Monday Tip-Off: Balancing Positivity & Negativity

LeBron James dunks in NBA 2K19

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 a few thoughts on the delicate act of balancing the amount of positivity and negativity as a content creator.

There’s a reason that I’m still running the NLSC going on eighteen years this August. There’s a reason I decided that I would take the risk on paying for our own hosting after our previous host discontinued their services, and it looked like we might have to shut down after twenty years online. Basketball video games are still a hobby that I enjoy, and enjoy to the extent that I want to create content as part of a community that I discovered way back in 1997. The NLSC was one of my favourite sites before I took over running it, and since that time, it’s become a gratifying creative outlet for me.

I’ve enjoyed establishing original content beyond mods and basketball gaming news: the NLSC Podcast, The Friday Five, Wayback Wednesday, and this feature, Monday Tip-Off. I like covering a variety of topics in these features, from advice and stories about what I’m playing, to constructive articles about improving the games and what I hope is interesting trivia. I’m always aiming for variety in the games that I talk about, but I’m not just balancing coverage between NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other titles. As I discuss all manner of topics regarding basketball video games, I’m trying my best to maintain a healthy balance between positivity and negativity in my features.

That’s not to say that I’m sugar-coating or exaggerating in order to create some sort of false balance to the positivity and negativity; rather, my aim is balancing the amount of content that deals with positive or negative topics. For example, if a given week’s Monday Tip-Off piece is more critical and negative, I’ll usually choose a lighter topic for The Friday Five. If Monday’s feature is more light-hearted, I’ll try to discuss a topic of more substance on Friday. We try to choose topics for the NLSC Podcast where we can discuss merits and drawbacks, or alternate discussions where we’re more likely to feel positively or negatively about the issue at hand.

Mike Conley in NBA Live 19

Basically, I feel I have a responsibility as a content creator to make sure that I don’t get bogged down from week to week with too many heavy or negative topics, nor too many topics that avoid critique and deeper thought for the sake of forcing positivity. It isn’t always perfectly balanced as that would feel quite false, and the subjects I cover will vary depending on what’s topical, as well as what I’ve experienced recently on the virtual hardwood. Generally speaking however, I try to remain mindful of the tone of my features, and make sure that I’m changing things up with a variety of topics that cover both positive and negative aspects of the basketball gaming experience.

The reason I’m so mindful of balancing positivity and negativity is that I’m aware of the impression it can give. A “negative” article – even if it’s ultimately constructive in its criticism – can easily be written off as “hating”. That’s often a snap judgement by someone who’s just stumbled across your content, but if you develop a pattern of negativity, you can end up seeming whiny. If you do happen to overdo the negativity, it’s fair for your audience to ask why you never acknowledge anything positive, and point out that you keep harping on the same tired points. As much as I dislike the term, at a certain point you do end up looking like a hater, and may well turn into one.

Conversely, too much positivity draws accusations of being a fanboy, with your content being dismissed as meaningless fluff. Once again, it’s not necessarily a fair assessment of your work (especially if it’s the only content of yours that someone has read, watched, or listened to), but you do want to avoid a pattern. If you’re only ever talking about the games in glowing terms, it’s going to look like you’re dismissing and downplaying valid criticisms and important issues that need to be discussed. Just as it’s difficult to take a content creator seriously if they’re always appearing to whine, constantly gushing and ignoring problems is a great way to lose trust and credibility.

Jordan Rec Center in NBA 2K19

After all, you can chalk up a lot of the fanboy and hater accusations to someone with an opposing point of view not wanting to entertain what you have to say, no matter how well-reasoned and eloquent it may be. However, even someone who agrees with you, or is willing to hear you out, can grow weary if your tune never changes. If you never have anything positive to say, it’ll look like you don’t find any joy whatsoever in playing basketball games, leaving people to fairly wonder if you even like them. If you never say anything negative, you’ll look like a shill, and your audience will be left to question whether you know anything about basketball, real or virtual.

I can’t speak for all content creators who practice this balancing act, but for me, I find it’s more important to be mindful of negativity. It’s all too easy to rant and rave about video games, especially after a particularly unenjoyable experience. After a frustrating Jordan Rec Center session in NBA 2K19, I was tempted to write a very scathing piece about how the online experience has continued to decline, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better anytime soon. It would’ve been an honest critique, and it would’ve been cathartic to write (and possibly read as well), but any valid points could’ve easily been lost in a sea of negativity. I instead opted for a calmer tone with last week’s Five.

Furthermore, as someone who has fostered relationships with a few developers and compiles feedback on behalf of my fellow gamers, I want to remain as respectful as possible. And no, that doesn’t mean sugar-coating or kissing up; it means I don’t want to mindlessly bash or be snarky for the sake of being snarky, because that’s a person that developers rightfully don’t take seriously. As frustrating as the games can be at times, we have to remember that there are real people working on them, and there’s no reason to make our criticism personal. Credit should be given where it’s due, just as constructive criticism should be offered when our feedback is invited.

Expect the Unexpected (Joel Embiid, NBA 2K19)

With that being said, I also want to do right by my audience here at the NLSC. I want to talk about positive experiences I’ve had, such as my memorable second season in MyCAREER, but I don’t want to sweep my criticisms of microtransactions, grindy mechanics, and other issues under the rug. I want to be honest about having fun, while also acknowledging that the games aren’t perfect, and talking about how I’d like to see them get better. Whenever possible, I’ll try to mix up those topics through the week so that it’s not all criticism, nor exclusively talking up the good parts of games. There are many aspects to basketball video games, which are all fun and important to cover.

As I said, one has to be careful about false balance as well. If there’s a serious issue that has us rightfully outraged, a more negative piece may be inevitable. If there’s particularly good news, it’s something to celebrate; there’s no need to manufacture a pessimistic angle just for the sake of avoiding being too positive. That’s not to say that you can’t bring a more negative piece around to a constructive conclusion, or point out possible drawbacks when there’s promising news, but there’s no need to temper any positivity or negativity unnecessarily. Avoiding false balance is part of the balancing act as well, since positive and negative issues don’t always arise at a 50-50 split.

This balancing act that I’m talking about is also important as far as cultivating your audience and a community. Constant negativity might attract a rabid fanbase, but it’s the kind of audience that will turn on you and accuse you of being soft the moment you aren’t snarling with anger. Likewise, enforced positivity can be incredibly toxic as well, cultivating an atmosphere where legitimate complaints and valid criticism are shouted down. Everyone in a gaming community should feel free to offer praise and critique – ideally respectfully, with well-reasoned points – and content creators can set an example by balancing positivity and negativity in their work.

Jonathan Isaac in NBA Live 19

The motto I have for the NLSC is “Fans, not fanboys; Critics, not haters“. It’s how I prefer to approach both my gaming and the content I create, and balancing positivity and negativity is a big part of that. I want to celebrate basketball gaming, as well as talk about how it can improve. There will be times when I passionately discuss a more negative issue, and times when I want to enthusiastically praise a game or recount fun times on the virtual hardwood. I want to do right by all of you, by the developers, and of course by myself, through always being fair and honest, and balancing focus on the positives and negatives when I create content. To me, it’s the approach to strive for.

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