Dumb Mondays: Should Bad Calls Be In Basketball Video Games?

This is Dumb Mondays, tipping off the workweek with silly facts, opinions, or predictions that you may or may not find interesting. This was originally JaoSming’s feature, but since he’s now at Visual Concepts and hard at work on 2KTV, I’ll be writing a few articles in his place. A new Monday feature may also be coming soon, so stay tuned!

If there’s one thing that sports fans can agree on, it’s that the referees are dumb. It’s not exactly a fair statement of course, as referees often have to make difficult calls and split-second decisions, with limited use of instant replay. Since no one is perfect, “dumb” is a harsh assessment of human error that unfortunately can occur at the worst possible time. Still, when a bad call goes against our favourite team, we’ll curse out the refs, calling them blind, stupid, and biased.

Bottom line, bad calls are like injuries; they’re an unfortunate part of the game that we hope not to see, but are bound to happen at some point. Therefore, I ask the question: since we want to see basketball video games continually become more and more realistic, would it be a dumb idea for them to include bad calls?

The thought sprang to mind when I noticed Rashidi (aka Real2KInsider) express his frustration with a screwy call while playing NBA 2K15. Now, that was obviously a glitch, but it does provide some unintentional realism, in that we do see some baffling calls (and non-calls) in the NBA. But what if moments like that were to occasionally happen by design, replicating human error and its impact on the sport?

I have to admit, I’m in two minds about it.

Phil Jackson chats with a referee in NBA Live 2003

When I first considered the possibility, I dismissed it as something that just wouldn’t be viable. Yes, it would be realistic, but is that necessarily a part of the game that we want to replicate? We’d rather not see bad calls be made in real life, so wouldn’t it be nicer if video games provided a little bit of wish fulfilment in that regard? I can’t imagine the NBA would be too thrilled at having referee shortcomings highlighted, either.

More importantly, it could easily end up making the games artificially difficult. It’s not hard to envision the AI exploiting bad calls to its advantage, getting away with hard fouls in the paint and benefitting from touch fouls at the other end, or wrongly awarding itself the ball to gain or retain possession in crunch time. Ideally the user would occasionally benefit from bad calls as well, and it could arguably add more differentiation between home and away games, but it could easily be skewed to favour the AI. Bad calls would need to be random to feel fair and realistic, but that could also leave the user feeling like they’re not in control. Kind of a Catch-22, there.

Still, having said that…it’s an interesting possibility. We do want the games to be more realistic, and as I discussed in The Tuesday Triple last week, that does mean allowing for a certain amount of unpredictability and undesirable results. Some passes should miss their target completely, without being intercepted or deflected by the defense. Some low percentage attempts should become lucky shots. Some dunks and open jumpshots should be missed, mistakes should be made, and not every play or defensive strategy that’s run to perfection should yield the result you want. Bad calls are in that same vein.

Tracy McGrady pleads his case in NBA Live 2003

Again, it would be difficult to implement properly, but if the bad calls were balanced and not too frequent, they could add an interesting, challenging, and realistic element to gameplay. My old coach used to tell us, you can’t rely on every call being right to win games; you need to play well enough to get the job done, even if some bad calls are going against you. It was a tough pill to swallow as a teenager playing in the local junior league, but looking back years later, he was absolutely right. It’s an aspect of sport that you have to overcome, so it wouldn’t be out of place in a basketball sim.

I would, however, suggest that the user have some control over this element of the game. A slider, or even an on/off toggle (similar to the CPU Assistance and Keep Scores Close options in previous games) would not go astray, so that users who feel it spoils the game could adjust its impact, or disable that element of gameplay completely. If it’s in the game, but optional and switched off by default, then it can’t really do any damage. At worst, it would just be an option that only a few people make use of, if they want an added element of challenge.

Would you like to see bad calls represented in basketball video games? If so, how would you implement them? Or, is this a part of the sport that just doesn’t need to be represented in video games? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!

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December 22, 2014 11:11 pm

Would be fun if we can turn the bad calls on/off and see the reactions of your opponent.

December 23, 2014 6:47 am

I would like it to be a feature in the game, but only if it could be turned off.

Then again, I’m not so sure this isn’t already in the game. There have been plenty of times I have been fouled by the AI and there was no call. Also, there have been a few times I stood in front of a driving player and clearly upon replay I had established position for the charge, but no call was made.

December 23, 2014 10:46 am

I like the current glitch system of bad calls. It’s unpredictable and I would react the same way to a bad call in real life.