Playing with faults

Since playing Skyrim, I’ve become invested in the idea of role playing games, but not necessarily traditional RPGs. For example, I’ve gone a long way toward explaining why Battlefield 3 is an RPG–a game that requires you to pick a class/role and stick to it if you’re going to be successful. And in the last few weeks, I’ve re-dedicated myself to the My Player career mode in NBA 2k12, relishing in the ability to be a 6’1″ point guard with serious limitations.

In my Skyrim conquest, I chose to be a high elf, a class well suited for magic and relatively agile. I had heard that hand-to-hand combat in the game was less than ideal, and I thought that this was probably the “optimal” class. In the past, anytime I had encountered an RPG, the goal was always to become a demigod, the kind of character that can do all and conquer anything in its way. But Skyrim specifically forces you out of this mold, at least if you’re trying to be even remotely successful.

My high elf couldn’t wield a sword if his life depended on it (it has in the past, to predictably poor results). In spite of that, I’ve never cared to upgrade my hand-to-hand fighting abilities. Less inherently, I’ve decided that my character will live his entire life (or at least the part of his life that I control) as a nomad, dealing with whatever struggles might come from that decision. In Skyrim, after helping to save a town early in the game, you’re given the right to purchase property in the centralized city. The primary function of owning a house, presumably anyway, is the ability to store items permanently. The inventory in the game is such that you can only carry 300 units of equipment/potions/weapons/etc. With certain weapons weighing up to as much as 25 units, managing your inventory becomes a priority, and without the ability to store items permanently, I’m often forced to drop or destroy weapons and equipment that I would otherwise keep for a more pressing situation.

In my previous game-playing experience, I never would have shunned the ability to buy a house and ostensibly, make the game easier. Gold in Skyrim is not difficult to come across, so splurging on a piece of property is only a minor, short-term setback that will eventually return significant dividends. I don’t know why I made the decision to be a nomad. At the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do, or maybe I didn’t feel like scrounging up a bunch of money just to put up a white picket fence somewhere while I spent most of my time gallivanting in the wilderness. But that decision has had its consequences; in terms of video games, a world in which there is an objective goal, that was a conscious decision to play as an imperfect character.

The first NBA 2k game that I played was last year’s iteration (2k11). At the behest of my friend who claimed it to be the greatest basketball game ever made, I bought it and, per usual with sports games, went immediately to the career mode, rather than online or dynasty modes. My character was a 6’5″ small forward; his size chosen because the game penalized positions for being taller than is commonly accepted and gave significant benefits to those that were undersized. As a 6’5″ small forward, the only thing that I wasn’t great at was dunking, which was fine. I shot three pointers at a 50%-60% clip, had a stepback jumper that was nearly unstoppable, and was fast enough to be an all-star defender, despite my height disadvantage. I was Lebron James, except a few inches shorter and a much better shooter.

Eventually, this got tiresome. Most games were won as I leaked out from the defensive end on a missed shot and took a three pointer from the corner. I was the league’s best player and I sought vindication in the NBA’s regular season MVP award. That was the ultimate goal of the game. When I bought NBA 2k12, however, I had a different goal in mind. I wanted to be an athletic point guard, the likes of which Derek Rose makes so appealing: 6’1″, athletic build, mediocre shot, and an incredible ability to get to the rim. In that regard, I succeeded, but it has been a struggle for the alternate reality New York Knicks, which has little-to-no outside shooting presence*.

Despite those challenges, playing as a character with obvious flaws and limitations has made the game remarkably more engaging. Not only does it force you to play within the game’s strictures, it allows you to hone your play style (I’ve never before been this adept at the various dribbling intricacies in the game).

Games have gotten to the point of sophistication where playing above them (speed runs, Game Genie, etc) are no longer the point or even very entertaining. I’ve never been one to try and break games–find the exploitable glitch that allows you to be infallible–but I have always tried to create the perfect player. Unfortunately, the perfect player is never very much fun. Give me a nomad or a guy who can’t hold onto the ball and I’ll hurl my controller into the forgiving couch cushion next to me. But I’ll also love every minute of it.

*The NBA lockout was the best thing to happen to NBA 2k12’s My Player mode because free agents were never picked up by new teams, the draft never happened, and as a result, there was a ridiculous shuffle of players around the league. Our current starting lineup includes my character, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Maxiell, and Marcus Camby. You can see why the loss of outside shooting would be such an issue.

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