Modern Sports Gaming Presentation From Black Portraiture[S]  



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A lot of my initial research came from Katherine Isbister’s book How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. Isbister is the Professor of Computational Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is the author of Better Game Characters by Design. She was the founding Director of the Game Innovation Lab at New York University and needless to say she understands a lot about video games. How Games Move Us explores a lot of different types of games trying to unpack the range of feelings that video games can create. As to how these games create these emotions, most video game researchers agree that the emotive power of games can be defined by choice and flow. So choice is just as it is implied, the ability to make decisions that have unique consequences but this idea of flow is a touch more complicated. 

So to quote Isbister: “The ability to choose and control your actions gives rise to the second unique quality of games: the ease with which players can enter a pleasurable optimal performance state that psychology research Mihaly Csikentmihalyi calls “flow” When people are in flow - when musicians play at their best, when athletes are in the zone, when programmers stay up all night creating brilliant code - time seems to melt away and personal problems disappear. Well designed games with the control they offer users over actions in a novel world, readily engage players in a flow state.”

Genova Chen designed the above diagram for their MFA Thesis @ USC in 2006. With Challenge on the Y axis and Abilities on the X asis, Chen considers the flow zone as that sweet spot where the user can oscillate between being challenged and having their abilities confirmed. Meanwhile Csikenzentmihalyi has divided the factors of defining the optimal state of low into 8 categories: Read slide. 

As I’ve highlighted 2 of these characteristics seem quite interesting, a sense of control and a loss of self consciousness and some of the questions to keep in mind as we are going over sports video games are: What does it mean to gain your flow from the controlling of a body that already exists? or a body that is based on the experience of many bodies that already exist? Is a body sovereign if it can be duplicated? Are all bodies simply for rent?

Before we dive deeper into sports I wanted to show some of the avant grade games that exist right now. This is cart life, literally it is a game about living. The user plays a character who is opening a food cart or a news stand in a city that they’ve just moved to. The immigrant nature of the character is pretty much implied. He’s a single father hovering just around the poverty line. 

This game is poetic and really quite addictive it swept all the indie gaming awards in 2013. The twists in this game are hyper realistic, if you don’t have enough money you can choose to take your family and live with your sister. For example, Laura, your daughter in the game, asks “Do we get to stay with aunt Becca for a long time.” A lot of the game is incredibly self reflexive highlighting the inner life of the player’s avatar: “it’s funny how our blood tastes just like pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters”

This is That Dragon Cancer a video game that is highly non traditional and intentionally so. The player takes on the avatar of a father whose baby son, Joel, has cancer. The game play consists of various levels trying to entertain or soothe Joel. The game functions on the idea of grace, the baby dies no matter how well you do on the various levels, the point is that it was wonderful to be blessed with your son’s life. One reviewer from the Verge said the following: I’ve played a lot of games but nothing has felt as important or as rewarding as making Joel giggle.” So let’s just quickly watch the first minute or so of the trailer to get an idea of the nature of the game.

So we know that games can be highly emotional and create complex emotions in the players but What video games actually have black people in them? The answer is a lot. Pictured here is a still from the infamous 5th edition of Grand Theft Auto, a hyper realistic game where the user tries to get by on the streets of LA doing illegal activity. This is the black avatar that you can play, his name is Franklin. I could do an entire presentation on this game alone.

There are also plenty of narrative games with black characters in them but unfortunately most of these games don’t give these black characters any dynamism, they’re flat portraits of stereotypes of black people. So I chose to focus on sports video games because already sports play an interesting role in black identity, especially black male identity and NBA 2k and Madden have the highest amount of black users of any video games on the market. 

Just to give you an overview of some of the sports games on the market, here’s FIFA, NCAA Basketball, NCAA Football, Madden 15 and NBA 2k17. Each of these games have career stages so you can literally in fast speed, live the life of a player starting with their high school career. Both of the NCAA football games have been discontinued because of a lawsuit which I’ll explain more about later. All these games are hyper realistic, and purposefully so, here are some examples of their hyper real looks.

Here's just an example of the hyper reality of the video games. 

Just to give you an idea of some of this hyper reality in NBA 2k this is the trailer for NBA 2k17, the latest version of NBA 2k. These characters really straddle the line between real and computer animated. 

There are some interesting differences between NBA 2k16 and 17 but their career stage has stayed pretty similar. The career video story was made by Spike Lee who clearly took pains to make the narrative Black Normative. If for example you create a white avatar player, your family remains black, you still have a twin sister named CeeCee who is black.

A player named Augustus on Sep 14 @ 4:43am remarked in the the NBA 2k Forums - 2k17 under the subject MyCareer voice once again strictly black an Augustus says: “Clearly 2k games is exclusively targeting the black consumers. Year after year, the voice for your MyCareer player is black and you have no other option. Why even let us change the skin color? You may as well force us to have a black player as well.” So, the video above is from From Youtube User Evil Seed and in it he shows his created white character (most likely in his own likeness) in the standard run of the NBA 2k16 My career Mode. 

From the early 2000’s to 2012 and 2014 respectively, EA sports was making NCAA games for Football and Basketball with each update using the roster and stats of college students who were currently enrolled at various schools. Since the college players are considered amateurs they cannot get paid for their play so of course these video games used the likeness of these players without giving them any money. The games were discontinued because a suit was brought by a group of players who were frustrated that their likeness’ were used without their consent.

The suit settled last year and this summer former NCAA players started receiving their checks but as Channing Crowder shows here, the checks were quite small… To the left of this screen grabbed tweet is a reply from Twitter user Orange and Blue who says: “You’re complaining about your check, Meanwhile, no video game for the rest of us.” This comment really highlights how this hard to name inhumanity that is implied by having these young men become video game characters, in a way because they play college sports, they’re a public figure, but if they aren’t getting paid to be a public figure, what does that mean? The NCAA as an entity already deals with this ethical issue of paying the players or not but the video games create an even more intense gray area: Is it fair for these young men to sacrifice their bodies for the entertainment of others in exchange for a subpar education, an education only rendered subpar because their time is so filled with sports? 

This is Steph Curry, he’s arguably one of the best basketball players in the NBA right now and arguably one of the best players to ever play the game. He’s 28 and he is known of his unpredictable game play - he will literally take shots that nobody will take which makes him very hard to program. 

He can make shots that no player can. Part of this is because players are taught not to take these shots and part of this is because he is really really good. Certain new strategies that have become characteristic of Basketball as we know it now in 2016 have their origins in the DNA of Steph Curry’s game play: things like the influx of 3 point shots, the increased speed and the shying away from large players and sticking more with a smaller more agile 5 man squad. 

So as I mentioned before there are some differences between NBA 2k16 and NBA 2k17 and one of the largest ones has to do with Steph. Here is a YouTube Video by user PlavnoPredatorM1, he was so frustrated with Steph’s poor game play he saved me the time of having to create a video showing the difference between actual Steph and Virtual NBA 2k16 steph. 

This is hilarious. 

So all this to say that for fans of Steph Curry’s play the 2k17 was anxiously anticipated and here’s a different YouTube user, AJJ Productions, showing side by side real Steph plays in 2k17 with video game plays. It looks like they've solved the problem. 

So all of these “complications” and Steph Curry’s new programability bring up tons of questions that are really hard to answer but very easy to ask here are 3 that I’m really interested in: What does it mean to use a black body in Virtual Spaces, especially spaces that have been proven o augment reality? When does a body become truly virtual? Has a black body always been virtual? Theoretical?

This video, My Bodies, is by Hannah Black, an artist and writer based in Berlin.