehicles rally raid style across Antarctica and / or tundra where "the race" takes weeks, (including fixing the vehicle and sleep). Were it just this, it could pass as a race, but you are also hauling various cargo that needs to stay more or less intact or you are deducted points. You can also use some of the cargo for food or vehicle fixing supplies. That's the gist of it, but I feel a good reason is needed for why this event is taking place at all.

  • If it's a race, why the cargo?
  • If it's cargo hauling, why the rush?

It would be great if the scenario allows for:

  • The world is realistic in terms of technology, but does not have to be exactly the same as ours in terms of the landscape, animals and places that do not have to match. You can say there's a big city that is in the middle of a tundra and that you can drive from it to the north pole without there being a sea in the way (though Canada springs to mind). In terms of landscape, I realise realistically it would hardly be possible to drive to the Arctic even if the sea between tundra and the north pole froze as it cracks and rolls creating a landscape of ice spikes and walls, but again, some freedom is taken here.
  • Professional racing teams (as opposed to amateurs and enthusiasts that might fit some of the scenarios I listed below).
  • Having racing seasons / championships.

Some previous ideas:

  • Probably the best one I got yet I got just while writing this (rubber ducky debugging strikes again): The cargo needs to be delivered to a remote village (or station) anyway, but once or twice a year a race is organised (like the Iditarod for example). The problem I have with this is it's only believable if it's more or less just an occasional event and rules out anything more "serious" like having racing seasons and teams.
  • Instead of a race to some village, you are rushing to a distress call from a haul truck and must either fix it there or carry its cargo to its destination. (Not really happy with this one as you again have no real racing)
  • You are hauling cargo from A to B, but getting there sooner rather than later pays better. (I am listing all that came to mind even though I am not happy with this either: No racing at all, but might include some minor survival elements)
  • You do cargo hauling for a living, race on the weekends (Might work if I don't find a better solution, but this splits the racing / hauling into separate events).

Notes:

  • Why Arctic and not Antarctica? Antarctica is a continent (ice over land) and the Arctic is only ice so this would perhaps give more fun terrain, but I also wanted to have certain animals around for which you should keep an eye out so you are not attacked when you are out of the vehicle (most likely out to do repairs). From what I know, there are no wolves or bears on Antarctica, and there are no tundras near it, so I opted for the Arctic.
  • The vehicles were initially supposed to be something between big haul trucks and off road vehicles, but if something else (as long as it's on land) works better for your idea, be my guest.

TL/DR: What could be the scenario where there are races being held in tundra / Arctic involving hauling cargo to the extent that it's a "serious" sport with teams, seasons and championships?

Note: If you think replacing teams with amateurs / enthusiasts could work better, go ahead.

Edit: These are all awesome answers, some of them would even make for games on their own. Thank you all for your very helpful input!

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    $\begingroup$ I try not to vote to close (VTC) new user questions, but please note for future questions. (a) The help center specifically forbids providing your answers and asking for more answers. The reason for this is that your dislike for the answers you have isn't our problem. The reason you don't like them would be a valuable condition, limitation, or restriction to the question. (b) The help center states that we're here to help you build your world, not tell your story. One of the VTC reasons is "too story-based" and we don't answer questions about the decisions (*continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ ... made by characters. Worldbuilding is independent of storybuilding. Asking for the reasons why a decision is made is storybuilding. Indeed, whenever you're asking about plot, circumstances, or character decisions, the question is off-topic here. (c) Finally, note that the help center strongly discourages brainstorming. Brainstorming is contrary to Stack Exchange's basic model (one-specific-question/one-best-answer). Thanks for listening. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @JBH for the useful info and sorry I missed it. I provided the ideas I had and the reasons why I avoided them due to following (perhaps the wrong source) stackoverflow where one of the general rules is "tell us how you have tried to fix the problem". (b) is something I honestly didn't notice until you wrote it and I see what you mean. $\endgroup$
    – Joker21srb
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Before steam power, clipper ships would race from Asian countries to Europe with imports like tea and porcelain. They weren't in a formal competition to win a race, but the first ships back made the greatest profits. Drawing on this history, I would suggest that a formal competition for your world might highlight which cargo company/contractor would be the best to hire, allowing them to grow their business and charge higher rates. $\endgroup$
    – Jason
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 19:25

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Its a technology tryout and showcase system.

Building things for racecars isnt just used in the racecar, it also helps improve the technology of the regular cars from the company that uses that particular racecar.

I helped with the safety of a Formula E kart which was going to "compete"* with other karts. There were competitors from all over the world, from schools to full multi-million dollar companies. As each group tried to solve design problems you had a bunch of different technologies all with the aim to solve them. Some were cheap, some simple, some complex, some were designed so they could be build in particular industrial machinery and others were just hand-made specialty parts. (Part of) the idea is that companies can look at these and buy/lease/copy/whatever and improve the overall technology of the world. No one is very interested in a kart for anything but entertainment, but the technologies inside were valuable. To further illustrate this each kart could win prizes in various categories, such as endurance, weight, efficiency, max speed etc.

Your race is basically designed for improving cargo-hauling technologies in rough conditions. One group may win the category on having the most efficient cargospace, another may have the most cargospace, another may have the engine that requires the least maintenance, another is the fastest etc.

*it was their first attempt so all they wanted was a rolling frame that wasnt disqualified and could finish all trials.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this idea and it aligns with @L.Dutch 's answer as well but expands on the reason why cargo is also hauled. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Joker21srb
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ It is customary to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer so people all over the world can answer. You never know if someone might have a better one! You can deselect it by clicking the V sign again. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ I thought so too, but interpreted the comments on my question as I should hurry up. That said, I'm still happy with my choice! Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Joker21srb
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 19:39
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People race with cars, cars driving in reverse, trucks, tractors, lawnmowers, wives and whatsoever... Yours is just another variant.

Simply put, it's a race and those are the rules of the race.

The Blue Riband had something similar:

The Blue Riband (/ˈrɪbənd/) is an unofficial accolade given to the passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean in regular service with the record highest average speed.

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    $\begingroup$ Simple enough. I might be overthinking it. $\endgroup$
    – Joker21srb
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ And remember that the Iditarod grew out of a legitimate one-time emergency that required hauling cargo quickly. Similarly, you can assert that the rules of your modern race are weird simply because they attempt to preserve the essence of the challenges of that original emergency. It will actually help if the rules are weird, as long as each can be traced to that inciting event. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 22:21
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You could go a bit Mad Max here.
You are racing because the cargo is very valuable. And since your cargo is valuable, and the road is long with no law enforcement other than what you bring along, you are attracting people who'd also value your cargo, but have temporarily mislaid the papers to claim it...

You have seasons because of the climate. winter is just too cold, summer is too dangerous because of melting ice, so you are stuck with the weeks inbetween.

You have teams and an official-ish setup because of the strengths of numbers. Enough trucks in your convoy might discourage the raiders. Or not, and since you are unsure you're pushing the pedal to the metal. Your teams compete, because that's just human nature. Or capitalism, if you wish. Also, those who lag behind put everybody in danger, unless they can be abused as bait for the raiders.

The championship is just the way people are handling the situation. Most of all, the biggest prize is making it there and back again without unplanned holes in your truck or drivers.
There's not much you can do about being raided occasionally. The world is as it is, so you might as well find fun in what cannot be avoided.

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Take inspiration from the historic Tea Clippers in the early 1800s that raced to get the valuable tea harvest back from China to Europe the fastest. The tea was only harvested at a certain time of the year, and so the Clipper ships would have to all receive and load their cargo and set off at roughly the same time. The ship that could make it back to London first could command a much higher price for the tea they carried, as merchants were desperate to buy the tea as soon as possible. As more and more ships made it back, the supply went up and so the later the tea arrived, the less money you could sell it for.

These races were often very well covered by the press, with semi-regular updates in the newspapers receiving telegram updates about which ship was in the lead and had reached which port by which date etc. In later years additional monetary prizes were awarded to the ship that arrived first, to encourage even more racing, and many people would place bets on different ships. Some ships became famous for winning the race several times.

I don't know the setting, but it could be some valuable cargo or resource that the merchants of some city desperately need, or even a luxury good that can command high prices if scarce, but lower prices once more make it back. If there are waystations along the route that could radio back to the city who is in the lead etc, it could lead into some betting mechanism as well. This would also feed into a victory points system where you received more points per kg of cargo for delivering your goods fastest, but going slower might mean you have more goods left to sell at the end even if at a lower price.

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Cargo is plant/fruit/vegetable harvestable once a year and do not handle well low temperature and grow only in specific place. Small amount can be carried by heated and presurized planes, ship transport is too long - it spolis, constructing train infrastructure cost too much. At destination You can sell Yours cargo, if be first for good price, second will get less and so on. If go to slow then cargo spoil and get nothing.

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    $\begingroup$ One of the reasons to build a railroad to Key West was to get bananas from Central America to cities in the northeast faster… $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 15:50
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A Commemoration

Some time in the past, there was some cargo that had to be delivered quickly. Medicine for an outbreak, a water purifier for a town, soldiers to hold off an invasion, etc. A brave driver defied the odds by skillfully and quickly delivering the cargo intact. That driver wasn't racing against other drivers, they were racing against time (people were dying of plague, parts were needed before a storm, invaders are coming, etc.). The event was inspirational enough to inspire reenactments. Eventually those reenactments became races, which picked up in popularity. The first racers were likely regular cargo drivers with spare time. The race was popular enough to warrant additional races in different parts of the continent. The additional challenge of keeping cargo intact could be seen as an exciting twist, drawing in racers and spectators. Where there are spectators, there are network deals, sponsors, merchandising, etc., transforming the sport from a regional pastime into a full-fledged professional racing league.

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Market Price

The marshy tundra landscape makes land transportation nearly impossible in the summer months - and so it is only when winter has frozen the ice-roads solid enough to traverse that shipments start to roll back into town.

As such, the first few luxuries coming through can command an exorbitant premium. How much do you think a fresh ripe orange can sell for when they've been out of all but the canned variety for months and months? Of course, that novelty wears off pretty fast (especially with the slow moving train-trucks following-up with massive shipping containers full supplies en mass) and so these runners are racing to stay ahead of the pack enough to maximize their profits.

This also presents interesting different strategies for different "racers". Do you simply try to hit up the first few towns or the last few? Do you stop to sell at every stop, or just the bigger cities? Do you specialize in a particular good or a variety of goods? The "race" isn't actually about being the first to cross the finish line... it's about making the most money over the course of the trip!

TL;DR - The "runners" are racing to provide goods at a premium while-supply-is-still-low and demand-is-still-high. If they are too slow, other racers (and eventually the massive slow "truckers") will get there and saturate the market.

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Your game takes place in a distant future where the Arctic ice has melted and most of the land is uninhabitable due to the extreme heat in all seasons.

The surviving civilization has gathered on the coasts of the Antarctic continent, and every seasonal night, a race allows the winner to enter a hard-to-reach utopian city built exactly at the South Pole.

To be allowed to enter the city, the winner must bring a symbolic amount of fresh water to its destination, as both a symbol and a constraint.

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Ice Road Truckers! Your route is primarily driven on ice, which is only open a few weeks/months of the year due to changing seasons. So in order to get valuable supplies to/from towns in the artic, you have a limited time to make it across before the lakes melt and you are stranded - or worse.

As for the race, it could easily be sponsored by a TV channel who wants to add additional drama to the proceedings and have additional cash payouts to the winners.

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A few other people have had similar ideas to mine, where a valuable cargo needs to get a remote point by a certain time, but the start time is the same for everyone -- the Tea Clippers is a great example of that.

And, of course, since the Arctic is only easily crossable by "land" when everything is frozen, that means there's a smaller window when overland transport can take place (e.g. the Ice Truckers example).

But if it's really important, why not just fly it there?

Well, I had this idea. What if there are aliens? What if these aliens want to buy some specific product from Earth, something they can't get elsewhere? It could be some kind of plant product that they can't grow at home, or maybe there's a huge fad for gerbils in their part of the universe. Whatever it is, they want it, and we have it.

The thing is, these aliens can only pick up things from Earth at the north pole. Maybe it's some kind of star gate or portal that is only stable at a place that's at the centrepoint of the planet's spin. And maybe they can only keep it open for a short period of time, or maybe there's a negotiated limit on how many gerbils can be exported to the aliens in a given year. (Maybe they wisely recognize that limiting the number of gerbils that are imported from Earth in a given cycle will help keep the prices high, and also help prevent the depletion of the gerbil supply.) So, whoever gets there first is guaranteed to make the sale, and late comers are more likely to get there too late to beat the quota.

So, now we have a reason for getting the cargo there first (the sales window is small and/or limited), and a reason for the common starting point of the time window (the tundra and sea ice need to be frozen all the way along the route).

Now, all that's left is a reason for why they can't fly the cargo. With modern flight technology, it should be easy to fly tonnes and tonnes of live gerbils to the north pole, even considering the needs for proper climate control to ensure the survival of the gerbils in transit. So, it can't be that. Instead, imagine that the opening of the space portal creates a strong electromagnetic effect in a 1000km radius, but in a wide conical shape. So that creates a no-fly zone that starts 100m above the ground, and extends for around 20km into the sky. That would absolutely prohibit flights to the north pole during the crucial time.

Oh, I guess there's one other question about this situation that needs to be answered: if selling gerbils to aliens at the north pole is so lucrative, why not just set up a gerbil breeding facility right next to where the portal opens up? Wouldn't that be more reliable than a race to the north pole? Would racing there be that much cheaper?

I guess the answer there could be a combination of logistics and politics. Manning and supplying a gerbil factory year-round at the north pole would be frickin' awkward, and if anything goes wrong, you lose your entire investment. Plus, the area around the north pole is actually a bit of a political geography minefield. Who does it belong to? To whom would you apply for permits to build your self-contained gerbil farm in the first place? It may very well be that not building a compound at the north pole is the only way to avoid escalation of aggression between various world super-powers.

Or, it could be that the opening of the portal creates a short-term but extremely high intensity X-ray or gamma-ray burst that would wipe out all the gerbils (as well as the human attendants), which would preclude having such a facility anywhere near the portal zone.

And just think of the title this allows for:

ARCTIC WASTELAND GERBIL DEATH RACE

You're welcome.

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If you are taking any kind of cargo anywhere, you will probably be in a hurry because usually whomever payed for the cargo paid a fixed amount for it. You will receive the same amount of money whether you take an hour or a year to get there. Not being as fast as you can puts you on a loss.

Moreover people may be racing because this is not a matter of contract delivery. There is a limited market for the goods and whomever gets there first also sells first.

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