Variable Gravity (VG) Sports
Variable Gravity Sports
Image from Worldtree + StableDiffusion
Three players wearing suit-integrated exoskeletons begin the null-g round of their VG Nullball game
Class of sporting and competitive activities that make use of the location-based nature of spin generated gravity in space habitats to add one or more layers of additional difficulty. Individual sports may be solo activities or team events and may vary widely in complexity. The simplest VG sports take place on larger habs at a distance from the hub such that gravity and Coriolis forces are somewhat higher or lower, but conditions are otherwise stable for the duration of the activity or event. More complex versions may involve moving toward or away from the axis of rotation in a steady manner, causing the apparent gravity and Coriolis forces to gradually increase or decrease in a predictable manner. The most complex VG sports place the entire court, field of play, or even sporting venue on a high speed track or within a fast moving elevator that rapidly travels closer to or further from the center of rotation, either at random or in response to the players' score or behavior during the game. In some cases, this may even extend to the game space itself playing a role, subjecting players to abrupt acceleration/deceleration or some multiple of local gravity or free fall conditions of unknown duration and with minimal or no warning.

Low to mid-complexity variable gravity sports often make use of local intra-habitats, as these often provide a large and stable platform for a sport, either in its entirety or as part of a series of regular changes over the course of the activity. In the latter case, players move from one intra-habitat to another, whether ascending toward the hub (causing gravity to decrease, but Coriolis forces to increase) or descending toward the rim (causing gravity to increase, but Coriolis forces to decrease). In the case of some VG sports, the move from one intra-habitat to another takes place in between rounds of the game, sometimes separated by hours or days. In other cases the move takes place as part of the activity or event itself, with players jumping, diving, or otherwise propelling themselves off of one intra-habitat with the goal of landing on another. Some versions of these sports require the player(s) to only use their unaugmented body and mind and perhaps a few simple tools to effect such moves, while others allow increasing amounts and types of equipment and augmentation (with a concomitant increase in the level of difficulty expected).

The first variable gravity sports arose in the pre-Orbital League habitats of the 150s AT. The adolescent Superiors of the habs were always looking for new ways to entertain themselves and found a particularly compelling method in a series of video and virch recordings of parkour enthusiasts practicing their skills in a variety of exotic locations. Seeking to replicate these experiences within the confines of their habitat environments, the young Su quickly invented a version of the sport that involved moving rapidly through the different levels of a hab as well as up and down the service tunnels and shafts connecting them. By necessity, such movement also meant experiencing equally rapid changes in the apparent gravity and Coriolis forces as a player traveled nearer to or farther from the center of the hab.

While parkour was the first sport to be adapted to a variable gravity environment, it was followed shortly thereafter by several games and competitions that borrowed from it. Multi-level tag, races or marathons, free-climbing in hab spokes, and games of racquetball or handball in the larger freight elevators all appeared, evolved, and spread across the League. Initially, they were met with concern and even fear by local authorities, who sometimes attempted to prevent the games from taking place due to concerns about safety or habitat integrity. However, due to a combination of lessons learned from past failures on Old Earth to suppress recreational drugs and sexual activity and the basic human need for recreation even in space, such efforts were quickly replaced by a regime of safety regulations, scheduling, and the creation of dedicated VG sports spaces. Some of the more cynical commentators of the day also suggested that another major factor was the fact that many of the League's younger leadership had themselves engaged in VG sports in their childhood, but this idea never gained much attention and eventually faded from the public discourse.

In the Current Era, variable gravity sports, along with low gravity, zero gravity, and inverse gravity activities are an ancient and even venerable part of the complex tapestry of daily life in the Terragen Sphere. At any given moment, across billions of habitats, trillions of sophonts are engaging in variable gravity recreation, both as individuals and teams. Some representative examples include, but are by no means limited to:

Climbing: Participants may climb habitat end caps, side walls, spokes, or support cables. While spin-generated gravity reduces as the climb progresses, this is usually compensated for by the height of the climb, which can extend for tens, hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in the larger habs. Variant forms involving the use of envirosuits, vacuum equipment, augmentations, or specialized bodies add multiple layers of options and complexity when choosing the type of climb to engage in. Fortunately, vot-based helper systems have made this a relatively simple process for all but the most sophisticated climbers. Inverse climbing - in which participants descend - sometimes head first - into ever increasing gravity is generally considered an entire separate class of activity.

Running/free-running: Participants move along a course that either extends across multiple habitat levels or - in the case of habs with continuous ledge intra-habitats spiraling out from the hub to the rim - offers a continuous and smooth descent/ascent between the habitat core and outermost level. Participants descending toward the hab rim experience ever increasing gravity in addition to the effects of physical exertion (but may also enjoy increasing air pressure and oxygen levels), while ascending courses provide constantly reducing gravity, but are usually longer and often introduce an increasing number of obstacles or other elements (e.g. reducing air pressure or even vacuum) that raise the difficulty level to compensate.

Kayaking/rafting: Participants navigate a series of watercourses extending across multiple ledges on a hab's end caps or side walls (or spokes in the larger habs). Waterfalls, sometimes with heights measured in hundreds of meters in the lower gravity sections, connect each ledge in a descending progression and participants descend by going over each waterfall and falling down to the next river segment on the next lower ledge. As the river course descends, the distance between ledges reduces to maintain a fairly constant acceleration and velocity between each level. In some cases, participants use smart-matter based equipment that extends or converts into fancloth, wings, or re-usable parachutes to control their descent from level to level.

Cliff diving: Participants jump between high altitude/low gravity intra-habitats and use the increased distance and slower rate of fall to perform an extended series of in-air acrobatics before entering a deep body of water on the lower level. A sub-category makes use of both the greater distance between levels and additional equipment to increase the duration of a participant's fall.

Mobile venue activities: A broad class of sporting events and activities in which the participants remain in the same location (court, field, etc.), but the entire location is raised or lowered while play is going on, resulting in changes in gravity and therefore level of difficulty. Depending on the variant, gravity may be adjusted based on a team or player's score, penalties, or at random in the middle of play with no warning given and all parties expected to adapt immediately to the changing circumstances.
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Development Notes
Text by Todd Drashner
Initially published on 01 May 2023.