In 1988, Atari made one of the most prescient moves in video game history. Their game, Cyberball, was released into arcades and featured the tagline of “Football in the 21st Century”. In their version of the future, Atari envisioned professional football (the NFL variety) being played entirely by teams of robots. I’m sure to the average child in the late 1980s this seemed like science fiction. However, now firmly in the 21st Century, we are able to see just how accurate of a portrayal of professional football the game designers achieved.
One can assume, based on the constant problems in the news about NFL players committing various acts of violent crime and other deviant acts, that at some point in the future the team owners will have had enough with humans. As the NFL rakes in tons of revenue from television advertising alone, it’s not far-fetched to consider the damage to the overall U.S. economy if the league were to fold all together. With the state of robotics constantly advancing, it’s not to hard to fathom replacing football players with robots, like those depicted in Cyberball, is conceivable. Atari speculated this conversion would happen at least by the year 2072, when the football season in the game is set.
Currently, the teams are referring to the players with legal woes as “terminated” and “deactivated” in an attempt to ease the average American football fan into being open to a robot football league. In Cyberball, the coaches are still human and only have to worry about machines getting damaged and breaking down. In the 2014 NFL, the coaches have to worry about humans doing horrible things to their families and others. If Ray Rice beats his spouse, that’s a problem. But the robotic running back is just going to be powered down and stored in a warehouse until the next game. See how appealing this all would look to the team owners?
Atari ported this game to a variety of home console systems after its success in the arcades. The Sega Genesis version featured a “halftime show” with a musical performance. The musicians that perform for the audience are also robots. Implying that Atari also had a vision of in the future all musicians also being replaced with robots. Considering the disgusting and immoral actions of modern musicians like Janet Jackson, Iggy Azaela and Miley Cyrus, this is not a bad idea either.
Any way that one looks at Cyberball, it has become incredibly clear that this game was not only ahead of its time but has predicted the future of sports.