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Monday Tip-Off: An Open Letter from An Old Head

Monday Tip-Off: An Open Letter from An Old Head

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 an open letter to younger basketball gamers and fans from an admitted old head of 34.

Hey there, younger fans of basketball and basketball gaming! Do people still say hey for hello? I’m trying to avoid a “How do you do, fellow kids?” type of scenario here. Because let’s face it, there is a generational gap between some of us, and I’d rather not condescend to you, or look foolish with some ill-fitting slang. I’ll just stick with hey. Anyway, I’m Andrew, and to a lot of people who are into basketball and basketball video games, I would definitely qualify as an old head. At least, that’s the term I’m seeing used in a lot of online conversations to describe someone like me.

I’ll admit that at the age of 34, I still feel too young to be classified as an old head. It’s probably a fitting term, though. My all-time favourite band and television show are both only slightly younger than I am. My nostalgia is rooted in entertainment and events from well over a decade ago, and my opinions on sports, movies, television, and gaming no doubt reflect that. I’m at that odd stage where I still feel a bit rebellious towards the generations older than me, while at the same time starting to feel like a grumpy old man. Before I completely devolve into yelling at clouds however, I’d like to try bridging the gap between an old head like me and the younger generation.

Let me begin with some words that definitely apply to basketball and basketball video games, but also life in general. They’re both complimentary and confrontational, so please bear with me. When you become an old head, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be young, especially when it comes to be talked down to and dismissed. It’s important to know that you’re smarter and have better ideas than a lot of older folks, including slightly older folks like me, give you credit for. At the same time, you may – may – not be quite as smart as you think you are. My source and reasoning? Myself. After all, I had to be your age in order to get to my age, and now I have the benefit of hindsight.

Michael Jordan dunks in NBA 2K16

That doesn’t make me or any other old head automatically right about everything, mind you. It just means that we can relate to you more than you probably realise (or indeed, realize; I’m Australian, so you’ll have to forgive some alternate spelling). I do remember what it was like when older folks would tell my generation that we were too young to understand, know any better, or formulate any sensible opinions. That’s been going on for generations; even the legendary Nat King Cole sang about it, and that was well before my time. At the same time, I can look back and see that we were stubborn, brashly and rashly dismissive of the old heads that came before us.

With that in mind, if all this talk of NBA players from the 90s being “plumbers and dentists” is trolling us because we can get carried away with our nostalgia and don’t always give the current generation enough credit, fair play. We definitely do that from time to time, and it’s the same type of thing we used to say when an older head told us that Wilt Chamberlain and other players from the 1960s were far superior to Michael Jordan or any other star who was active a couple of decades ago. Of course in doing so, we probably didn’t appreciate some of those greats as much as we should have, but the old VHS tapes that included segments on NBA history did help to educate us.

I have no doubt that those debates will rage on – and maybe we’ll see more eye to eye when a few years have passed and you experience a generational shift in the NBA – but let’s talk about the virtual hardwood. There’s disconnect between younger and older basketball gamers, and it goes beyond interest in the possibility of another retro challenge mode and historical content in general. It’s clear that we have very different views and expectations of basketball video games, which is fine and only natural. The problem, as I’ve said before, is that we’re all passionate and headstrong to the point of stubbornness about what’s important. We’re both prone to that tunnel vision.

Shaq dunking in NBA Live 95

You have to understand that we’ve seen basketball video games go from being quite primitive to the kind of realistic simulations we always dreamed of and asked for. It’s why we old heads are puzzled when we see gamers asking for less realism. As for our interest in offline gaming and franchise modes, it’s partly nostalgia for the first really deep modes in basketball gaming, but also the multiplayer experiences we grew up with. We were in the same room, which meant we had to learn how to play nice and be a good sport. If you were a jerk, you weren’t getting invited over or having people come over again. Threats also weren’t so idle when you were within striking distance!

It’s not that we can’t appreciate the online experience, but it’s not always our first preference, or to our liking. Let me be frank here, while also stressing that I’m not talking about every young basketball gamer. When I’m looking to unwind with a bit of virtual basketball, I don’t want to get cussed out on the open mic. I’m not offended by it; I just don’t feel like dealing with the immaturity and bratty attitudes. Also, after seeing how far hoops games have come in terms of realism, I don’t find the zigzag cheese and other exploits conducive to a fun gameplay experience. I’d rather not run around a virtual neighbourhood and wait in lines. It’s not my idea of a good time.

And look, by the same token, an old head like me needs to realise that I’m ageing into the periphery of the demographic. Online is the most popular way of playing virtual hoops nowadays, so what I like and how I’d approach the games isn’t necessarily what the core demographic wants out of the experience. You’re in that demographic, so it’s important that developers listen to you. However, we’ve been playing these basketball video games for a long time. We’ve seen them come a long way, experienced the ups and downs. We remember a time when NBA Live was not only competitive, but the premiere brand of virtual basketball. We know how 2K came to be a juggernaut.

Shoe prices encourage microtransactions (NBA 2K19)

Yes, we can get hung up on the way things used to be done. We’ve also been around the block a few times and seen enough missteps and bad ideas to realise that newer isn’t always better (two words: Windows 8). When you defend microtransactions, pre-order exclusives, and season passes by saying that it’s not 2003 anymore, you’re not putting us old heads in our place. You’re admitting that you’re happy getting the same amount of content that we used to get for twice as much as it used to cost. Don’t forget that we come from the era of arcades and some poorly made games that cost just as much as the classics that do hold up. We know about gouging and value for money.

To that end, don’t write off our suggestions and insights so quickly. And, since fair is fair and you are the core demographic, we’ll do our best to avoid doing it to you as well. We realise that parts of the game aren’t meant for us, but at the same time, some of them could stand to be more open to everyone. If the responses to the first dev blog for NBA 2K20 are any indication, with all due respect, it’s a lesson that a few younger hoops gamers could stand to learn. Just because you’re not interested in something, it doesn’t mean that nobody else is. It’s not all about what you like, and it’s not a zero-sum situation where good news for someone else is an affront or detriment to you.

Once again, I get it though. I was once in your shoes, and getting over that mindset is something you have to grow into. That probably sounds condescending and I really don’t mean it to, because I’m sure you get enough of that. It’s just that I speak from experience here. We all think we’re smarter, more advanced, more clued in than the old heads that came before us, so I can’t begrudge you that. And hey, maybe you will be the generation that effortlessly moves with the times and has it all figured out in everything that you do. You wouldn’t be the first to think that though, and let me tell you, there’s something to be said for the wisdom that comes with age and experience.

Wisdom from an Old Head

What I’m trying to say is I get it, as much as I can anyway. It’s not like my generation is perfect or doesn’t have anything left to learn, and I’m realising how easy it is to get stuck in one’s ways and line of thinking. Before you sneer at an old head and dismiss what they’re saying, however, consider that we do know a thing or two, and we’ve been in your place before. Sooner than you think, you’ll be in ours. Like I said, maybe you’ll break the cycle and won’t adopt the habits that you dislike in us, but we all think that. It’s easier said than done, especially when you’ve got a new generation thinking that they know everything and calling you a bitter old head who’s stuck in the past.

Fair’s fair, so in return, we can try a little harder to remember what it was like when we were young and having our ideas dismissed simply due to our age. Since we’re all basketball gamers and in the same demographic to some extent, we need to work together when it comes to giving feedback, while accepting that people play games in different ways and that it’s much better when the games can cater to all of us. We could all benefit from dropping the zero-sum thinking, and realise that just because there’s something in the game that we aren’t interested in, it doesn’t mean it’s not for someone else, or that we’re getting less. Ideally, we should all get what we want.

Let’s accept that we both have good ideas on how the games can get better. An old head like me should realise that younger gamers are bringing fresh ideas to the table and are the key demographic that games are catering to. Younger gamers, keep in mind that we grew up with these games, know a thing or two about them and how they became so good, and we’ve still got some good ideas of our own. Let’s enjoy the hobby we share an interest in, and strive to be a less toxic community overall. We all want what’s best for the games at the end of the day. As for real basketball and all the Greatest of All-Time debates…well, we may have to agree to disagree on that front.

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