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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 1:00 am

Be happy video game included city at all

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

We Fort Wayners can have a bit of an inferiority complex.

It's why we get so bent out of shape whenever we make some morbid list – fattest cities in America; dumbest cities; most boring cities – as if it really should matter what people outside of northeast Indiana think about us great people. It's why we make such a hubbub, puff out our chests, when something seemingly nonchalant happens on a big stage, like when then-Colts coach Tony Dungy flippantly said after winning the AFC Championship game they should just play the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears here in 2007 because it would be easier for all involved.

If you're anything like me, when you're with your big-city friends, you try to remind them of nuggets of Fort Wayne history – the Detroit Pistons were ours first! Shelley Long! Jenna Fischer! – or make sure they know the restaurants, shopping and zoo animals here are top notch.

We don't like thinking of ourselves as small town. And it's why a handful of seconds produced by a video-game company that clearly doesn't know a thing about Fort Wayne can hurt so much.

Realize, however, it's a huge, positive deal that Fort Wayne is featured prominently in the latest iteration of the “NBA 2K” franchise – especially for our professional basketball team, the Mad Ants, and their fans – and it's just many can't see the forest for the trees right now because there is a pretty blatantly inaccurate scene embedded in “NBA 2K19.”

We need to simmer down, though, and realize that, yes, it's stupid and offensive and something the Indiana Pacers, who own and operate the Mad Ants, should handle behind closed doors. For the rest of us, it shouldn't be that big of a deal, not in the grand scheme of things, not when we have perhaps the best minor-league sports city in America, with facilities and fans that rival many of the big cities.

The controversial part of the video game is within the story mode titled “The Way Back,” in which you take the reins of a player trying to make his way from China to the NBA, by way of the G League's Mad Ants. Within all of this is voice acting from people like Anthony Mackie, Rob Huebel and Haley Joel Osment, with lengthy cut scenes sprinkled between game play.

There are many modes of play within “2K19,” published by 2K Sports and developed by Visual Concepts, and this is merely one of them – one that many never use.

In one segment, the player meets his new Mad Ants coach, who tells him that, basically, there's nothing of consequence in Fort Wayne. To paraphrase, the coach says the weather stinks in the summers and the winters, and there's no media coverage, so you have to get it from Indianapolis, where, by the way, “they think they're so cool because they have, like, restaurants and a mall and schools.”

As the Mad Ants' lone print beat writer, I should be offended. I'm not. It's a video game, people. But here's the offensive part: The coach goes on to say that Fort Wayne has basketball and, after a long pause, he says, “Amish people (that) drive real slow on those little horse and buggies. ... (and) can make any kind of furniture.”

OK, that's awful. It's like someone penning a bad script Googled “Fort Wayne” and “bad jokes” and called it a day.

And, predictably, Fort Wayners are aghast about it.

But here's the thing: You've got one of the most popular video games in the world and the thing is chock full of Fort Wayne and the Mad Ants' logo, at a time when that team just renewed its lease with Memorial Coliseum and is trying to fortify its fan base in the area. The locker room in the game doesn't look that far off from the Mad Ants' locker room. The court doesn't look that far removed from the Coliseum's.

If you're so offended, think about the alternative – the Mad Ants not being in the game. Millions of people could be playing with, say, a Canton Charge player and the trade-off for that city would be a joke about Canton, Ohio, having nothing to do in it even though it has a little thing called the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I think I'd rather be in the video game.

As a matter of disclosure, I've been trying to get my paws on a review copy of “2K19” for many days and still haven't received it – maybe now we know why – but you can view plenty of footage on the web and see what it's all about. You can see games in front of packed G League buildings, in a video game that is almost always solid, and that the part people are worked up about is really just a sliver of the whole package.

I'm not saying it's OK; the NBA has a licensing agreement with 2K Sports and it seems as if the Pacers could go on a tirade about besmirching this fan base, if it cared to do so. Updates to games happen all the time.

But my point is not to overlook that this is a largely positive thing for the Mad Ants, the G League and for Fort Wayne to be on the consoles of gamers across the planet, even if they get a skewed vision of our town for a bit. More than anything, what they'll be trying to do is impress the virtual Coliseum crowd with their skills and make it to the NBA.

As the Mad Ants' coach says, after he gets done fawning over his Amish-made desk: “If you treat Fort Wayne right, she'll pay you back in full.”

Justin A. Cohn, senior writer for The Journal Gazette, has covered Fort Wayne sports since 1997. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8429; or fax, 461-8648.