Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
In this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at some buzzwords that have entered common usage within the basketball gaming community. My feeling is that these words do nothing for our credibility as gamers and consumers, and only serve to stifle our ability to properly evaluate basketball games. These words are ill-defined and overused, to the point where they fail to be constructive, or in some cases, accurate. So obfuscating are they that they’re as good as the snippets in newspapers where you’d have to unscramble words.
I’d like to clarify that I’m not writing this article in an attempt to suck up to any video game developers, or indiscriminately dismiss criticism of the games themselves. That doesn’t do us any favours as consumers. However, I also believe that as a community, we should pride ourselves on having expert knowledge of basketball games, as well as the ability to properly critique and provide constructive feedback on them. To that end, here are five buzzwords that I think we need to retire, or at the very least, restrict our usage of.
Of course I was going to mention this one first. If you’ve read some of my previous Friday Fives or listen to the NLSC Podcast, you might know that this is one of my least favourite words to use when critiquing basketball games. It’s a term that is suitable to describe a certain style of aesthetic used by games such as NBA Jam and NBA Street, but it’s more commonly used in a derogative manner, and in lieu of more accurate and detailed adjectives.
“Cartoonish” is usually a word used to describe NBA Live’s graphics, but I’ve seen it used to criticise NBA 2K as well. That’s the problem with the term: there’s no clear definition, as it can apparently apply to two different games, with their own style of visuals. Furthermore, the term refers to a medium that has a variety of styles. South Park has a distinct, simplistic look. Classic Looney Tunes shorts are wild and wacky. Disney films such as Snow White and Cinderella feature beautiful animation that is more fluid and realistic. The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Hanna Barbera shows and shorts run the gamut in terms of animation quality. And of course, there’s Pixar.
At the end of the day, “cartoonish” has become an ill-defined and overused buzzword to express dissatisfaction with a game’s graphics, generally in terms of how realistically players are depicted. It makes the all too common error of confusing snark for wit, lending itself to comments like “Didn’t I see this on Cartoon Network?”, and other such eye-rollingly weak and uninspired pot shots. Some friendly advice to anyone tossing out or LOLing at comments like that: don’t get into comedy. The audience will not be kind. Bottom line, let’s all use better words when we’re describing and criticising a game’s graphics.
I wrote about this one in this week’s Tuesday Triple. “Scripted” is becoming a very popular criticism of NBA 2K, and to be fair, it does a decent job of describing situations where it feels as though the user’s input has no effect on the action. There are also limitations to the power and sophistication of the artificial intelligence in basketball video games, as well as the animation technology, so even if “scripted” isn’t the best word to use, it’s arguably not completely inappropriate. With a certain video game trope in mind, its usage is certainly understandable.
However, it’s quickly becoming a catch-all term to describe and criticise undesirable results, even when it’s something that can (and does) happen in reality. Opponent hit a lucky shot? “Scripted!” Fail to shut down an elite scorer, despite your best efforts? “Scripted!” Play poorly, grow complacent, and lose momentum? Well, you get the idea. Anything you’re unhappy with, any gripes with the game – legitimate or not – are written off as pre-determined or canned situations, or examples of the AI cheating. That isn’t a completely unfounded claim, but we can’t deny that we play our own role in these undesirable outcomes.
Having said that, there is a legitimate issue here, but it’s important that we properly identify problems and accurately describe them, rather than muttering “scripted” whenever this stuff happens. The problem is usually balance; as I said before, the AI has its limitations, and for the sake of providing a challenge, it needs to be able to compete with a human brain that can think laterally and outside of the box. Sometimes, that manifests itself in a few too many moments of unfair/perfect play, and some tuning is required. Beyond that…well, we might just need to adapt to some of the changes that have taken place in basketball games over the years.
So I’ll admit that this one rankles me a bit because of my personal experiences. I once had to delay the release of one of my roster updates for NBA Live, and posted a new projected release date along with my apologies. One obviously disgruntled user scolded me with the assertion “You’re so damn lazy”. To keep things in perspective, we’re talking about a minor delay in releasing a game mod; something that’s free, and anyone could learn how to make, but this person chose to sit back and wait for me to do it in my spare time, and then called me “lazy” when it wasn’t done fast enough for their liking. The irony may have been lost on them, but it wasn’t lost on me.
That’s just one impatient person, though. More commonly, I see the accusation of laziness being lobbed at friends and acquaintances who are working in the industry, due to unhappiness with the product. Look, I know that it’s human nature to lash out when we’re upset. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all done it at some point. But to call developers “lazy”, just because a game or a feature didn’t turn out as well as we all would’ve liked…it’s extremely disrespectful, and wildly inaccurate to say the least.
Having met developers and knowing people who have gained employment in the industry, I’ve heard about their workload, the long hours, the tales of the horror that is crunch time. I know how much they care about what they do, how enthusiastic they are about it. To suggest that they’re “lazy” or “don’t care” is a petty and childish knee-jerk reaction to disappointment with the games. Hard work and dedication doesn’t prevent things from going awry, which is as disappointing for the people putting in the hard work as it for us as consumers (if not more so). We should channel that disappointment into constructive feedback however, not mindless insults.
Another buzzword that is thrown around way too readily is “lies”, even when no lie has been told. Of course, there is a grey area here. If a preview or trailer raises expectations and the final product doesn’t deliver, is that a lie? Some would say yes, though advertisements and promotions are always going to focus on the positive, and downplaying negatives isn’t the same as outright denying them. One might also suggest that the touting of a particular improvement is a lie if the game still isn’t to their satisfaction, but that may not necessarily be the case. There may well be an improvement, just not enough of one to meet everyone’s expectations. You can’t please everyone, after all.
I suppose you could claim a lie of omission, but not advertising a certain feature is more or less indirectly confirming that it isn’t in the game. Getting your hopes up for something that was never promised in the first place isn’t on the developers and proof that they’re “lying”…that’s on you for not doing the research or asking questions, and expecting something that was never advertised. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be upset or disappointed that a feature you want is absent, but if it was never promised in previews and promotional materials, no “lies” were told. Similarly, some gaming websites may outright lie for hits, but we’re all prone to the occasional mistake.
At worst, you could criticise developers for not providing enough clarification or answering questions, and failing to shoot down rumours and speculation. Of course, it would be impossible to address every single post in satisfactory detail, and still have time to work on the game. Then again, they’re supposedly all “lazy” and not putting in any hard work, so I guess they’ve got all the time in the world, right? Look, fair’s fair: if we’re going to hold developers accountable – and as consumers, we should – then we need to hold them accountable for things they actually said, promises that were actually made. If we fabricate those details, then we’re the ones being dishonest.
Similarly, “dreadful”, “awful”, “horrible”, and other such extreme adjectives. Alright, they’re not exactly buzzwords, and we probably shouldn’t be looking to stamp them out as much as some of the other words on this list. However, they are used far too readily. The same way words such as “great”, “excellent”, or “outstanding” – their polar opposites – must be used with care and only when merited, so too should words that suggest extremely poor quality and no redeeming value be used responsibly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times to call a spade a spade, and sometimes, a word like “terrible” is very much appropriate. The problem is, when we discuss video games, television shows, films, or anything else online, we fall victim to a false dichotomy. It’s either excellent and we like it, or it’s complete rubbish. In reality, there’s a lot of ground between those two extremes where a work can fall: satisfactory, very good, good but flawed, greatly flawed but with good ideas…those are just some of the points on the scale. Incidentally, this is one of the main reasons why YouTube abandoned star ratings in favour of a Like/Dislike system.
Again, there is a time and a place to use such harsh adjectives, but the more often they’re used and the more minor the issues they describe, the more those words lose their meaning and strength. Hyperbole doesn’t make us sound smart, or enhance our credibility; quite the opposite, in fact. In the event that words like “terrible” or “horrible” accurately describe our feelings towards the games, we also make a much stronger argument, provide a higher quality of critique, when we expand upon our thoughts and explain why we think something is terrible. Used effectively, those words demonstrate our passion. Used carelessly, we look like toddlers throwing a tantrum.
Again, my aim here isn’t to suck up to any video game developers, or absolve them of all criticism. I simply feel that we, as a passionate and dedicated basketball gaming community, owe it to ourselves to provide quality feedback, and demonstrate that we do know what we’re talking about when it comes to the product, as well as the real sport. Constructive feedback can benefit us greatly, while tantrums and insults do nothing for us. In any event, thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.