We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with some comparisons of my basketball gaming habits to my video gaming habits in general, and considering how they reflect one another.
In many ways, basketball gaming is notably unique compared to other genres of gaming. For example, in a basketball game, you participate in the sport of basketball. In other genres – outside of mini-games – you don’t. I know that these are the thought-provoking insights that you all come to the NLSC and read my articles for! In all seriousness, basketball gaming naturally involves different expectations, activities, and habits compared to other video game genres. One generally approaches sports titles with different ideas and methods than, say, an RPG or First Person Shooter.
And yet, some gaming habits cross the boundaries of genre, and habits in general are difficult to break. To put it another way, we each have our own gaming philosophies that influence how we play all our favourite games. I’ve stuck with a certain type of MyPLAYER build for years for the same reasons many of my Fallout playthroughs ended up being remarkably similar. That’s just one example of how my basketball gaming habits resemble the way that I play other games that I enjoy, even when those games have very little to do with the virtual hardwood. It hardly gets in the way of my enjoyment, but it does make it difficult to change things up when I feel so inclined.
As you probably know if you’re familiar with my articles or listen to our podcast, I’m a big fan of the Fallout series. I’ve previous discussed how my nostalgia for Fallout 3 is actually quite closely linked to my nostalgia for NBA Live 09. Having read posts from other Fallout gamers, I know that I’m not alone in seeking out the “perfect” playthrough, which involves creating a character that best suits one’s style of play and preferred narrative direction. That’s always a lot of fun, but the downside is that once you’ve figured out that build and all your ideal plot outcomes, it becomes very, very difficult to deviate from that template. I can try, but I’ll quickly fall into old habits.
That same affinity for a familiar character build that fits me like a glove is why I’ve mostly stuck to creating playmaking point guards for MyCAREER and its connected modes. I discovered how much I enjoy racking up assists when serendipity placed my shooting guard at the point in place of an injured Ty Lawson in NBA 2K13, and since then, I’ve preferred to be a playmaker. There was some slight evolution when hybrid Archetypes and builds were introduced, but I was still a point guard that dunked, shot threes, and broke assist records. I enjoyed the role and it worked out well in Pro-Am, but it did lead to some repetitive goals, results, and experiences in MyCAREER.
Even when I changed things up by creating a big man in NBA 2K20 and NBA 2K21, my gaming habits led to some familiar outcomes. I tend to take the heroic route in Fallout games, and select dialogue options that reflect a polite character. Even though I know it’s a video game with no real world consequences, it’s how I end up role-playing my avatars. In fact, I’ll still pick those dialogue options when opting for the “evil” path, making me a courteous villain. Of course, one could argue that that makes my characters even more sinister and slimy, being jovial and polite, only to blow up an entire town by detonating the atomic bomb that it’s been built around.
Likewise, I always find myself choosing the dialogue options in MyCAREER that are unselfish, humble, and non-confrontational. Once again, these are characters in a video game; if I offend them, there are no real world repercussions! This has led to some unexpected trade-offs with team chemistry and fan support climbing and falling, though it’s generally been good for chemistry. All the same, this is one of my stuffier gaming habits, especially since I also play the Grand Theft Auto series, and GTA games generally don’t have sympathetic protagonists! In any event, this is why I’m bothered when the MyPLAYER character says something that’s rude or boastful.
Another one of my gaming habits is to stockpile items rather than use them. For example, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have several unique weapons. Quite often after I’ve obtained them, I’ve left them sitting in storage in my safe house/home base, rather than putting them to use. I’ve been able to curb that habit somewhat in a few of my playthroughs, but there are certain weapons, clothing items, and even some of the rarer consumables (such as Nuka Cola Quantum) that I mostly obtain just to have in my collection. Come to think of it, I could trace the roots of this habit back to Super Mario Bros. 3. I liked to hold onto my stored power-ups for as long as possible!
The habit of collecting items and never putting them to use would definitely describe my approach to MyTEAM and Ultimate Team. Generally speaking, once I was able to put together a squad I enjoyed playing with, I wasn’t rotating anyone else in unless I happened to collect a player I wanted even more, or a better version of a player that I already owned. The result was a lot of cards that were just there to pad the numbers and obtain collection-based rewards. Thanks to Seasons and The Agenda in NBA 2K21 though, I’ve actually had a reason to use different cards that would normally just be collecting dust (so to speak). It’s been a great addition to MyTEAM, in my view.
See, that’s sometimes what it takes to break our gaming habits: a change in the game that actually provides an incentive to try something new. The addition of 2K Pro-Am would be another good example here. I grew up playing video games with friends and family, but I also played a lot of single player games, and didn’t have any interest in online play. My basketball gaming habits changed when we began organising regular sessions of 2K Pro-Am beginning in NBA 2K16. I was also regularly playing Rocket League with a friend around about the same time I got into Pro-Am, so that’s actually an example of my other gaming habits being influenced by the virtual hardwood.
I’ll admit to struggling to find the perfect note to end a gaming session on, because after all, “Just One More Level” is one of those habits that are hard to overcome. I’ve had some Fallout sessions run into the wee hours of the morning, which is probably why I was always up for “just one more” Rec or Pro-Am game (at least on nights that turned out to be a good session). I’ve had some marathon sessions in franchise and career modes as well, and hey, when I’ve had the time to do it and I’m enthusiastic about what I’m playing, it never feels like time wasted. When I’m into a game of any genre, it’s at the front of my rotation for as long as it takes for me to feel done with it.
Well, most of the time, anyway. Sometimes I’ll stop playing a game because it feels like a good place to end the session, but I’ll be hesitant to pick it up again because it would be messing with what felt like a perfect way to leave it. I know it sounds utterly ridiculous – even to me when I put it into words like that – but it’s one of those gaming habits, basketball or otherwise, that’s difficult to explain. There’s a part of me that wants to leave the memories alone, even though I want to create more memories with a game (or gain closure, as the case may be). From franchises games to saves in GTA, I’ve had my progress stymied because it’s felt like it’s in too good of a place to touch.
When it comes to older games re-entering my rotation, my basketball gaming habits are a little different to other genres. In recent years, I’ve found it more difficult to go back to older sim games, especially if they’re really showing their age, or I’ve already achieved a sense of closure with them. There’s also less to do when revisiting recent titles, with server shutdowns stripping modes and content from them. Some games are still fun to dust off for a while though, and I could still play a couple of them regularly if I felt like it. Arcade titles tend to hold up better because of their style, while my other favourites – Fallout, GTA, Zelda, WWE, and so on – are always fun to revisit.
Of course, the way that I like to play sim basketball games is a major factor here. I prefer twelve minute quarters and 82 game seasons, and that’s a big time investment when a game is new, let alone when it’s a few years old. Although I do enjoy going back and playing older basketball games – for Wayback Wednesday or simply my own enjoyment – it’s hard to play a season in occasional snippets. It’s why you need to make peace with simulating, or not be hooked on the latest release. When there isn’t an annual release, it’s easier to enjoy a game at your leisure. If you’re still enjoying the newest hoops game though, there’s less incentive to replace it with an old favourite.
As long as you’re enjoying yourself and not encroaching on anyone else’s good time, there’s no wrong way to play video games. To that end, there’s absolutely no shame in being a creature of habit, either. Still, there are times I like to change up my gaming habits, be it on the virtual hardwood, in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, or elsewhere. Familiarity and routine have provided me with consistently enjoyable experiences, but when you always follow the same template, you do wonder what you’re missing out on. There’s nothing wrong with the “same old”, but whenever I’ve been able to make changes – a new path in Fallout, a different MyPLAYER build – it has felt rewarding.
It also highlights the importance of innovation in gaming, because sometimes we do need that push to break our habits. If not for The Agenda, I’d have MyTEAM cards going to waste in NBA 2K21. If not for Pro-Am, I wouldn’t have been as eager to give online play and different builds a try. At the same time, the ability to stick with my traditional approach highlights the importance of consistent features, and not losing any depth year-to year. I’m a creature of habit, but I can be persuaded to try something new when there’s ample incentive and the likelihood of a fresh, fun, and rewarding experience. It’s not drifting back onto a familiar path that’s the real challenge.