The Sports Desk – Sports Story Modes' Inevitable Finale
Story-based modes are all the rage these days, and I'm thankful games like Madden, FIFA, and NBA are including them. They not only give us something different to experience, but they are well done, too. While these story modes expand the horizons of these games, the possibilities are not limitless. Enjoy these stories now, because it won't last.
The bubble will burst – not because the quality or the willingness isn't there – but because I believe video game sports stories are self-limiting. They are entrenched in a mythical environment of these sports and conform to our perception of them. Comeback kids, nostalgia-tinged odes to the game, grinders ascending to the big leagues, triumph over adversity, etc. These are understandable stories we've seen many times over in books, films, and real life. When I imagine what these story modes are going to be like after years of iteration, I don't think there are enough of them in the sports storybook canon to support the form in the long term. Besides, they are always going to be limited by the need to be grounded in reality. Unlike other video game genres, for example, you can't go off in fantastic directions like super powers or whatnot.
There are certainly a plethora of sports stories you could draw from that are very topical and important. A football story mode could include concussions/CTE, political protests, PEDs, labor issues, domestic abuse, alcoholism – and that's just your average season. But I think the reason we won't see them addressed is not out of cowardice from the writers or the heavy hand of the leagues, but because they conflict with what the audience wants out of their video game experience and our own perceptions of the sports.
In a video game, players naturally want the ability to control the experience and influence it to a good degree. This makes story modes entwined with stock sports gameplay such as in FIFA's The Journey and NBA 2K's MyCareer mode very relatable paths. But the more a story veers from letting players control their destiny in a fundamental way in service of the story, the more I believe gamers will resist. This, I believe, smooths out unpredictability and promotes a degree of uniformity. I also think the story pool is limited because gamers see themselves as having the ability to triumph against all odds, and those are the kinds of stories we want. Few people want to experience first-hand a character and a story that involves getting pulled over for a DUI, being suspended and/or cut, and dealing with a depression that nobody wants to talk about as the sport chews you up and spits you out. Yet this is a very real sports storyline.
Again, I like how stories are being woven into our sports gameplay, and I don't fault or envy the writers for the constraints they are under. I just think there's a ceiling to these experiences, and that the sky is not the limit. Perhaps not including them every year is an answer, but that's not likely to happen, as people are going to want to resume their progress with their characters. Hopefully I'm wrong and the creators of these modes continue to entertain and engage us for years to come. But like your favorite TV show jumping the shark after four good seasons, I believe not all good things can last.
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Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, 360) - September 12
NASCAR Heat 2 (above)(PS4, Xbox One, PC) - September 12
NHL 18 (PS4, Xbox One) - September 15
NBA 2K18 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS3, 360) - September 19
Project Cars 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - September 22
FIFA 18 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS3, 360) - September 29
Forza Motorsport 7 (Xbox One, PC) - October 3
GT Sport (PS4) - October 17
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
Forza 7 Demo Coming September 19
In advance of the October 3 release.
The NBA 2K18 Demo Is Now Available
Your progress in The Prelude transfers over to the full game when it's out on September 15.
NBA 2K18 Shows Off New Kyrie Irving Cavs Cover
Visual Concepts is releasing the cover at a later date.