NBA 2K12 is Fiction Ripe for Reality

By Rich Shivener in Unraveling Yarns
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm
History as Entertainment.
It's a no-brainer the NBA is losing piles and piles of revenue because of the lockout, a deep cut on basketball and its fanatics. Except those who play video games. NBA 2K12 is the answer to this so far non-existent season, offering aesthetics and gameplay that stand face to face with reality, at the tipoff. Compared to NBA 2K11, which I reviewed last year‚ the game, at its core, is fairly similar to the last iteration, but the major slam dunks are the "NBA's Greatest" mode (more in a moment) and, in my experience, easier shot mechanics (release, control, fluidity‚ maybe even automation).

I still suck at NBA video games, but I get my kicks from 2K12 because, like others, it's recreating history and forecasting the future of the NBA. When analyzed with theories on fiction, it's one of the greatest basketball games of this decade. 

When I first heard about the NBA lockout, I started thinking how video games allow us, without consequence, to create alternate histories of, say, a FIFA soccer match, the Cold War and, in this case, a basketball season. It struck me that video games based on said histories (read: the 2010 NBA season) let us entertain burning "What if?" questions. What if Kobe Bryant played for the Celtics? What if LeBron never left Cleveland? In interactive fiction, those questions have varying answers, usually skewed for the reader/ player's enjoyment.

Partaking in the game's "Association" (season) and "Quick Game" modes lead us to those answers. The amazing part? Sometimes those answers parlay into reality, as noted in Kai Mikkonen's piece "Can Fiction Become Fact? The Fiction-to-Fact
Transition in Recent Theories of Fiction":

Other examples of fluctuation between fiction and reality‚ sometimes used in the applications of possible-worlds theory to literature‚ the as-if and
could-be structures within fiction that have become reality. Certain forms of, say,
science fiction and Utopia can become real in the actual world. For instance, Jules
Verne's and Albert Robida's future possibilities, imagined in the late nineteenth
century, are our present and past. The passing of time and the invention of
submarines make Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers {1870) fully compatible
for the modern reader (see Ryan, Possible 41), In his illustrated work Le vingtieme
(1883), Robida imagined a prototype television that he named the
"telephonoscope" ...

Magic Birds in the NBA.

In another light, if we liken NBA 2K12 to a novel of historical fiction -- both of which are based on facts and call for interaction -- we can turn to the ideas in Richard Slotkin's essay "Fiction for the Purposes of History":

The argument made most frequently on behalf of historical fiction is
that, if responsibly done, it can be an effective instrument of popular
education; or at least a means for stimulating interest in the study of
history. Most practicing historians I know were first attracted to their
subjects by reading historical fiction. I'd like to offer a stronger argument. If
properly understood, the writing of historical fiction can be a valuable
adjunct to the work of historians in their discipline.

If historians are attracted to their subjects by reading novels, gamers are attracted to real sports by playing related video games. How many gamers are we talking about? Who knows?

What's more, NBA 2K12's "NBA's Greatest" mode is a wonderful exercise in fictionalizing -- perhaps reimaging -- critical games in the sport's history. For instance, you can pit Magic Johnson and the swimmingly awesome '90-91 Lakers against the '90-91 Trailblazers, once again dominating the Western Conference. You can also assume Larry Bird, Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Patrick Ewing, among others. Plus, the mode's camera filters are a nice touch, a nod to history. The bonus of "NBA's Greatest" mode is the fact that you can unlock the historical teams featuring the aforementioned legends. Unlocks parlay into dream match-ups, like the '85 Celtics taking on today's franchise. Bird vs. Garnett, you know?  

For some gamers, the "NBA's Greatest" feature inspires new perspectives on its history. We can tie this idea to Slotkin's:

"The idea of novelizing an event is to see it from
within, from the limited and contingent perspective of those who are
caught up in the action. To do all this requires first of all a personal
engagement, a projection of yourself into past lives‚ finding of what in
yourself might correspond to that historically alien consciousness, and a
stretching of your own imaginative limits to encompass experiences that are
beyond you. There is no better mental exercise for training historians to
appreciate the difference of the past, the contingent nature of historical
experience, and the rooted subjectivity of all historical actors."

With that mind, we can argue that NBA 2K12, thanks to its cutting-edge design and features, serves as a wonderful stand-in for the real season. If the next iteration is any better, and if the 12 season never begins, it might be a permanent replacement. No foul there.

Unraveling Yarns is a weekly column that explores video games as narrative delivery devices. James Hawkins and Rich Shivener rotate week-to-week to discuss their opinions on some of gaming's most challenging and nuanced stories from all generations. Follow James on Twitter @JamesHawk1ns. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichShiv.

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