Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
One of the most common complaints about the current approach to MyCAREER mode is that the story is basically on rails, and the player character’s back story is predetermined and not always “one size fits all”. Although we can customise our MyPLAYER’s appearance and make a few decisions along the way, the impact those choices have on the plot is minimal at best. When it comes down to it, taglines like NBA 2K16’s “Be the Story” ring a little hollow, since they suggest a deeper connection to the character than we might have, and more influence over our destiny than the games actually allow.
Of course, while we may not be able to change a lot of what we see in the cutscenes, there’s still room for some imagination as we play the games. If fan fiction and ambiguous endings have taught us anything, it’s that we can interpret stories in differing and creative ways, and make up our own minds about certain plot points. To that end, I thought I’d have a little fun and throw out five theories – or if you prefer, five alternate interpretations – for the MyCAREER stories we’ve seen so far. Needless to say, there are some spoilers here (both for the games and other media), so proceed at your own risk.
1. Jackson Ellis Doesn’t Exist
I’m going to assume that you’ve seen Fight Club, and if you haven’t, well, I did put a spoiler warning in my introduction. Of course, popular culture has probably already spoiled the big twist that the unnamed Narrator and Tyler Durden are not separate characters, but in fact the same person with dissociative identity disorder. The film has arguably popularised the use of the twist, especially in fan theories about other works of fiction. To that end, it’s probably overdone and somewhat unimaginative at this point, but it’s a good place to start.
The idea that Jackson Ellis – your rival in NBA 2K14’s MyCAREER mode – is merely a mental projection and not actually a real person, does kind of fit. After all, Ellis has no fixed physical attributes; he’ll always play the same position and be around the same size as the player character. In this scenario, Ellis is the manifestation of the player character’s fears and doubts as he tries to make it in the NBA, and the cool-headed and confrontational conversation options represent an internal struggle. Or perhaps Ellis is real person and a rival from his past, but isn’t on the court. He’s just the face the player sees when he’s pushing himself to outperform his opponents.
2. Orange Juice Doesn’t Exist
While we’re running with the Tyler Durden Twist, let’s apply it to NBA 2K17 as well. This year’s MyCAREER mode focuses on the rookie tandem of Pres and Justice Young, who become a dynamic duo known as Orange Juice. As the story progresses, it’s clear that Orange Juice is the next big thing, destined to lead their team to greatness…assuming they both exist, of course. What if Pres, missing the friendship of college teammate Grant Alabaster, and feeling out of his depth after going pro at nineteen, is just imagining Justice Young? What if he actually is Justice Young? Perhaps his texts about looking like Michael B. Jordan are reality breaking through.
Alternatively, Denver Levins is the only “real” character out of himself, Pres, and Young, and is the true protagonist of the story. We see his imagination at work in several scenes as he tries to think up nicknames for himself, as well as his desire to succeed in the NBA. With that in mind, is it a stretch that he’d imagine a couple of star rookies with a nickname that catches on, who also befriend him and go to bat for him when he’s cut from the team? Speaking of which, why does Denver always show up on Pres’ MyCOURT during the time he’s back in the D-League? It’s actually his court, and he’s putting in more work than ever as the fantasy fades into reality.
3. Vic Van Lier Isn’t Dead
I realise this one might be a bit too morbid for an article about basketball video games, but in all fairness, “Livin’ Da Dream” did introduce the plot point in the first place. Vic Van Lier, the childhood friend of Frequency Vibrations, passes away following a car accident at the end of the first season in NBA 2K16’s MyCAREER mode. It’s a potentially heart-wrenching turn of events, especially given what we learn about Vic’s past, but due to some corny writing, the occasionally unsympathetic nature of his character, and the “Harsh Reality” scene, for some gamers it probably didn’t have the intended impact. But what if Vic isn’t actually gone?
At the conclusion of “Livin’ Da Dream”, we see Vic’s ghost/memory reading aloud a letter he wrote to Freq, apologising for the trouble he’s caused him and giving us all an insight into his troubled childhood. Or do we? For anyone who would prefer a happier ending for Vic, maybe that is actually him, alive and well, before he assumes a new identity and makes a fresh start, sparing his friend a difficult decision. If we’re keeping it one hundred, such a scenario would be somewhat bittersweet as Vic would actually be committing a crime. Nevertheless, it’s a happier ending for a divisive, but unquestionably tragic character.
4. It’s All Just a Dream (Or Fantasy)
While we’re making use of tropes that tend to infuriate fans, let’s pull out another one that’s become rather cliché. The twist that the events we’ve just witnessed were merely a character’s dream, fantasy, or hallucination is often seen as unoriginal and a cop out, a sign that the writer didn’t know how to cleverly resolve a certain plot point, or didn’t have the guts to avoid reverting to the status quo. At the same time, it allows writers to be creative and experimental. Even though it’s been seen so many times before, it’s a trope that can still be used effectively, and it could feasibly be applied to the stories being told in MyCAREER.
Many of us have probably dreamed of playing in the NBA at some point, which is a central theme of MyCAREER. Dreams often defy reality, such as being considered a top prospect despite having very low starting ratings (i.e. our real abilities). Each new take on MyCAREER mode is a recurring dream or daydream, with recurring elements such as Jackson Ellis. The stories being dreams would also explain their linear nature and lack of choice, as well as inconsistencies such as being drafted at the same spot as a real NBA rookie. Also, “Livin’ Da Dream”? That alone should clue us in to the fact that nothing we see during the story is actually happening within the game’s reality.
5. Your MyPLAYER in NBA 2K15’s MyCAREER Isn’t a Jerk
When discussing the character of NBA 2K15’s MyPLAYER, I’ve often described him as being very unlikeable; a conceited jerk. It appears that I’m not the only one to hold that opinion, as apart from the general story-driven approach, it was one of the main complaints of people who disliked MyCAREER in NBA 2K15. But what if we’ve got him figured all wrong? Sure, when we first meet him, he’s berating his agent and acting like a spoiled brat who had his toys taken away, but he thinks his NBA dream is over before it’s even begun. And yes, at one point he tells his agent that he isn’t his friend, but he could just be wary that he’s being used, and doesn’t fully trust him yet.
It could be that his brashness is just a sign of a young man trying to protect himself, and attempting to act confident and “grown up”. It’s a stressful time in his basketball career, as he really has to work hard to earn his place in the NBA. Scenes where he shows humility and respect in front of the team’s general manager, or donates money to renovate his high school gym, represent his true character. He’s simply misunderstood, judged too harshly by people not willing to get to know him, and…No, sorry, I just can’t do it. The character’s an arrogant jerk, plain and simple. I’m very glad that 2K has since opted for more likeable and sympathetic characters.
Do I actually believe any of these theories? No, they’re a bit clichéd and derivative, and also leave quite a few things unexplained. It was a fun creative writing exercise though, and the idea of there being more to the story than what the games give us is also a fun one to consider. Could you buy into any of these theories, or do you have a crazy theory of your own? Share it in the comments section below, and feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.