If spending your college years playing “Halo” makes you a nerd then James Harden deserves the Dungeons & Dragons crowd. When he wasn’t shooting hoops or going to class at Arizona State, that’s all the Houston All-Star did, nursing a burgeoning obsession that never truly disappeared.

So it wasn’t surprising to hear Harden took in the scene at E3 2014, the video game industry’s annual trade show. He was joined by Washington’s Bradley Beal and Minnesota’s Kevin Love at the Activision booth, and all three played the upcoming games “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare”, “Skylanders Trap Team”, and one of this year’s most anticipated new titles, “Destiny”.

“I didn’t want to let the controller go,” Harden said, “because I was addicted to it.”

The thing is, Harden isn’t the only NBA player struggling to let go. Love is a longtime fan of the Call of Duty franchise and even considers it part of his in-season routine. Almost everyone in the NBA loves the NBA 2K series, but the cultural affair spreads much deeper than that. Love grew up playing so competitively against his older brother that he broke multiple systems as a teenager. They started with Sega, and then once Love hit his teens, he started obsessing over “GoldenEye 007″, “Super Mario 64″, “Mario Kart”, and “Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr.” on Nintendo 64. Love now spends all his downtime with CoD.

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Activision Publishing
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Activision Publishing

“I get on the headshot and talk my shit to people,” the Wolves All-Star forward says with a laugh. “I play at home. I’ll throw it on when I’m sitting on the coach or laying in my bed whether it is the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4. Just leisurely, we’ll sit down and play. I’m in my killer mode when I’m out there on the floor or in practice. This kind of takes it away but it still gives me that same kind of mind frame throughout the season so it works for me.”

This year marks another edition to the long-running CoD franchise. Releasing November 4, “Advanced Warfare” takes us to the future for technologically advanced battlefields and weapons. Think cyborg soldier suits that let you run faster and jump higher, and automatic drones and tanks that move like animals. The Sledgehammer Games developers promise not all of their energy over the past three years went into making this CoD’s version of “Titanfall”. “Advanced Warfare” will be centered on the characters, so much so that actor Kevin Spacey is even making an appearance.

“It’s unbelievable,” Love says. “I actually, about 15 or 20 minutes ago, came out of the demo. I got to get my hands on the sticks a little bit, played around with it and it’s pretty unbelievable the world they’ve created and how you can move around in it. People are going to be very happy with this.”

During one of Love’s gameplay sessions, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge collapsed and disintegrated into a cloud of dust. It was a long way from the days of pixelated characters, low polygon counts, and background graphic painting.

“I was more of a ‘Mario Kart’ guy growing up,” Beal said. “I was old school with the Game Boy and stuff. It was always easy to like sports games growing up when I played but now I’m transitioning to these shooting games and Call of Duty games and games of this nature.”

For many NBA players, playing isn’t enough. Just as it is on the court, it’s about respect and winning, and developing your own personal style. Both Love and Beal, naturally, are expert snipers in Call of Duty.

“If I’m not doing the campaign, I’m usually playing against my teammates,” says Beal, who called Kevin Seraphin the worst gamer on the team. “A few of them are pretty good. A few of them claim that they are good but they are actually pretty bad, so I’m always competing against them and it’s always fun being able to play against them because you get bragging rights at the end of the day.”

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Activision Publishing
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Activision Publishing

Ironically, Harden’s Rockets might be one of the few teams that don’t have regular gamers. It’s a different atmosphere for the 24-year-old, who grew up playing every system imaginable and had marathon gaming sessions when he was with the Thunder. In OKC, a road trip wasn’t complete unless someone brought the games. They played Call of Duty. They played Madden. They played Halo. And of course, the team had heated battles in NBA 2K.

Says Harden, with a laugh, “Every basketball player thinks they’re good at 2K just because they play basketball but the reality is they’re not.”

The 2K and CoD franchises might be the reigning champs in NBA circles, yet both will face stiff competition from Bungie’s new sci-fi shooter “Destiny”. Hailed as the successor to Halo, the first-person shooter epic might turn out to be the most ambitious gaming experiences of the new generation. Thrown into an open world where you’ll compete with other players on quests and raids, “Destiny” is a smorgasbord of incredible graphics and cool features. (It even has “Game of Thrones’” Peter Dinklage as an AI voiceover.)

Currently in an extended first-look alpha, “Destiny” is expected to make waves when it releases on September 9.

“I think Destiny is definitely going to give [CoD] a run,” says Harden. “With gameplay, it’s right up there, and I’m sure with online as well. They have a couple of other features added in as well into the game. It’s similar to Halo and how Halo was when it kind of took over a couple years ago.”

As we move into the next generation of gaming systems, video games are only getting better. Harden might be getting older, but don’t expect him to quit the sticks any time soon.

“The graphics are unbelievable,” he says. “Video games are starting to be amazing as far as the graphics and futuristic [content]. It’s unbelievable what they’re doing and where it came from and where is it now. Xbox One, PlayStation 4 are tremendous.”

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