About 93 percent of Americans watch sports. I am one of the 7 percent that doesn't watch a single game in a given year. Yet recently I have come to realize that there is, in fact, a sport I like: Call of Duty, an online video game about virtually shooting the avatars of other players, ideally in the face.
Call of Duty is, on the surface, a first-person shooter game. But with its annual season, its consistent playing field for all who compete, and its intricate, fast-moving tactical play, it's also an "esport"—one that just happens to be built around the simulation of repeatedly murdering everyone on the other team.
One of the reasons for my lack of interest in traditional sports is that they serve as a stand-in for violent nationalistic conflict. This is particularly true of football. Call of Duty, I suspect, fulfills a similar role on a micro level, channeling individual aggression rather than amplifying it, transferring certain impulses into something that is, if not necessarily socially beneficial, then at least not terribly destructive.
The game is also fun, and the reliable provision of fun is itself a social benefit. Call of Duty offers an accessible, inexpensive way for millions of people around the world to harmlessly enjoy themselves, often in the virtual company (if not the physical presence) of friends.
Indeed, for all the ways the game resembles a conventional sport, its physical harmlessness is a notable difference. Even someone like me, who has a strong aversion to real-world violence, can enjoy it. Yes, the game involves killing other people, but what's important is that it's only simulated: Unlike football, no one playing Call of Duty actually gets hurt.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Call of Duty".