Fantasy Sport and Aristotelian Flourishing
According to Aristotle, humans can only flourish in a community, in particular in a polis or city-state. The Greek city-state was a community that was large enough to be self-sufficient, but small enough that everyone’s lives were intertwined. In modern society very few people live in a true polis. The vast majority of people experience the isolation characteristic of either city life or rural existence. We also live in a pluralistic world in which the shared worldview and values of people in the ancient Greek city-states are nowhere to be found. And yet, I will argue that Aristotle’s analysis of human nature is confirmed by the fact that in this deeply divided modern condition, humans show an unmistakable propensity to create poleis both locally and through the connecting power of the internet.
The development of character is inexplicably connected to the life of the polis. Thus, the poleis we create and in which we participate have a profound impact on who we become and whether we can flourish. According to Aristotle, virtue and character are about the regulation and perfection of desire. It is habituation that enables one to perfect one’s character so that it serves one well in community life. What is the effect of having of one’s desires, emotions, and choices molded by virtual communities such as fantasy football leagues? This is the question I explore in this paper. I will suggest that virtual character development does have precedent in an Aristotelian scheme, in that Aristotelian citizens were influenced by fictional characters in the literature and mythologies of their day, as well as by famous athletes in their cities. I will argue that a significant difference of involvement in fantasy sports is that the connections one makes to the secondary members of a fantasy sports league are of a narrow sort. This might have an impact on character development concerning the interaction of first level participants in their workplaces, but is unlikely to have a direct significant impact on family relationships. On the other hand, the relationships among first level participants in fantasy sports leagues can actually be improved when friends and relatives use fantasy sports as a means of interacting with one another across long distances. An Aristotelian perspective on flourishing is a well-balanced life in which all of our truly human capacities are developed and expressed. I will argue that in proper proportion involvement in fantasy sports in our modern fractured society is an excellent way to reclaim some of the holistic integration of the ancient Greek city-state, and to create genuine poleis and a richer sense of connection to like-minded citizens.
Other advantages of fantasy sports arise from the fact that human life is naturally limited. Our interactions with others are restricted to a small group of people and a narrow range of events. According to Aristotle, “virtue is a disposition relating to choice”, and given the fact that one can only develop virtue through repetitive actions, then to the degree that one’s experiences are limited so is the breadth of one’s virtue. Fantasy games of all sorts increase the scenarios under which we can develop dispositions. As long as the feedback matches what we encounter in the real world and develops dispositions that serve us well in the real world, then variety of choices will lead to a more fully developed character.