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Monday Tip-Off: Guess It Is A Barbie Dress-Up Game

Monday Tip-Off: Guess It Is A Barbie Dress-Up Game

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with my observations of how, contrary to what Ronnie 2K once said, NBA 2K has become a Barbie dress-up game.

There’s an online maxim to the effect of “the internet doesn’t forget”. In short, it refers to how the comments and content that we post online is there in perpetuity, and may reflect poorly upon us when it’s rediscovered years later. Celebrities have lost face (and gigs) when old Tweets have resurfaced. Everyday people have had difficulty in their offline lives after they’ve gone viral for the wrong reasons. I’ve been contacted by a few former community members asking if we can scrub their posts from the Forum, as they don’t want youthful silliness to affect their future job prospects.

Controversy has a way of following people long after they’ve apologised and atoned, or indeed, allegations have been proven false. As they say, mud sticks. However, one might suggest that that’s fair if the person in question has remained unapologetic, and the problematic situation persists. It’s certainly fair to keep bringing up an issue that people try to sweep under the rug. That happens far too often within the basketball gaming community, where outrage over persistent problems is fleeting. It’s why every so often, I’ll bring up the time that Ronnie 2K made a snarky comment about NBA 2K not being a Barbie dress-up game; especially now that it’s kind of turned into one.

Prior to the release of NBA 2K17, a gamer tagged Ronnie 2K on Twitter, remarking that following a stream, they were dismayed to see that there wouldn’t be any new hairstyles in the forthcoming game. The Tweet was admittedly somewhat terse and confrontational, but it echoed a common complaint about MyPLAYER customisation options. Ronnie 2K – supposedly the professional in this exchange – responded with “we are more than a Barbie dress-up game”, with the hashtag #ThisIsNotAGame. It was a childish response to a valid (if tersely-phrased) concern. More than that though, it was ridiculously hypocritical, given the direction that MyCAREER was heading in.

The Barbie Dress-Up Game Tweet from Ronnie 2K

Sneering at complaints about cosmetic options with the suggestion that NBA 2K was “more than a Barbie dress-up game” would’ve been a far better gotcha if the game didn’t invite us to…you know…dress up our MyPLAYER with an assortment of clothes and accessories! Hilariously, the day after Ronnie 2K’s Barbie comment, a new trailer dropped, touting the different shoes our MyPLAYER could wear. The name of the trailer: “Kicks Matter”! Ronnie 2K’s reply would’ve been bad enough anyway, but the fact that it came before a trailer promoting ways of dressing up our MyPLAYER is some delicious irony. I imagine a few people at 2K weren’t pleased.

Gamers didn’t love it, either. Most of the replies are pointing out the plethora of clothing items that were already available in NBA 2K16, meaning a defense of “we are more than a Barbie dress-up game” no longer held up. Other responses pointed out that putting everything else aside, an adequate selection of hairstyles was essential customisation. As you’d expect, some people defended Ronnie 2K and the lack of hairstyles, because shills and fanboys are nothing new. Just to keep the irony train rolling, one person remarked that NBA 2K is “not a barbershop simulator”, only for a barbershop and paid haircuts to debut in NBA 2K18’s Neighborhood. Well then!

Interestingly, despite the internet’s apparent propensity to never forget, that old Tweet didn’t get a lot of traction; even retroactively. There are a couple of replies from 2021 remarking on how poorly it aged, but for the most part, it’s been forgotten. You may say “it was just a dumb comment, move on”, and hey, I get it. It’s not the only time that Ronnie 2K has responded badly to someone in the community, and yes, it’s in the past. I’m hardly trying to “cancel” Ronnie, as if this is something to get “cancelled” for anyway. It’s undoubtedly fair game to bring it up though, especially given how poorly it’s aged, and the bigger picture as far as what it means for MyCAREER.

Stores in The City (NBA 2K22)

If “we are more than a Barbie dress-up game” sounded like a ridiculous statement in 2016, there may not be an adequate adjective to describe it in 2022. Back then, on top of a variety of shoes – which are admittedly a major part of basketball culture – we had NBA apparel, some different casual clothes, and some wacky accessories, which we purchased through menus in MyCAREER. These days, we have many clothing items with price tags of 25,000 VC or more, including premium designer brands. Not only that, but we literally visit and browse shops in The Neighborhood and The City to buy these clothes. Sounds like the kind of thing we’d do in a Barbie dress-up game!

So does putting on a fashion show, which is part of building our personal brand in NBA 2K22’s MyCAREER. Look, I’m not saying there isn’t merit in exploring new ways of role-playing as an NBA player in MyCAREER, and devising creative means of earning additional VC. If you enjoy that stuff, that’s cool. I’m not going to be a jerk about it. However, if you were to ask me if I personally think that should be a part of an NBA video game, I’d have to say no, it wouldn’t be in my blueprint. Furthermore, there’s no escaping the irony that a 2K rep scoffed at concerns over cosmetic aspects with a remark about dressing up, only for a future game to include a fashion show.

Incidentally, the customisation options for MyPLAYERs have been revamped since NBA 2K17, which does include new hairstyles. That’s great, but the bigger issue is how much of a role clothes have played in NBA 2K over the past decade. Yes, I have discussed this before, but again, these issues get swept under the rug, and outrage over them evaporates despite them remaining a problem. Cosmetic items have become a status symbol in The Playground. Like Fortnite, gamers’ MyPLAYERs are judged by their appearance. If you don’t have the right fit and clearly don’t spend VC on styling your avatar, you’ll find that other gamers avoid you, and back out of online games.

Barbershop in The Neighborhood (NBA 2K18 MyCAREER)

It’s akin to the bullying that takes place in Fortnite, wherein young gamers have been shunned for not using premium skins. Unfortunately, for a long time now, video game publishers have cultivated this toxic atmosphere that promotes recurrent spending. It employs some shameless psychological tricks, tapping into FOMO and the need for social acceptance that is hard-wired into our brains. As James Stephanie Sterling has discussed in their videos, it also preys on compulsiveness and addiction. We need to budget for both attribute upgrades and cosmetic items in order to find success and acceptance in the online arena. And of course, there’s been disproportionate inflation.

This is nothing new, and again, that’s the point. When Ronnie 2K was snarking about NBA 2K not being a Barbie dress-up game in 2016, we already knew what an ironic declaration that was. We could see the direction the game was moving in, and though charging for haircuts in The Neighborhood’s barbershop simulator drew enough ire for 2K to back off slightly, it’s clear they were willing to push their luck. MyCAREER becoming a Barbie dress-up game, or perhaps Fortnite with basketball, is frustrating when there are so many legacy issues concerning gameplay and mode functionality. Again, an already bad Tweet replying to valid criticism has aged incredibly poorly.

And here’s the part that I’ve been dancing around: dressing up your player…can be kind of fun! I like giving my MyPLAYER the Jordan Vs, my favourite pair of Air Jordans that I once owned a pair of. I want to outfit my avatar with the arm band and knee straps that I wear when playing basketball, and maybe a headband and sleeve, too. When I’d fully upgraded my NBA 2K17 MyPLAYER and had VC to burn, I got a laugh out of dressing him up like Billy Hoyle in White Men Can’t Jump. In any game where you can customise your character’s attire, you’re probably going to do it from time to time. Whether for fun or for boosts, you’ll “play dress-up” at some point.

Dressing Up in MyPARK (NBA 2K17)

In other words, while it’s a basketball game at the end of the day, and problems can arise with cosmetic items, there’s room for “Barbie dress-up game” elements in NBA 2K. If there’s a customisable avatar in the mode you play, you’re going to want to set them up with an aesthetic that you enjoy looking at. On top of any clothing items and accessories, you also want to have a variety of face sculpting, facial hair, and hairstyle options. That’s what made Ronnie’s response to that Tweet so absurd. It was denying what NBA 2K needed, and to an extent, what it was. In a mode that facilitates and encourages such customisation, complaints about a lack of cosmetic options are valid!

Of course, he was and remains correct that NBA 2K is more than a Barbie dress-up game. Those cosmetic aspects are just part of character creation, in a game where we can play virtual basketball in a multitude of ways. To that point however, it’s rather unfortunate that clothes have become such an influential part of NBA 2K. They’re a makeshift matchmaking method in The Playground. They comprise a major side quest that provides an avenue for earning that all-important VC. The official NBA 2K social media accounts have far more posts talking about “drip” than ratings fixes and roster updates, or other NBA-oriented topics. Or, for that matter, create-a-player upgrades.

As for that old Tweet from Ronnie 2K, I’m also inclined to keep bringing it up from time to time because it represents a disdain for the fanbase. Granted, it was replying to a slightly hostile Tweet, but that’s your digital marketer, the face of your brand, taking shots at valid criticisms and being snarky about customisation options in a game that emphasises cosmetic items. It speaks volumes about how we’re perceived and treated by a publisher that now holds a monopoly over the genre. They say the internet never forgets, and we should remember that Tweet. Of course, when it comes to notions of being a Barbie dress-up game, the direction of MyCAREER makes that very easy.

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