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 a rebuttal to the idea that basketball gamers who are sim heads are somehow casuals.
Since we’re all on the internet here, I’m going to assume that we’re all familiar with Harvey Dent’s line in The Dark Knight about either dying a hero, or living long enough to become the villain. It’s up there with Alfred musing that some men just want to watch the world burn; another line that the internet loves, especially wannabe nihilist edgelords. In any case, Dent’s observation can be applied to the real world as well. From people who tarnished their reputation, to simply finding yourself on the wrong side of the argument as time goes by, it’s possible to end up as the bad guy.
Of course, when it’s a matter of fandom infighting, “bad guy” is a relative term. We’re more likely to throw around a word like “casuals” to dismiss the opinions of people we disagree with, ostensibly because they just don’t get it. For a long time, gamers who played basketball games, but didn’t know or care much about the real sport, were the ones who were branded with the “casuals” label. While I don’t agree with the gatekeeping nature of that, it made sense in so much as sim games in particular were designed with hardcore hoop heads in mind. These days, sim heads are being called “casuals” by those who advocate for cheese and “stick skills” over realistic gameplay.
In other words – and to refer back to The Dark Knight – you either move on from basketball games, or you play them long enough to be told you’re doing it wrong! I’ll admit that there’s an essence of turnabout being fair play here. I can’t pretend that sim heads haven’t sneered at online gamers, on the virtual hardwood or in general. As a group, we’ve thrown around the dreaded C-Word ourselves, in order to dismiss the concerns and feedback of gamers we don’t agree with. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and no, it doesn’t feel good! However – and not to justify gatekeeping here – the “casuals” label made far more sense when applied to gamers who weren’t hoops fans.
So, where is all this coming from? It’s the online gamers and influencers – specifically those who favour left-right cheese and other decidedly “un-sim” tactics – stating that the developers shouldn’t listen to the “casuals” who object to that gameplay. There’s the usual sentiment of “get good”, “it’s a video game, not real basketball” (tell that to Da_Czar!), and tired talk of alleged skill gaps. Never mind that repetitive strategies that take advantage of cheesy mechanics are hardly skilful. Never mind the impact of artificial boosts and Badges that matter more than inputs. For that matter, never mind that NBA 2K is a basketball video game, one that has long prided itself on its realism!
To play devil’s advocate for a moment, to gamers that have dedicated themselves to mastering the meta and approaching online play in NBA 2K like a fighting game or FPS, I’m sure that sim heads do look like the casuals. They probably seem like the ones who are on the outside looking in, demanding changes to the online scene so that it’s more appealing to them. I can understand pushing back on that, and defending an experience you prefer. If someone were advocating for changes to franchise play that detracted from the goal of emulating the real NBA – a core principle of such modes – then I’d be sorely tempted to haughtily shut them down as well, the filthy casuals!
The difference is that because NBA 2K is a sim basketball game at its core, having a realistic style in the online arena isn’t antithetical to the premise. This is why it’s also ridiculous that sim heads are simultaneously accused of being “casuals” and caring too much. A casual basketball gamer does not care about the details that hardcore sim heads are prone to critique! As for stick skills, they’re obviously vital regardless of your preferred mode. As such, it shouldn’t just be a matter of calling a play, going through the motions, and being rewarded with success every time. It’d be exceedingly boring, and not at all competitive, if savvy moves and well-timed input didn’t matter.
Sim heads are not demanding that, online or offline. More to the point, spamming moves behind a screen on every play, making a defender fall because a simple input plus a Badge boost automatically triggers it, and running the same strategy as every other squad while using a popular min-maxed and OP build, is pretty boring too! As I said, it’s also not particularly skilful to rely on canned animations, as well as artificial boosts, to augment your performance. This isn’t Rocket League, a game where we’re in complete control. We do have deeper control over the action these days, but it often still comes down to animation packages, and the game selecting one that works out.
Putting aside quibbles over what it means to be skilful on the virtual hardwood and blacktop though, it’s absurd to suggest sim heads that are hardcore basketball fans are somehow wrong about desiring basketball to be at the forefront of a basketball video game! It’s even more absurd to call them “casuals” when they care so much, and have such a long history with the series. Again, I can see how they might seem like casuals to people with a longer history of playing competitively online, whose opinions and preferences are shaped by other genres. I brought up Rocket League, so obviously I understand the perspective that comes with jumping online to play different games.
Still, NBA 2K is a basketball game; one that has traditionally strived for realism. What works in another genre isn’t necessarily suited to virtual hoops. Furthermore, this also assumes that sim heads aren’t online gamers, and aren’t just as experienced in that arena. It’s not a case of lacking understanding of online play. Indeed, you only need to go back and look at how online play was handled in releases prior to NBA 2K18 to see how the scene, style of play, and the game in general have changed. That was done in an attempt to broaden NBA 2K’s appeal, to compete with non-basketball titles like Fortnite. In fact, you might say that it was done to bring in more casuals!
Since we’re getting dangerously close to “Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man” here, let’s back up a bit. After all, we can’t put this all on gamers. As I just noted, 2K has been chasing a bigger audience, looking to expand beyond the core demographic. It’s brought in people that just want to play a fun and popular online game, and probably have at least some interest in basketball, but don’t care about realism. They should feel welcome too of course, but the irony is that they’re now gatekeeping the established hardcore fans of the series that are passionate about sim basketball! It’s exactly what a former MMO developer warned us about in a salient Reddit post about NBA 2K18.
NBA 2K’s online arena has morphed into a scene that fosters an elitist attitude. The official social media accounts even join in piling on people with the default outfit in MyCAREER, painting them all as newbies who spoil games with their terrible play. “How dare you not be on our level? Get good! No, not by playing online, of course! In fact, stick to offline play; you don’t belong here!” By essentially appointing elitists who care more about winning online games than the finer points of basketball as the gatekeepers of the connected experiences, those modes are not only hostile towards newcomers, but also long-time fans who helped NBA 2K become the juggernaut it is.
Or, to put it another way, while the elitists and gatekeepers suck and have spoiled the experience for sim heads, it was 2K that invited them to the party and gave them that power. I’m not absolving gamers of their role in the toxicity of the online scene, and it’s ridiculous that they have the nerve to call sim heads “casuals”. As I’ve said before though, you end up with the audience that you cultivate and cater to. It’s why there’s some projection going on with the cheesers who are bleating about caving in to the demands of “casuals”. If anything, the developers have acquiesced to their demands and outrage whenever there’s been an attempt to curb cheesy tactics in online play.
And since the gloves are already off with the accusation that sim heads are actually the casuals, I’ll say that the projection and denial runs even deeper than that. It’s the classic excuse of everyone that isn’t fun to play games with. The cheater, the sore loser, the unsportsmanlike winner, even the cheap button-masher that is obnoxious about it…they’re all cut from the same cloth. There’s nothing wrong with the way they play; it’s all you. You’re the one that isn’t good enough, or is taking it too seriously, or not seriously enough, or whatever. Never mind their poor sportsmanship, hostility, gatekeeping, and childishness. If you’re complaining, then you must be in the wrong!
That myopic brand of selfishness plagues the online scene. It’s why “not my problem, therefore not a real problem”, and “no compromise, no options, only my preference”, are disappointingly common sentiments. If there are viable ways to cater to different preferences without spoiling anyone’s good time, then that should always be seen as the optimal solution. Admittedly, separating online gamers into the cheesers and sim heads is easier said than done. It would take honesty and self-policing for both groups to stay on their side of the fence. We all share the same gameplay mechanics too, so changes to appease online gamers may adversely affect offline play, and vice versa.
Ultimately, that balancing act is a challenge for the developers to manage, but we should all keep each other in mind when we’re giving feedback. It doesn’t benefit us to approach NBA 2K as zero-sum game, where getting what we want has to come at the expense of other gamers’ enjoyment. Sensible compromises can benefit everyone here. Still, it’s bizarre that we’ve reached a point where hardcore sim heads are seen as the “casuals”, yet are also geeks that care too much! It’s contradictory, but then I guess gatekeeping doesn’t concern itself with logical arguments. All I’ll say is that if you’ve sunk hours into the virtual hardwood, regardless of your skill level, you’re no casual.