(For context, the franchise routinely tops sales charts in Australia, has 2.3 million daily players worldwide and sales last year exceeded $US1billion, making it video game publisher 2K’s second most popular game after Grand Theft Auto V).
The mode has come a long way since women were first included in the NBA 2K20 game in 2019, with the gameplay now a better representation of the real athletes.
But while I’m extremely glad these talented women are starting to be recognised in the same arenas as the men, having the modes side-by-side highlights the disparity between genders.
This year, the men’s career mode is an open world with quests, a story and fully voiced and animated interactions with real players.
Meanwhile, the women’s career mode is reminiscent of NBA 2K11, from 11 years ago: bare bones, has no story and no voiced segments I’ve come across. It’s also locked to new-generation consoles which are much harder to come by.
It brings into focus the different treatment of women’s sports compared with men’s. Men are still considered the default in sport, with women’s sport a largely token indulgence (unless the men’s national team is losing, then the women become our national pride). It’s the AFL and the AFLW, the NBA and WNBA, not the AFLM and MNBA, even though that’s all they are.
This seems to be the way of representation: being excited that progress is finally being made, while also being disappointed by how slow that progress is and that it didn’t happen decades ago.
I understand that this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem – you can’t make more merchandise and include female players in video games until their league is more popular and there’s a bigger talent pool to draw from.
But having visible merch and video games help drive popularity and build the talent pool. It’s a “build it and they will come” situation.
Professional sports are changing and becoming more welcoming for women, and the promotional arms are getting into that, too.
That progress is wonderful but gosh, it’s hard to not be impatient.
Alice Clarke is an award-winning freelance journalist, producer and presenter.