904: Sports

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Also, all financial analysis. And, more directly, D&D.
Title text: Also, all financial analysis. And, more directly, D&D.


A random number generator is any object or program that arbitrarily selects and produces a number from within a pre-defined range of numbers. For example, a single six-sided die will produce any integer between 1 and 6, inclusive. In an unweighted random number generator, every number that it can possibly produce has the same odds of coming up. When rolling a single precision die, for instance, there is an equal chance of rolling a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. Conversely, in a weighted random number generator, some numbers are more likely to come up than others. For example, when rolling two dice, a seven is far more likely to come up than a two, as there are six possible ways to roll a seven but only one way to roll a two.

All sports generate numbers that are inherently random. Home runs, goals, sacks, passes, shots, hits, misses, errors, and many more such statistics are generated in every match of every sports game. The rules of the particular sport, as well as the skill of the participants, introduces bias toward certain values; hence, sports matches are weighted random number generators.

If the generator is weighted to favor a specific team in a specific game, that is discussed. Then the results of the game (more random numbers) are discussed. It's the discussion that is the narrative part. If a player breaks a record, that becomes part of the narrative. The number is random, but weighted because of player skill or the rules of the sport.

College sports in the US are especially prone to this kind of narrative-first journalism with their penchant for using more arbitrary systems of placement to determine postseason play than professional sports which have almost all standardized their systems around sometimes highly complicated metrics to determine who reaches the postseason. Prime examples of this are the new College Football Playoff which has a committee release polls every week after Week 9 of the college football season, with the top four teams in the final poll playing for the championship, and March Madness where a similar committee ranks the top 68 teams in the country in a bracket for the championship tournament. The old Bowl Championship Series, which determined the NCAA Division I college football champion from 1998 to 2013, literally used computers generating numbers and algorithms based on team performance as a heavy part of their ranking systems that determined which two teams played for the championship at the end of the season.

The title text applies this to financial/stock results/forecasts as well and, most appropriately, to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a tabletop role-playing game. In D&D the players and Dungeon Master are forging a narrative about the characters and world they have collectively made up; the players all decide on courses of action (such as negotiating with townspeople, intimidating nobles, attacking monsters, to name a tiny fraction of possibilities) and whether they succeed is determined by rolling dice of various numbers of sides. The numerical results are woven into a narrative by the Dungeon Master.

This strip is one of several in which Randall affectionately trivializes sports (see for instance 1107: Sports Cheat Sheet, 1480: Super Bowl and 1507: Metaball).


[Two Cueball like commentators sit behind a desk.]
Commentator to the left: A weighted random number generator just produced a new batch of numbers.
Commentator to the right: Let's use them to build narratives!
[Caption below the panel:]
All sports commentary

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This comic highlights the tendency to interpret so-called "events" based on essentially random, day-to-day changes that are indistinguishable from trends. Sports writers and directly accused of this. Financial analysts are equally culpable. D&D Dungeon Masters are guilty as well, but I reckon Randall states this somewhat tongue-in-cheek as the role of a DM is to deliberately spin a good yarn. --Smartin (talk) 04:21, 3 January 2013 (UTC)

having lived in america and abroad, i think this applies heavily to america more so than other countries, although, more generally, we could throw in other countries that have 24-hour sports coverage (which is not most). similar to 24-hour news coverage, eventually you're going to be left with dead air once you're done with real news and so you invent narratives and sensationalise the most insignificant events. as for some evidence that this is an american thing and not "all sports commentary", see trevor noah's take: Trevor Noah - Sports in America -- 19:53, 16 January 2015 (UTC)

Got a link?

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 19:46, 23 January 2015 (UTC)

It feels more like Randall talks about sports with a kind of affection rather than with vicious sarcasm. While financial narratives derived from essentially random fluctuations are a bad thing in general (as people invest money in the belief that such things are more predictable than they are), sports is something different. For most people sports are just entertainment and part of the fun of is anticipation which means crawling over every drop of information and trying to guess if it'll make a difference or not. Fans want to be emotionally invested and somehow in control of their teams fate. And I'm pretty sure Randall knows that and as ever is just poking fun rather than trying to undermine a whole industry. It's very human to create narratives around our lives because it makes our day to day lives feel less random. When it's 'just for fun' then there's nothing bad about it it's only when it starts to involve people deluding themselves about large sums of other peoples money that it becomes a bad thing. LostAlone (talk) 11:57, 6 April 2015 (UTC)