[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]
Here are all the things I know about ice hockey: it’s cold, Canadians like it, and for some reason players are allowed to halt the game, whip off their helmets and beat the shit out of each other. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it, but I managed to live the vast majority of my life without it ever being an issue that I didn’t know what. Then, all of a sudden, I’m trawling through Google for an explanation of breakaways and the (bizarrely specific) criteria for penalty shots.
Back when the Xbox 360 and PS3 were considered the “next generation” of video game consoles, these 2K Sports titles were some of the first I played. I remember being blown away by them. It wasn’t the gameplay, which was largely the same as it always had been, but the small, incidental details that hadn’t been possible on other platforms: realistic sweat running down players’ faces, the fabric of a jersey rippling and contorting with motion. I never considered these games as the go-to fix for achievement junkies, because in 2005 nobody really cared about or understood the Gamerscore system. The launch line-up was a gateway to what was suddenly possible now, and what might be possible in the future. Of course when you go back and play them in 2016 you realize they are full of laughable achievements, and that their reputation of ease and convenience taints the memory of what it felt like to play these games when they were new and exciting.
I say it all the time, but I often think the meta-rewards that were ushered into gaming during that console generation are tremendously important. Almost as often I lament their existence, largely because of games like this, which were unfortunate enough to come along when the system was in its infancy and didn’t really understand how best to maximise it’s potential. I greatly enjoyed playing this game just to unlock the achievements, primarily because doing so involves messing with the in-game competence sliders, turning your entire team into flawless super-athletes and the opposition into dribbling morons. But I never really escaped the fact that I really was only playing just for those meaningless 1000 points, another batch to pile onto my equally meaningless total. I have no interest whatsoever in my overall Gamerscore or Trophy level or however Steam measures it, but I’m fascinated by how these systems relate to individual experiences. And in this case it made me long for those hours I spent playing the game in 2005, when I could enjoy NHL 2K6 as a decent sports title I didn’t entirely understand, and it didn’t have to be anything more than that.