Player Hater

Swanky locales make you drool while you dribble.“Vince Carter’s a dick,” Marty says when I
choose him.

“He’s from the Toronto team,” I say lamely. I’m not really a
hometown booster or anything, I’d just been happy I’d been able to
recognize any of the players I had to choose from.

“Yeah, but he wants to leave,” Marty grumbles.

This is why I invited Marty. We were hanging out a few weeks ago
and he’d been rhapsodizing about Charles Barkley’s interviewing
style. Not only does he watch basketball, but he plays it — so he’s
two up on me when it comes to critiquing NBA Ballers(Midway,

I’m not a sports game fan, as regular readers of this column will
have probably guessed. Not being interested in sports mythology, it
seems like too much work — picking your players, changing their
stats, customizing the rules — it’s like a jock flavour of role
playing games. I let Marty start off in possession of the
controller. I’m inclined to go straight to quickplay if that were an
option, but he starts off by browsing the options. “I like to do
this just to get a sense of the game,” he says, scrolling through
difficulty levels like “Got Skillz” and “Tru Playa.” “It’s all in
the slang,” Marty says.

I knew that hip-hop and basketball culture had a lot of
crossover, but it completely saturates this game. “It’s generally
rock for hockey games, bad generic rock,” Marty says. He and I are
both hip-hop fans, so it’s a’ight. And on the topic of whitey
awkwardly using black slang, the game begins with the announcer
enunciating “in the hizzle” and “ballers” as if they had quotes
around them. It’s a relief when he turns over the announcing to MC
Supernatural, the freestyle rap champ who does play-by-play on your

Turns out Vince Carter is a pretty strong player, dick or no.
Marty chooses a little guy whose name I forget, and though I’m able
to get a couple of monster dunks in, Marty keeps swishing these
three-pointers. “Man!” I say when he pulled into the lead, amazed.

“Yeah, he’s a shooter.”

“Like, in real life?”

“Yeah. I know what players’ skills are, so I’ve got an edge on
you that way.”

It takes a couple of matches to get the hang of the defensive and
offensive moves, and the button mashing I’m doing (to some effect)
at the beginning gets a little more finessed. The two thumbsticks on
the Xbox controllers let you move with one and deke with the other,
and getting a shot off is often a case of waiting for a hole in your
opponent’s defence and sliding through. There are a few players who
seemed to be more unstoppable, however, capable of powering through
and dunking regardless of the defence. The reactions of the winning
and losing players are pretty varied, as are the off-the-cuff
comments from MC Supernatural. “It’s pretty fun,” Marty exclaims.

Swanky locales make you drool while you dribble.<When we play the next match, we choose different guys. I choose
one because I've always liked the name Pippin, but Marty cycles
through them all, weighing his options. "They all have the actual
player names," he tells me. "I remember playing sports games when
they hadn't been able to license some of the big names. So if you
went looking in the Bulls you wouldn't find Michael Jordan or
whatever, but there would be this guy with wicked stats named Player
or something generic."

After Marty beats me a few more times we try the single player
mode. Called “Rags to Riches,” it starts out with a CGI movie
describing the narrative of the game — that you’ve been chosen for
a new kind of reality show dreamt up by network execs, pitting a
young nobody from the streets against the seasoned pros. A pretty
standard narrative, but the CGI movie that lays it out is
interesting. Instead of having the network execs simply discuss the
scheme, they’re frozen as if put on pause and a voice-over by a
rapper explains it. While he does, the camera viewpoint circles the
immobile execs.

Probably the intent was just to make it stylish, but it also
dodges having to explicitly depict the execs as craven and is a good
deal more visually interesting than seeing talking heads, especially
since the lip-synching thing hasn’t been licked yet. Pausing the
game in mid-play also uses this effect of slowly circling the frozen
players — it’s almost hypnotizing, and it shows off the detail of
the body language. Rather than always trying to make CGI models
behave organically, why not appreciate them for their robotic sheen
once in a while?

While I’ve been ruminating on the good use of the medium, Marty’s
been customizing our player. For a game made up mostly of black
basketball players, the default character starts off white — a
strange choice. Marty makes him black, thin, tall, big eared,
skinny-nosed and huge noggin’d, and sends our unlikely hero onto the
court where booty and bling await.

Categories: Videogames

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