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It is only recently, though, that being a gladiator has become particularly entertaining in itself. Sure, there was a kernel of quite amusing doing-unto-others in the ancient combat sports, but the surrounding problems of dismemberment and daily getting to fight somebody eager to take out all the frustrations of a nine month trip in a slave ship on you probably took the edge off the fun.
Even today, competing in a violent professional sport is likely to involve physical pain and vigorous exercise, two things which all right-thinking people avoid like sunlight.
Robot Wars, however, gives pencil-necked geeks the chance to get in on some good old caveman entertainment, and play with cool toys to boot. And it's guiltless, because only the 'bots get hurt - no more damage to your Sensitive New Age Person reputation when you cheer the ice hockey brawls or wait, drooling, for a field full of NASCARs to whang off each other. I wouldn't go so far as to say that being a Robot Wars competitor will actually ATTRACT women (although, ladies and queers, I guarantee it'll attract husky interesting Real Men and amusing little geeks like nobody's business), but at least it won't send most chicks running for the hills - which is more than many hobbies can say.
You don't have to sink Huge Dollars into Robot Wars if your ego can cope with competing in the lighter weight classes - or if you make some nightmarish heavyweight contraption from dirt cheap scrapyard leftovers and ride it to the match. And, provided you live in the USA, it's not a terribly big deal to get to the event. I'm conveniently 7,400 miles away from the arena with big deep wet things in the way, but had I the plane fare, I'd be there.
And it's this accessibility, I think, that's the coolest thing about Robot Wars. Anybody with a functioning brain, a few likeminded buddies and rudimentary manual dexterity can slap together something that'll at least get a laugh when it hits the arena, and give the cachet that only rubbing up against other bonsai Truckasauri can. You don't need to be a genetic freak of nature to compete (comments about competitors nonetheless blessed with unusual numbers of chromosomes are welcome) you don't have to worry about tearing any ligaments (OK, maybe heavyweight builders do) you don't even have to give up your day job.
Perhaps, 20 years from now, the Robot Wars Grand Final every year will outrate the Superbowl on VRTV. If that happens it'll be fabulous (if only because people in Australia will actually be able to see the action) but I hope the grassroots competition will continue. Because that's what it's all about. Crushing your opposition into a crimson paste, burning their village to the ground, slaughtering their livestock, selling their children into slavery and sowing their fields with botulin toxin.
No, wait. I mean "engaging in a hearty, chivalrous test of engineering skill and hand-eye coordination."
Slip of the tongue.