by Preston Tolliver
To a certain extent, video games are expected to bring with them a certain realism. It's why in this age of Playstation 4's and Xbox One's, we see recognizable faces on sports games, down to the beads of sweat that fall from their heads. But to that same extent, we also expect those games to bring with them a larger-than-life feeling; bringing more entertainment than life to the field. It's why in “Call of Duty,” you can get shot a couple times, duck behind a corner and a second or two later, you're good to run the next 100 yards raining gunfire, or in “Final Fantasy” games, why you can get hit with fire spells without looking like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru after.
Video games are a lot like professional wrestling in that way. They toe the line between realism and entertainment. But when does a game get too real?
In “NBA 2K16,” famed movie director Spike Lee took the reins of the game's MyCareer mode -- a mode in which you live your life in an alternate reality, one in which you become an NBA star, rather than some guy eating Cheetos and playing video games. The mode is a staple of the 2K franchise, letting the player dictate all the minutia of being an up-and-coming NBA player, down to the player's position, nickname and mannerisms.
Lee gives the mode the tagline, "Be The Story"; however, in this year's, you're anything but. You still create your character, and determine what position you'll play, but, for the first couple hours of gameplay at least, the rest of the story isn't in your hands, but Lee's. You start out a high school star, known the country over as Frequency Vibrations ("Freq" for short, pronounced "Freak"), a moniker that will later earn you the dumbest NBA nickname this side of Big Baby Davis and Panda Friend. After playing a few short high school games, you declare to one of several colleges that come to interview you. Along with your best friend, Vic Van Lier (who will later come to be known as up-and-coming rapper and mega-mooch best friend Bo$$ Key Yacht$), and your family -- your parents and your twin sister CeCe -- you make a YouTube video announcing where you'll attend school (Note: If your character is white, your parents and twin sister are still not -- meaning your character is also so dumb he hasn't realized he's adopted yet).
You spend the next four games working up to the NCAA championship game, where you lead your team to a title before engaging in a heated conversation with your parents and your agent (Dom Pagnotti, from Lee's “He Got Game”) about whether or not you should declare for the NBA draft or return to school for a sophomore season. You tell all parties involved that you have some thinking to do, but you really don't, because the screen fades to black and suddenly you're awaiting NBA commissioner Adam Silver to call your name.
Your rookie season in the NBA then begins, and either the big stage has given you some serious jitters or Spike Lee decided he wanted to make a video game about Christian Laettner, because all that talent you used to snatch those high school and college championships with is gone. The next year, which you see through the lens of eight games, is filled with the ups-and-downs of the common rising NBA star's life, assuming the common NBA star is haunted by secretly killing a guy in high school and loses his best-friend/new favorite hip hop artist to a car accident. The season is riddled with lengthy cut scenes, and you'll spend more time watching the off-court drama unfold than you will playing in actual games.
After that first year, Lee's grasp on your career is released, allowing you to change your nickname, though you're still oftentimes referred to as Freq in pre-game shows and in-game commentary, proving there are some demons that will just haunt you forever. You get to play each game if you'd like, while choosing between practice, hanging out with friends or fans, or filling contractual sponsorship commitments on your off-days, and the rest of your career is free of Lee's control.
Lee changed the script of the franchise's career mode by giving it one, an attempt at revitalizing a game mode that in recent years was becoming stagnant. But in the final seconds of a big game, when you put the ball in the wrong hands, it's likely to clank off the back of the rim. Lee didn't just grab the ball and run with it -- he airballed entirely. There are no words left to explain the disappointment of Lee's tutelage, though I can think of someone else who might know just what to say.