Film Through Video Game

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Anya Engel-Adams in real live versus the video game

When I saw the character of Rasheeda in Chi-raq (one of Lysistrata’s companions), I knew she was familiar. It was only after I looked Chi-raq’s cast up that I realized where I had seen the face. Anya Engel-Adams and Spike Lee had collaborated before, on NBA 2k16’s My Career storyline, Livin’ Da Dream. The video game has a mode where players can play out the lives of an up and coming NBA star. For the 2016 version of the game, 2k brought Spike Lee onto the team to enhance the storyline of the game mode.

Now that I have more context as to what a Spike Lee joint is, I decided to go back and re-watch Livin Da Dream. With this game, Lee did more than craft a storyline—he truly created a virtual film. Using face-recognition technology, 2k and Lee worked together with actors to create an immersive storyline that was part drama, part documentary. The screenshot below is from a scene in which Lee is interviewing Frequency Vibrations’ (the name of your basketball player) mother. Playing the game and watching the cutscenes, one knows that a man with purpose is behind the camera, showing us the story of a young black man who has to struggle with power structures as he rises to fame and wealth in the NBA.

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Having seen 4 Little Girls I recognize that loving angle

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One of the main plot points is that Freq is pressured by the team owner to cut off a friend from back home who is tarnishing his image. Both you (as the player) and Freq (as the character) must struggle with balancing your connection to your home with public image and jersey sales. The challenges of playing this “game” were themes I found in Inside Man as well. Even though this collaboration with 2k might have been a “funding” project that Lee did in order to fund a future project, Lee still found a way to make this year’s NBA 2k a bonafide Joint.

4 thoughts on “Film Through Video Game”

  1. It’s crazy that you were able to recognize real life actors/actresses in this game that also starred in other Spike Lee films. I’ve never played a 2k game in my life, but after reading this post I want to go watch whatever short film he made for this video game because it seems dope and crazy creative.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find it really interesting and innovative for Spike Lee to use an already existing form (the video game) and to manipulate it so that it becomes similar to animated documentaries. I’m really curious as to why Spike Lee chose this particular form though. My first instinct is that he did it because of budgetary reasons, but there are other forms of animation, such as flash animation, that is very minimalist and low-cost to fulfill it.

    I have not watched Livin Da Dream, but I can imagine how difficult it might be for a game to let you create your own narrative rather than follow the one that is already programmed for the user to fulfill.

    This post definitely creates more questions on Lee’s creative tactics to generate art and think pieces.


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