By Tyler Berry
Editor's Note: This piece also appears on Modern Nostalgia Productions' blog because, ya know, video games and stuff.
The Spike Lee Joint, “Livin Da Dream,” part of NBA 2K16’s MyCareer Mode, is simultaneously the most eye-roll inducing and the most interesting piece of a sports game that I’ve ever played. From moment one of the story involving your character, Frequency Vibrations, aka Freq, it’s clear that this is not your normal MyCareer Mode with a pointless story shoehorned in to make it feel “real.” Thought was actually put into this narrative and, while it’s cheesy and hackneyed at times, there is heart to Spike’s tale.
First of all, if you are a MyCareer player but have no interest in this story, don’t worry because all the cutscenes are skippable and it all takes place during your rookie season, where you only play eight NBA games anyway. As Freq, you progress initially through high school, pick your college and play for the National Championship, and experience the thrill of getting drafted, presumably to whatever team you pick as your favorite when you create your player. I picked the Pacers and was drafted by the Pacers with the 11th pick.
From there, you experience the highlights every real NBA rookie waits for: the first shoe deal, first press conference, first regular season game, etc. However, where the narrative gets real and Spike Lee-esque is the storyline between you and your best friend since childhood, Vic. Vic is a problem, both for your player’s image and your player’s bank account. He tries to steal your girl and causes so many problems that the team owner threatens to trade you if you don’t cut him loose.
When the final straw breaks and you cut Vic off, a dark exchange takes place between the two of you, where many subjects that you wouldn’t expect to hear about in a 2K experience are tackled. From AIDS to guns to thoughts of suicide, there’s a surprisingly real moment between your player and Vic. Sitting there watching this play out, I was shocked at not only the scene in front of me but also how much I was invested in it.
I won’t spoil the ending but, after your rookie season, where you oddly are a free agent and have to decide where to sign next, there is a truly Spike Lee moment involving Vic and a touching speech that actually made me feel like I was watching the final scene of a movie.
When that plays out, the credits roll. By credits, I mean the actors involved in the game scream at you about where they’re from and where they represent, and then the “Joint” is over. From there, you can continue on in your career as you would in the past 2K games. Just like that, it’s over and yet, I still can’t get the experience out of my head. I’m surprised to say that I really wouldn’t mind some DLC that expanded or continued the story.
If you put a gun to my head and asked me if Livin’ Da Dream was actually good, I would probably say no. It’s very predictable and a lot of the dialogue is horrendous, but it has some real heart. It kept my attention through every cutscene that was maybe two minutes too long and it really did touch me with the ending sequence. So was it good? No. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to actually make my player good because he is serious trash right now.