I love Spike Lee. Like, a lot. My 11th-favorite movie of all-time is The 25th Hour (for context, my Top 10 are here). My favorite sports films in order: Rocky, Field of Dreams, He Got Game (a Spike Lee joint). I’m not alone in thinking Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece. And with the basketball gods delivering a knockout NBA Finals, I thought back to a year ago when it was announced that Lee was writing the story mode for NBA 2K16. The time when I, and every other Spike Lee acolyte, thought: “Oh, no.”
Historically, sports video games and story modes go together like turkeys and ducks. One gets shoved in the butt of the other on special occasions and everyone gets excited for what amounts to no reason. Still, all hail 2K for giving story mode a shot – no small task. And I get the interest in bringing on Spike Lee to helm it. A big name is bold! It’s a game changer! Until it’s not.
While the Lee/2K partnership hit nothing-but-net on one key aspect – a person of color created a story about people of color – the airballs were too plentiful, often avoidable and reeked of a lack of oversight. Starting with the title: Livin’ Da Dream. Which is so obviously bad, I’m struggling to find a creative way to criticize it.
The most disappointing thing by far about Livin’ Da Dream is that there are pretty much zero choices to be made. That’s basically a movie, which, fair enough, but don’t use the tagline “Be the Story” when it should be “Watch the Story.” What’s most aggravating is that, after you do get to make two superficial choices – what high school you go to, and which college (after one-sided pitches from recruiters) – you can’t make the choices you really want to make. You can’t tell your idiot best friend to get his shit straight; you can’t tell your controlling sister to back the fuck off; you can’t tell your team’s owner he’s being a vaguely racist asshole; and you can’t shoot your motormouthed agent with a tranquilizer dart. The way you couldn’t stop murdering people in Grand Theft Auto IV even though the character was “you,” in NBA 2K16 you have to watch “you” make the worst possible choice in every situation. Consider that there’s loads of drama and attention around if you leave school early to go pro or stay in school. But guess what? You don’t get to choose. It just has you go pro. Proving this as one of the great Determinist experiences.
So, maybe the argument is it’s a movie inside a video game. OK, so then was 2K too afraid to take away the keys to the car after Spike started veering into oncoming traffic? I know big names freak people out, but someone should’ve stepped up and red-flagged at least these things.
Yet More Baffling Shit in Livin’ Da Dream
- The main character is called Frequency Vibrations (Freq for short). Let that sit for a second.
- The team owner gives off some racist vibes, and I like that Lee went there. But you get to pick Freq’s skin color. So, if he’s white, the vague racism is just really odd.