Games

Top Spin

David Leonard

Unlike other sports games and America's sports pages, Top Spin doesn't completely erase women from its sports world. Yet their presence is to fulfill male fantasies as sexualized commodities.


Publisher: Microsoft
Genres: Sports
Display Artist: Power & Magic
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Top Spin
Platforms: Worse than my lukewarm reaction toward tennis are my disdainful feelings toward tennis video games. They just don't work as well as other sports video games. From the classic arcade version (you remember the little red game you sat down to play) to the various tennis platform options, I have never thought much of the genre -- bad graphics, boring, and often too hard.
Number of players: 4 s
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: Magic
US release date: 2007-07

I don't necessarily like tennis. While I may watch one of the Williams sisters destroy what amounts to inferior competition or a five-hour Rodick-Agassi match, I would not consider myself a tennis fan. I would much prefer the NBA, NFL, or the World Series of Poker to tennis any day.

Worse than my lukewarm reaction toward tennis are my disdainful feelings toward tennis video games. They just don't work as well as other sports video games. From the classic arcade version (you remember the little red game you sat down to play) to the various tennis platform options, I have never thought much of the genre -- bad graphics, boring, and often too hard.

You may wonder what then brought me to review Top Spin. The prospect of a free game and the excuse of needing to finally buy an Xbox is what brought me and Top Spin together. While not a relationship made in heaven, Top Spin is the best tennis game on the market.

The strength of the game lies with its extensive options, from players and venues, to shot selection and overall experience. Top Spin offers its players the opportunity to play as some of the world's best tennis stars (minus Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, and Andy Rodick ). Yet, Hingis, Sampras, Lyton Hewitt, and James Blake all find their way into Top Spin, providing for a certain amount of excitement. While the player graphics are iffy at times, the likeness of players and the venues adds to the power and enjoyment of this constructed virtual reality.

Top Spin, thus, offers players the opportunity to play on the biggest and smallest stages. From regular tour events to the grand slams, Top Spin offers it players the chance to test their skills on all surfaces. Similar to virtual golf, which transports players to courses all over the world, there is something exciting about playing on the clay of Paris or the grass of a fake Wimbledon.

Whereas tennis games of past limited shot selection to basic ground strokes, Top Spin offers an arsenal of weapons, making even the weakest player a potentially dangerous shot maker. The game has it all: top spin, slice, flat, drop shots, lobs, between the legs, volley, and the always-fun risk shots. Top Spin looks nothing like past video incarnations.

The strength of the games lies with the diversity of playing options. As with virtually every other sports game, you have the ability to choose between practice, exhibition matches, and a career. The career option makes the game worth playing as it takes you beyond purely playing tennis. Allowing you to pick between a "real" player and constructing your own (some virtual genetic engineering), the career mode provides you with a holistic experience. Beyond tournament play, you spend on the practice court, at the airport (flying around the globe to play), at the offices of various sponsors (where you compete for commercials and endorsements), sports shops, salons (image is everything), and of course at your coach's house. The only thing missing seemed to be dinner. The task of moving up the world rankings, and gaining access to locked settings, requires more than domination on the court, but savvy and business sense off the court as well.

As the career option reflects the strength of the game, it also represents one of its most disturbing elements. Upon "sculpting your player", you are asked to pick from various strands of DNA. Each DNA sample leads to not only a particular gender and level of athleticism, but also a racial category. Picking what appeared to be a "darker DNA sample," I ended up with a very dark, almost subhuman, black male that looked more like a minstrel or C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man than any black tennis player (person) I have ever seen. Worse yet, my extensive effort to make him more human (real) continuously failed with each change making him look more and more clownish. The inability of sport games to transcend grotesque images and stereotypes of people of color persist, rendering virtual sports gaming as a perpetual project of minstrelsy and racialized distortion.

Equally troubling is the position of women within Top Spin. Unlike other sports games and America's sports pages, Top Spin doesn't completely erase women from its sports world. Yet, despite their presence, women are reduced to eye-candy and sexual objects. Their presence is not to validate women's tennis or offer players the opportunity to play as women, but to fulfill male fantasies as sexualized commodities. Not surprisingly, Anna Kournakova, Ashley Hakerold, Daniella Hantuchobva, and Barbara Schett, all of who recently appeared on ESPN's "Who's Hot List", appear within the game. Neither this pandering to the sexual libido of male game enthusiasts, with revealing tennis outfits, nor the anatomical impossibility (which we could compare to black men in games) of Kournakova, who appears to have a 24-inch waist and 36dd breasts, are surprising, given the vision of women within both video games and sports. Yet again, this fact demonstrates the sexualized peripheral presence of women within both sports video games and the world of sports. This unfortunate dimension is especially true given that the women included in the game are better known for their bodies and sexuality than their tennis prowess.

Not without its flaws, many of which resemble the problems of the sports gaming industry, Top Spin offers players a powerful entry into the world of tennis. Beyond the ground strokes and aces, the game allows you to become a virtual tennis professional, enduring the struggles of travel, financial uncertainty, and anonymity. Moving beyond Pong and tennis games of past, the options and realism have made me reconsider my ambivalent disdain for tennis and virtual tennis.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image