Do Sports Games Need More Drama?

Sports games appeal to a niche audience. I used to be part of that audience, as I grew up playing a ton of basketball and football games, with some golf and tennis here and there for good measure. I still love sports in general, but I've moved away from sports games in recent years. The inherent repetition makes it hard to play a new one each year, but NBA 2K16's inclusion of an intricate story mode may be a step in the right direction.

The NBA 2K series has attempted to present bombastic career modes in the past, but NBA 2K16 is the first one to feature a Spike Lee joint. Seriously, it says "featuring a Spike Lee joint" on the box. The famed director crafted the MyCareer mode in NBA 2K16, titled "Livin' Da Dream." It features a created character named Frequency Vibration, or Freq for short, as he works his way through high school, college, and his rookie year in the NBA.

Freq interacts with all kinds of distinct characters, as Devin Charles notes in our review of the game. The MyCareer mode tries to paint a picture in typical Spike Lee fashion, and thus it features plenty of drama and over-the-top moments. At times, authenticity is thrown out the window. I've seen bits and pieces of the mode, and it heightens the drama a bit too much at times. Nevertheless, it succeeds even when it falters.

There's a certain gravitational pull to the career mode in NBA 2K16. Even as someone who avoids sports games nowadays, part of me wants to experience the lunacy of Spike Lee's virtual basketball world. It's something that was missing from the My Player mode in NHL 16, as I note in my review. That game lacks personality in spots, whereas NBA 2K16 demonstrates its personality in spades due to Spike Lee's involvement.

It also showcases an important part of sports: the drama. Some fans simply watch games and leave it at that, but there's a reason channels like ESPN exist. Lots of fans crave the off-the-field drama, whether it's the latest arrest of superstar X or a deflated football scandal. Something like the career mode in NBA 2K16 attempts to capture that drama, even if the execution is flawed in spots. It gives the sports game a new avenue to appeal to a broader audience, as more people understand entertaining stories than they do the ins-and-outs of a single sport.

That's not to say sports games should be dominated by story modes. Faithfulness to the sport and how it actually plays still stand out as two of the most important factors, but there's room for other features within the overall package. Why can't something like a Spike Lee-directed story mode be the kind of jolt to kick the genre back into gear? It'll be interesting to see if other developers utilize the inherent drama of sports to appeal to a larger audience.