Two interesting debuts on ESPN's pre-game show, both about blurring the line between the virtual and the real. The first, projected fantasy stats for players across the league, feels stupid. If experts can't even predict the outcome of games, if injury reports are suspect, how the hell are they going to get individual player stats correct? It's something that feels dumb now and there's no reason it would get better. Sports are a random information generator; they play the games because the outcomes (in general) are impossible to predict.

The second was immediately arresting. Madden has long been part of the media's coverage of the NFL. Until now, it's been used to predict games which, like the fantasy stats idea, doesn't work. In the last few seasons, they've used it to demonstrate in-game scenarios. But now ESPN (with EA SPORTS Virtual Playbook) has pulled individual player models out of the game and put them on the studio's demonstration field, interacting with the hosts.  It's clunky right now. Blowing the players up to life size shows just how little detail is in the hundreds of thousands of polygons game companies brag about. The hosts don't have an equivalent to a teleprompter yet: at times, Tom Jackson was further from the models than he meant to be. He walked around gingerly like he was going to knock something over. Of course, it's impressive how well it went. It must take a lot of preparation to choreograph. Its easy enough for a weatherman to interact with a blank, non-moving surface behind him: just watch the rendered version on the monitor in front. I can't see how to help a host mix with virtual beings seamlessly in three dimensions, but someone will figure it out. When they do, ESPN's got a great advantage over other shows: the ability to bring viewers directly into the eyes of players. Virtual worlds like Second Life always get a ton of attention as they fit nicely with how science fiction films saw people moving into virtual worlds, but it's more interesting to see virtual worlds come into our space.