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22/03/2024 - 

Olympics 2024: From the stadium to the console and back

Sports have played a major role in video game culture for longer than you think. You’ve probably heard of Pong, the table-tennis-themed arcade game released in 1972. But the earliest sports video game actually dates all the way back to 1958. It was called Tennis for Two and was played not on an arcade cabinet or a TV, but on an oscilloscope.
Today, sports games are a huge category in their own right. With the Paris 2024 Olympics approaching, let's take a closer look at the fascinating world of sports gaming.

Olympics-inspired video games over the years

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen several Olympics-inspired titles. There was Olympic Gold (Sega Mega Drive, 1992). There was International Track and Field (PlayStation One, 1996). And then we got the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series (first released on Nintendo Wii in 2007).
For the most recent Olympic Games (Tokyo 2020), we also had Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game. That was available on most major gaming platforms. Sadly the reviews weren’t great, and it looks like there won’t be an official cross-platform game for the Paris Olympics 2024. There’s also no sign of an update to the Mario & Sonic series this time round. The 2020 version was one of the more popular Nintendo Switch sports games, but it looks like we'll have to wait till 2028 at least for a sequel.Olympic Games 2024

Virtual versus reality: How realistic are these games?

Virtual sports games and real-world Olympic sports both celebrate athletic excellence and competition. Video games allow players to experience a wide array of Olympic sports, from track and field to swimming and gymnastics.
However, there are big differences between virtual sports and their real-world counterparts. Real-world Olympic sports require rigorous physical training and discipline over many years. Athletes undergo intense physical and mental preparation to compete at the highest levels.
Yes, virtual sports demand decent hand-eye coordination. Sometimes they involve full-body movement (in the case of motion-controlled gaming). Yes, professional esports gamers train relentlessly. But the physical challenge doesn’t really compare. Nevertheless, virtual sports games can act as a gateway for fans to develop a deeper appreciation for Olympic disciplines.
Track and field events are a cornerstone of the Olympic Games. A game like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 presents these events in a family-friendly, arcade-style format. It simplifies the complexities of real-world athletics into button presses and timing-based mini-games. In true Nintendo style, fun and accessibility come before realism.
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - The Official Video Game aimed for a more faithful recreation of key events like swimming. In the real world, competitors must master breathing patterns, strokes, and turns. Victories are often decided by fractions of a second. The sensory experience of being in the water and the tactical decision-making about pacing and positioning are key. The game attempts to honour these aspects, requiring players to manage rhythm, stamina, and timing to win races. It includes elements like starting reactions and turn timings. But in the real world, the physical and tactile nuances of swimming are far more complex.

Get in the mood for the Olympics 2024

Looking for sports-based games to play as we approach the Olympics 2024? Here are some great options:

For a nostalgia hit

Fancy a trip back to the glory days of skateboarding games? This remastered collection keeps the original games' excitement and iconic soundtrack, updating them with sharper graphics and smoother gameplay.

For a proper Olympic experience

This game brings together two of the most iconic characters in gaming history for an exhilarating array of Olympic events. Engage in a variety of sports, from track to gymnastics, with a playful twist that only Mario and Sonic can provide.

  • Play: Winter Games 2023
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5, STEAM, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S.
This game combines realistic graphics and intuitive gameplay, perfect for those who love the excitement of winter sports and want to test their skills in a virtual, frosty arena.

For football fans

  • Play: EA Sports FC 24
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Android, STEAM and Microsoft Windows.
The FIFA branding might be gone, but EA Sports continue to lead the way in the football sim category. It’s not perfect — most leading publications gave it a 7/10 — but if you want to play with up-to-date teams and experience moments of “pure footballing joy”, it’s hard to beat.

How video games are impacting real-world sports

Recently, a man who’s spent 8% of his waking life playing Football Manager got a job as head coach of an Icelandic football team. And according to Will Still, head coach at French club Reims, “people that play Football Manager understand the game a bit more.”
The football coach Amy Price has developed an approach inspired by video games. She “includes mission-based learning, superpowers, level-ups and even saving progress" in her sessions. She says this is inspired by experiences she had while playing on the Sega Mega Drive with her brothers.

And whilst it’s far more advanced than a video game, Formula 1 drivers spend hours in a simulator before each race.
While not a part of the Olympic 2024 Games, esports were included in the Asian Games as a medal event, signalling a shift in what is considered a sport. And skateboarding was included in the Olympic Games for the first time in 2020. Perhaps games like the Tony Hawks Pro Skater series, which popularised the sport, played a part.
Gaming has influenced the perception and practice of real-world sports in various ways. Video games have impacted not just the Olympic Games but the broader sports landscape.

Gaming like a champion

Some of the biggest names in sports use video games to unwind, to practise, and to channel their competitive spirit. Here are a few examples to inspire your next gaming session…
After winning the 2006 World Cup with Italy, legendary midfielder Andrea Pirlo said this: “I don’t feel pressure. I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, 9 July, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.” In his autobiography, Pirlo wrote that “after the wheel, the PlayStation is the best invention of all time.”
The former UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway has said that he used EA Sports UFC to become a better fighter. According to Holloway, “people would say, 'You're just playing games!' and I'd be, like, 'No, I'm not, I'm actually getting better at fighting.' And I wasn't lying!”.
And here are F1 drivers Max Verstappen and Lando Norris playing FIFA against each other:

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