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Box Score: A time to celebrate unless you cant

Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.

It’s late August, 2013, and Leo Graham is ticked off. He’s the #1 ranked pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization, compiling an impressive 14-4 record, yet continues to toil away in the minor leagues. Emails from the general manager implore him to keep at it, and once he figures out a way to adjust the major league roster the call will come.

Finally, after an endless parade of fastballs and strikeouts, the day he’s dreamed of - and, by extension, me, since I’m the one controlling him in MLB 12’s Road To The Show - comes. The reward?

The ‘blip’ of a PS3 trophy and a menu screen text box saying Congratulations.

Disappointed and curious, I head over to Leo’s alter ego in MLB 2K12’s My Player. I’ve been running a parallel universe of sorts, with a pitcher of the same name, build, and style to see how different the experience is. Sure enough, when the time comes for Leo to make the leap from the minors to the majors – a career-defining moment for a baseball player – the game reacts with all the excitement of a mid-season win.

The ‘bu-doop’ of an Achievement and a brief text screen of Way To Go.

It’s one thing to spend 12 hours building up your pitcher in pursuit of ‘leveling up’ to the big leagues, experiencing the ups and downs of a wild and untamed arm. Both games do a great job immersing you in those mechanics. However, when the time comes to be rewarded for your efforts, the lack of visual appreciation in both The Show and 2K12 is arresting. The same holds true if you win the World Series, MVP, or even make the Hall of Fame. Celebrations, when there are any, are insultingly brief. It seems the journey is the only reward.

I still remember the first time I ever felt legitimately rewarded for a major sports game accomplishment. It was Tecmo Super Bowl, giving me a glimpse of players and coaches celebrating inside the Philadelphia Eagles’ winning locker room after clinching the NFC Eastern Division. A similar scene erupted after capturing the Super Bowl. It wasn’t particularly long, nor crammed with details or stats, but the simple fact that it existed blew my mind.

The NHL series on the Sega Genesis took it a step further, showing my happy little hockey sprites skating the Stanley Cup around the ice while cameras clicked away in the stands. It was a groundbreaking and incredibly satisfying display, and made my efforts that much more worth it.

The celebrations of individual and team accomplishments in our modern sports games are wildly divergent. Some, such as the aforementioned baseball games, offer little to no recognition for your efforts. Others do. At an individual player level, nothing comes close to NBA 2K12’s My Player mode. Every major moment of your career is presented with interactive cutscenes, from David Stern introducing you at the NBA Draft to press conferences after key games all the way through retirement announcements and – yes –a Hall of Fame ceremony where you give a speech (assuming your career warrants such an honor). It’s an astounding amount of attention paid to important moments in an athlete’s career, and – whether you think they’re executed well or not – add a weight to your accomplishments that no other game does.