Monday Tip-Off: Do We Still Have Fun with Basketball Games?

NLSC Thrillho in a 2K Pro-Am game in NBA 2K17

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.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a fan of basketball video games. It’s what we cover here at the NLSC, so unless you’re a Forum veteran who’s mostly sticking around for the chatter in the off-topic sections, basketball gaming is probably why you’re (hopefully!) visiting us on a regular basis. And if content related to basketball video games is what you’re after, then it’s quite likely that you’re very much into the hobby. In short, it’s probably safe to say that most of us around these parts are having fun with basketball games, in one way or another.

Or are we? Discussions about a game’s problems seem to have more steam than topics talking about how much fun we’re having. There are times when it seems that most of the conversations that aren’t related to modding are concerned with troubleshooting and complaints. Those are obviously valid and important issues to talk about, of course, but I do wonder why we’re not as eager to talk about our more positive experiences with hoops titles. As such, there are times when I think it’s fair to ask: do we still have fun with basketball games?

First of all, let me say that I’m as guilty of grumbling as anyone else. Whether it’s in my feature articles, on the NLSC Podcast, or in Forum posts, not everything I’ve had to say about basketball gaming has been positive. They’ve been my honest opinions, and in most cases I’ve tried to frame them as constructively as possible, but it does seem easier to vent and complain than compliment and acknowledge the things that I do like. As I mentioned last week, I’ve fallen back on snark at times, and as the other NLSC THRILLHO squad members will attest to, I’ll drop the constructive tone (along with some profanities) during the more frustrating moments when we play.

Cover player Paul George dunks the basketball in NBA 2K17

And that’s OK! We shouldn’t be shutting down critical discussions, or refraining from negative feedback (though a cooler head does prevent it from turning into an unproductive rant). Going back to what I said in last week’s column, it’s important that we can critique basketball games, pointing out the good and the bad, what needs to be fixed and what needs to be added. However, if the only things we ever have to say about basketball games are negative, if all we’re ever expressing is disappointment, can we honestly say that we’re having fun with them? Is it an enjoyable pastime, if we don’t have anything positive to share? Did we used to have as many complaints?

Let’s begin with that last question. In that regard, I don’t think too much has changed. I can remember discussions in our original Forum where gamers expressed dissatisfaction with NBA Live 2000. There were a lot of positive comments as well, but not everyone was completely happy with the way it turned out. These days, NBA Live 2000 is remembered as a classic, and for good reason; for its day, it was a fine basketball game. Still, for as long as we’ve been enthusiastically playing basketball video games, we’ve also been criticising them, wishing certain aspects were better, and in all fairness, probably going overboard with our complaints at times.

At the same time, a few things have definitely changed. The bar has been raised in terms of what constitutes a satisfactory amount of realism, and we’re harsher critics as a result. Interestingly, I’ve seen some gamers express a preference for those older sim titles that aren’t as realistic as recent releases, citing the more simplistic approach as being more fun. During a particularly frustrating session of 2K Pro-Am over the weekend, I remarked to the guys that I’d had more fun playing NBA Live 2002 for last week’s Wayback Wednesday feature, so I can see their point. In some ways, perhaps we did have more fun with games from a couple of generations ago.

It is fun to revisit old favourites every now and again, and enjoy a more simple experience where “video game tactics” reliably get the job done. I certainly understand why some people might still prefer that style, and I’m all for seeking out the gaming experience that you enjoy the most. It should be noted, however, that we certainly did our fair share of complaining back in the day. The increase in realism is something that we as basketball gamers generally wanted to see, so bugs and other issues aside, the increase in realism should also mean that we’re having more fun, and enjoying the games more than when they weren’t as realistic as we would have liked.

Nostalgia is unquestionably a factor here, but at the same time, it’s probably fair to say that we made the most of basketball games back in the day, and were perhaps a little more accepting of their shortcomings. With the bar getting higher and higher these days, it’s a bigger letdown when a game doesn’t meet all of our expectations. I believe that the increased interest in online play is also a factor, as our enjoyment of basketball games relies on each other more than it did in the past. Cheesers who take advantage of exploits, poor sportsmanship, and antisocial interactions can all taint the experience, and weren’t really issues when offline play was more popular.

I’d also suggest that to some extent, it’s a by-product of a common attitude we see online. Positive feedback and compliments are regarded as sucking up, myopic fanboyism, or ignorance of what constitutes good quality. Although negativity can and will be just as easily dismissed as “hating”, it’s often regarded as an indication of intelligence and honesty. All too often, a positive reaction is seen as evidence that you can’t critique or discern, whereas a negative one is supposedly a sign of expert knowledge and high standards. I mean, only an ill-informed person would fail to notice such glaring problems, and dare to enjoy what is clearly terrible…right?

The phenomenon of online cynicism aside, it tends to be much easier to talk about something that we dislike rather than something that we like. Contentment and satisfaction doesn’t exactly prompt us to be outspoken, after all. If you’re enjoying something, you generally just enjoy it. If you’re dissatisfied, you speak out in search of a resolution or in an effort to effect change, or to find validation in the knowledge that you’re not alone in your disappointment. Simply put, we have more to say when we’re unhappy or experiencing difficulties, and more incentive to speak up.

It’s understandable, but also unfortunate. I do think that we should celebrate and share our enjoyment of basketball video games, because I believe that by and large, we do still have fun with them…even if sometimes appears otherwise. Once again, I’m not suggesting that we stifle negative opinions, because they’re valid and important to the development of future games. However, we definitely shouldn’t be hesitant or even ashamed to talk about how much fun we’re having with our virtual basketball experiences, either. There are aspects of basketball games that we like, and other aspects that we don’t. It’s OK to talk about both.

Current Utah Jazz jerseys, as worn by Derrick Favors in NBA Live 16

Finally, when you take a look at recent basketball games, it’s obvious that they have a lot to offer. They’re as realistic as they’ve ever been, and in the case of NBA 2K in particular, as deep as they’ve ever been, too. There’s a variety of robust game modes that cater to different tastes, and offer a change of pace if desired. That’s not to say that older games weren’t fun in their day; they brought an experience to the table that most of us enjoyed, and again, if you prefer a less realistic approach, they can still be fun today. But on the whole, I don’t think that basketball games are any less fun now than they used to be, and I think that most gamers do enjoy them just as much.

If there’s one thing that I’d like to do as we continue to cover basketball gaming here at the NLSC, it would be taking more time to appreciate and acknowledge our positive experiences with the games. Even though I’ve weathered some tough sessions of 2K Pro-Am, I still find myself wanting to get on and play with the guys whenever I can. The social aspect definitely has something to do with that, but I also know how much fun the games can be. Let’s never be afraid to critique when necessary, but whether it’s through story threads, YouTube videos, or discussions in the Forum, let’s never forget to share the fun that we’re having with basketball games.

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January 10, 2017 3:24 am

Fantastic article!!!

January 12, 2017 5:42 am

I do still enjoy the games when they are released but with age and responsibilities the amount of time naturally I can play on them has decreased dramatically over the last few years and I guess my tolerance for cpu or user (online) cheese has really being a huge factor when I do have some time to play theses days.