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Zen On The Sticks

by Kenneth cruz 2 months ago in console · updated 2 months ago

How NBA2K May Have Saved My Life...

Ok, I’m going to start off with a confession.  I guess you can say I've spent my whole life threading the needle. At one stage I was a compulsive gambler, and it was bad… really bad. Sure I’ve made light of it and even said to some in a bragging fashion that the most I’ve lost in a night was 30 thousand dollars.  I’m sure this candid fact will shock and anger some who understand the value of money.   I'd say when it comes to gambling my rock bottom was leaving one of my ex's with strange movers from craigslist, while I got stuck on the roulette table at a local casino called Arizona Charlies. It was supposed to be just to cash a check, but turned into the whole night and admittedly I left my ex there in the upscale Vegas apartment with no money or supervision while I gambled the night, and my money away.

Flash forward to now.  I’m definitely not in the financial space I once was, but I’m stable and getting by.  When I gave up gambling, I had found a new vice and had become somewhat of a bar fly. I started living at bars, drinking and picking up my share of random women and a healthy collection of DUIS.  It was all a coping mechanism for the stress of life as a disabled Latino male, but a poor one, albeit it.  In fact, one that almost cost me my most loved firstborn son and a relationship with a wonderful, faithful, and loyal woman.  She is all of those things but is also a walking knot of stress and anxiety at times, so again coping mechanisms come into play.  So while she admittedly resents 2k for how much I play, she doesn’t even begin to understand how therapeutic and helpful it is for our relationship and myself alike.  Mind you. We are barely getting out of a pandemic and quarantine, so imagine what's a man to do, well let's just say I became pro-level at the game during the lockdown.  So while she hates the game deep down, I know it was lucky for us both that several years ago, I decided to grab the latest copy of 2k and head home for a heated session with a friend and coworker.  It was a rekindled love affair.

As I took to the sticks (as we say in the community), I remembered my brief college time in a dorm with friends huddled around a small twin bed, and then a 13-inch TV/VHS combo my dad had purchased for me as a high school graduation present.  My how our generation has gotten spoiled, but I digress.  I had just gotten my first credit card and instantly headed to sears and purchased a SEGA DREAMCAST and, along with it, my first copy of NBA2K, which was graced with Allen Iverson on the cover.  Little did I know I was picking up a classic akin to Casablanca.  My dorm room #111 at Temple University on Broad St across from the Mcdonalds; that was often called club Mickey Ds due to the high influx of students that would hang out there, instantly became the spot to be.  An uber-competitive battleground for video game basketball.  It was esports before esports was a thing.  Wagers were common, and we would throw what little money we had in a pile in the middle of the room and play winner take all.  Then when we were out of money, we would just play for fun and bragging rights.  Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten the sheer excitement and what it was to score or block your friend or rival.

Now mind you, this was 20 years ago.  How the game has evolved since then.  The controls make you feel like you are part of the action as you have seamless control over almost every movement and aspect of your player and team alike.  I forget how the rest of the world could melt away, and you could forget the stress of a flunked exam or a heartbreaking breakup.  I forgot how you could just find a peaceful zen-like state of flow and just lose yourself in defensive stops and swished baskets.  Mind you, I actually got a paid scholarship for wheelchair basketball and was even paid to attend practice as it was listed as a schoolwork job!  Still, the real thing was amazing, but there was something special about finding greatness on the virtual hardwood that couldn’t be explained.

I stopped playing NBA2K near the end of my time at Temple when my dorm room was broken into, and my Dreamcast was stolen.  I actually received an insurance check from the school and went out to buy a PS2 instead, but for some reason didn’t grab a copy of NBA2K, and just like that, I left the game behind a memory until about 2017/2018.  I was still managing my own business at the time and doing well, so I picked up an Xbox and a copy of 2k, and my was I in for a treasure trove of goodness.  At its core, it was the same game but had evolved into a different beast as well, not unlike the first iPhone.  I was lost in the zen once again, amazed at how stress-relieving the virtual ballet of blocks, steals, swishes, and slam dunks could be.  The thrill of competition, the sheer level of content, and customizability it was astounding and could melt my stress away, and that was without really diving into all the new modes and content that was available.  Once I did really dive in, I realized I had opened a pandora's box, and much like Alice venturing into wonderland, I entered a wonderland of my own. 

NBA2K was one of the rare things that could hit all my pleasure points and still be a safe, healthy medium.  Instant gratification: check the thrill of gambling without having to risk big money; check, unprecedented social interaction in a community that was welcoming; check, and lastly, just like my writing NBA2K offered a unique outlet for expression and creativity.  Just tell me where I could find all those things at once bundled into one tight-knit package.

Now don’t get me wrong you can turn on a host of other games like COD, Fortnite, Apex or Pubg to get some stress relief, competition, or a slight gambling fix but in my experience you run the highly likely risk of running into a slew of whiny 5 year olds and trolls.  Something that is admittedly a lot more rare in NBA2K and is a God send when your looking to unwind.  Aside from all of that, the competitive scene in NB2K is real and the stakes are high.  There’s other gaming tournaments but none seem as accessible to me as NBA2K’s 250k tournament.  I watched Tydebo take home the trophy and grand prize this year and felt motivated and inspired by his journey.  

The thought of winning that tournament alone could keep me coming back to 2K again and again, but the sheer endless array of content, and creative canvas that also make up this game keep me hooked beyond what I could have ever imagined.  Whether I’m stuck in a battle of strategy and reactions with an opponent or creating a custom courts and uniforms for a newly created team I just get lost in the content.  It’s brings me peace and zen and at least for me kills the urge to find myself in Vegas or Atlantic city.  As I dribble up the court and score a game winning basket and find myself unlock a super rare card my endorophins and pleasure points in my brain are massaged and I’m brought to a place of temporary euphoria not unlike hitting a slot machine.  When I have down time but I’m not in a position to actually play I can get a quick fix by tuning into one of my favorite NBA2K content creators like DBG, Tydebo, Agent00 or the plethora of other great content creators in the community. These guys act as middle man for this game and the awesome developers like Mike Wang and Ronnie 2K.   Its a community where I can say for the most part developers are paying attention to their audience and that just makes the whole experience that much sweeter.  

So when I title this article how NBA2K may have saved my life it’s no lie.  The stress of the past couple of years may have been enough to break me.  I could easily have seen myself spending a pandemic lost to gambling or caught up in a drunking stooper.  Luckily I’ve come to realize I have everything I need at home.  I’m blessed with a beautiful family and when the stress and weight of the world starts to seem like to much I can just hop on the sticks and find my zen, peace, and sweet realease. In moments I can taste the thrill of greatness or agony of defeat from the safety of my own bedroom.  I’m truly grateful for NBA2K, a game that has helped me thread the needle of life again and again.

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Kenneth cruz

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