"MBA 2K16" is a satirical remix of the 13th in-game cutscene from the popular videogame NBA 2K16. The original cutscene was written and directed by Spike Lee. It depicts a conversation between the game’s player character, ‘Freq’ (pronounced ‘Freak’), a Harlem-born professional basketball player, and the team owner character, a middle-aged MiT-educated white man. These archetypal characters share stories about their lives--and tensions emerge around issues of race, class, and community--as the player character wrestles with a difficult decision.
In early 2017, I began using the open-source tool Cheat Engine to modify my copy of NBA 2K16, replacing the player character avatar with other characters (i.e. art assets) from the game. This allowed me to play the game as other professional basketball players, as NBA coaches and cheerleaders, as members of Freq’s family, and even as Spike Lee. Playing as the game’s director prompted me to go back and watch the game’s cutscenes again. All of the cutscenes in NBA 2K16 are generated in real time by the game’s engine -- so when I watched these in-game cinematics, I would see the role of Freq being “played” by men and women, young and old, from many different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds. Sometimes, the same “actor” would be assigned to more than one role in the same cutscene. The effect was disorienting and surreal.
In "MBA 2K16", we see two characters sharing their experiences, their perspectives, and their differences. We also see someone talking to himself. We see the same mouth moved in two different ways, in accordance with two different algorithms. Who wrote those algorithms, and why are they different? Which mouth is “correct”? Which perspective is “true”? And who has the authority to make those decisions?
- Digital America, Issue 14 (forthcoming Nov. 2019)