Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Difficulty modifiers

I am not a big fan of sports in which success or failure is based primarily on judging. I'm not saying that gymnastics or ice skating or boxing or dressage can't be thrilling to watch, but when the bulk of the decision about who won comes down to a panel of judges I know I'm in for an exercise in frustration. The thing is, I don't generally agree with people. Even my fervent passion for football is hardly likely to outlive the miracle of Messi. The more games of it that I see the more games I find that come down to the entirely mercurial foul and penalty calls of the referees.

Nevertheless there is a brilliant element in the completely judged sport of Olympic Diving that I long to have applied everywhere, where anything is judged: 

Degree of Difficulty, or difficulty modifiers.

My badly interpreted version of it is this: Any good diver can execute a fairly perfect dive and get a good base score, but as twists and somersaults are added to the dive, as it becomes more and more difficult to do, that base score needs to be multiplied by a higher and higher number, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, and so on. A perfect double twist dive must be worth considerably more than a perfect swan dive. And thus too, theoretically at least, if a diver executes a dive no one else in the world can do, but does it less than perfectly, it is still a winning dive over a dive pretty much anyone can do that is done flawlessly.

Of course this brings up all sorts of those same judging problems in all those sports that I hate. But are these problems worse than the fact that someone making a bad cross into the box in football that ends up bouncing off an opponents face into the goal is worth exactly the same number of points (one) as a backheeled pass to a teammate who brilliantly chips that ball in a soft loft over the goalie's head for a goal? 

I actually don't know anymore.

The thing is though that I find this difficulty modifier more useful outside of sports, like in the arts, which are already evaluated by less objective standards, having no goals, runs, or baskets to tabulate. You may have been dazzled by Joaquin Phoenix's performance as The Joker. He even won an academy award for it. But for any real student of difficulty modifiers there are many signals that he did not deserve to win any particular awards for the role. The fact that no fewer than four other actors in 55 years have played the same role to wild, fawning, and amazed acclaim suggests that the difficulty level of playing The Joker is insanely low. There may be no role that makes an actor look more brilliant, with the possible exception of playing a developmentally disabled person. I'm not saying Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, and Joaquin Phoenix aren't excellent actors, or that they didn't do a great job in all their respective, legendary, fawned over versions of The Joker, but that should be a "great job" times one-point-zero. Put any of those actors in a romantic comedy, where virtually no actor has ever won an academy award for best actor, and where incredibly few are ever lionized, except maybe by me, and then see what they can do. 

But don't forget to multiply it by 1.7 first.

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