With my team ahead by two with four point one seconds remaining, I'm fouled.
If I make these two free throws, the game is out of reach. We win. I get my win bonus AND a hefty performance bonus besides.
We need this victory. Our team is at .500 and in the loaded Western Conference, we can't afford to fall further behind. It's been a frustrating stretch, but we're in position to win this one.
All I need to do is make my free throws.
Free throw number one hits the rim and takes a couple hopeful bounces before tumbling away from the net. Clunk.
I rush free throw number two and this one isn't even close.
The Rockets take possession. They need a two pointer to tie, a three to win.
Improbably, they make the three. Game over. We lose.
Defeat from the jaws of victory. I'm first stunned, then infuriated.
I take a breath, manage to stop myself from slamming the controller down with frustration, and with a slow calm that I don't actually feel, I reach out, turn off my Playstation, and go to bed.
Where I lie seething.
* * *
Of course that cheating goddamn-it-to-hell CPU will have the Rockets make that unlikely three pointer. Just like they magically steal the ball or have my teammate step out of bounds catching my pass every time I get close to making my goal of a quarter without a turnover.
I hate you, NBA2K12. You're a stupid, too-hard, unfair game and I regret paying ten dollars to salvage you from the previously played bin.
Once my fury at the game fades, I turn the anger on myself.
Why didn't I pause the game before taking those free throws? Why didn't I save the game when we was winning so if I missed the free throws, at least I'd be able to go back and try again? Why the fuck am I lying awake thinking about a damn video game?
I close my eyes and digital players dance along the inside of my eyelids. I'm tempted to get out of bed and play another game to redeem myself, but I know if I do that, not only will I be up until three in the morning, I'll be compounding my frustration playing in this state. When I'm angry at the game I get overaggressive and foul on defense or try and force passes on offense and turn the ball over.
The madder I get, the worse I play. The worse I play, the madder, I get. And the madder and worse I am, the less willing I am to do the one thing that will break the cycle: Turn off the game.
* * *
I suppose I should hate this game.
Certainly there are things about it I hate:
I hate that I suck at it.
I hate that my player in the game starts out bad and needs to improve as he goes, which puts me in the horrible position of needing to play well to improve my player, but in order to play well I need my player to improve.
It's reminds me of comedy. The most difficult shows--the ones with bad lighting and sound or swarms of hecklers--happen at the beginning. So not only are the situations bad, you're at a point in your career where you have the least experience and ability to handle them.
I hate the injustice of play perfect defense for 22 seconds, only to have the faster, stronger guy getaway from me and buries and improbable three-pointer. My grade goes down. No credit for the 22 seconds of awesomeness.
I hate that my passes are so frequently intercepted just because.
I hate the amount of buttons you have to master and how easy it is to press the wrong one leading me to pass to the wrong player, call for the ball instead of screen, pass instead of shoot.
I hate the way it grades you as a teammate. I lose more from failure than you gain from success so I end up paralyzed at the thought of making a mistake, not wanting to touch the ball at all.
So, yes, there are many things I hate about this game.
But somebody once said, "how you do anything is how you do everything," and if that's the case, NBA2K12 is great training for...well, everything.
The best part is, there is nothing at stake. At any point, I can delete my file and start the game again. Or quit without saving. Even if I couldn't...it's just a game.
There is no real money at stake. My livelihood does not actually depend on making free throws, real or virtual.
But while there are no real consequences to failure, I still react emotionally as though there were. I get angry. I get greedy. I get fearful.
I get to examine my emotions in a low stakes setting I get to feel frustration. I get to see how I react when I feel I've been wronged.
I get to practice handling those emotions.
After all, the fear I feel when I have to shoot free throws is the same fear I feel when a friend, lover, or co-worker asks me to do something I believe is beyond my capabilities. The frustration I feel when a pass is intercepted is the same frustration I feel when a bus is late. The anger at myself when I hit the wrong button is the same as the anger I feel when I misplace my keys.
This game is training for life.
Just like everything else.