12/15/2011 04:37 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2012

Whats Your Fantasy?

Professional sports mania is as American as apple pie. From the first World Series in 1903, to Superbowl I in 1967, to the Michael Jordan craze of the 1990's, our lives have always been intertwined with those of our athletic heroes. Religiously, we buy jerseys, pack stadiums, and congregate around TVs to root for our favorite players and teams. These traditions have been passed down for generations -- so why has Generation X detached?

I'm twenty-five, and right now, most everyone I know considers fantasy football and sports video games to be more compelling than the real thing. In the midst of a recession, you can't help but feel disconnected from overpaid superstar athletes -- and especially in the wake of the recent lockouts, which were basically staring contests between billionaire team owners and millionaire players.

The truth is, unless you're a die-hard fan, the outcome of an actual game won't directly affect your happiness. But winning hundreds, even thousands from playing fantasy football can!
The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that 35 million people worldwide play fantasy sports for money, and the economy has made anything bearing a financial investment that much more significant. If you're a team fanatic, you're invested in one game per week -- but fantasy football makes every game crucial. Larry Fitzgerald's fantasy implications can make a meaningless Week Twelve match-up between the 3-7 Arizona Cardinals and 2-8 Saint Louis Rams tremendously important -- the point production could determine a win, loss, or the exchange of hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

The other thing? You can be the world's most ride-or-die Jets fan, but your investment won't guarantee a win. The opposite is true in fantasy football. The most knowledgeable, dedicated owners usually win their league's championships. Mock drafts, fantasy consultants (yep, they exist), mobile player trackers, magazines, websites, and television shows are all used in the arms race to achieve fantasy supremacy. Knowing that you can win if you do your homework makes fantasy football -- and watching the games -- that much more thrilling.

And then there are the bragging rights, which is one of the reasons sports video games like John Madden NFL Football are so wildly successful. I'll be the first one talking smack the Monday after the Cowboys beat the Giants, but the real NFL only gives me that opportunity twice a season. An avid Madden player can claim bragging rights 24/7/365! Even better, gamers can play as their favorite NFL superstars anytime they please, eliminating the need to wait until Sunday to get their football fix.

The NFL's 135-day lockout was shorter than the NBA's, but for Madden fanatics it was even harder to endure, for one reason: it delayed the release of Madden 2012! During those three excruciatingly long weeks last August, Facebook, Twitter and sports blogs were ablaze with outraged Generation X gamers, begging for a release date. The premiere basketball video game NBA 2K12 served as a short-term substitute -- but the truth was that when it came to the NFL lockout, many fans seemed more furious about missing their beloved game than the possibility of missing a football season!

The two most precious resources in the world are time and money. The average fan isn't a season ticket holder, or even an NBA League Pass or NFL Red Zone subscriber. With so much of our clock and capital being devoted not to the actual sports, but to their video game and fantasy offspring -- will the focus on real sports ever return?