Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remake reflects the changing culture of skateboarding

When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was released in 1999, the skateboarding world was far, far separated from the skateboarding world of today. Vicarious Visions’ brand new remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 understands this on a level that goes beyond new visuals and refined-but-familiar gameplay mechanics. In a way, the remake feels like slipping on a rerelease of a classic shoe. It feels and looks similar to what once was, but you can’t help but notice and be compelled by the subtle changes.

Skateboarding culture throughout the 1990s and early 2000s was more abrasive, to say the least. The differences are clear if you look back on the time period’s skate videos, created by skateboard shoe companies to showcase pro skaters’ tricks and hi-jinks. Those old videos made it look like pro skaters’ lives were as much about getting tricks as they were about getting high, branding one another while in a drunken stupor, and setting their farts on fire. Hard falls and gnarly bails were emphasized, such as in the incredibly hard-to-watch bail segment in Toy Machine’s seminal “Welcome to Hell” video, including images ranging from bruised testicles and heads bouncing off of concrete to limbs bent and broken in graphic detail. It is no surprise that the likes of Jackass and Viva La Bam were born out of the skate scene of the mid-to-late 1990s.

The casual violence and bodily harm of those early skateboarding videos was reflected in the original version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. For example, the ways players bailed in-game — blood would usually fly out and temporarily stain the ground where they fell. The real-life culture wore its bodily wear-and-tear on its sleeve, so seeing this in the game was unsurprising.

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Yet now, in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2, there is no more blood. When players bail, there is a visual rewind-pixelation effect. This small change speaks to how, as a culture, skateboarding no longer romanticizes gnarly falls, instead focusing more on the tricks. Falling and messing up is part of the journey, and it only makes the battle to land a trick all the more rewarding. But skateboarding has been around long enough that, now, there are famous older skaters who are open and honest about what skateboarding has done to their bodies. Many skaters have described surgery after surgery and physical therapies in order to just continue skateboarding.

Image: Vicarious Visions/Activision

Nowadays, younger skaters have grown up seeing their heroes battle their bodies, and that is why mindfulness and bodily wellness are pretty popular trends among skaters now. Stretching before a skate session is no longer scoffed at, healthy eating is encouraged, and skaters are more vocal about how important it is to treat your body right. One of the foremost spokespersons is pro-skater Sebo Walker, whose pre-skate session stretch has become pretty famous; he’s partnered with the Old Friends brand, which promotes skateboarding positivity and wellness through proper stretching and physical therapy.

The classic skaters in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 have been visually rendered in the way they look today. Older, aged, and yet still able to pull off the same tricks. This small change speaks magnitudes in how, when proper precautions are taken, it is possible to skate far into one’s life. It also shows how skateboarding is more than just videos, shoes, and pieces of wood with some wheels. Skateboarding is a way of life. If you’ve ever been on a board and found yourself connecting with it, then you are a skater. And you will always be a skater, no matter how much you age and change beyond a skateboard.

Another big gameplay change that places Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 into our current skateboarding moment is how both Tony Hawk and the developers embraced renaming a trick. Announced via Tony Hawk’s Instagram page in mid-August, a trick once called the “mute” air/grab has been changed to the “Weddle” air/grab in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2. The trick was originated by a Deaf skater named Chris Weddle in 1981, and some other skaters had intended to name the trick after him. But, as Tony Hawk’s Instagram post explained, “They referred to him as the ‘quiet, mute guy.’ So it became known as the mute air, and we all went along with it in our naive youth. In recent years a few people have reached out to Chris (who still skates) about this trick and the name it was given. He has been very gracious in his response but it is obvious that a different name would have honored his legacy, as he is deaf but not lacking speech.”

The trick’s original name was born from both an ableist standpoint and from a misunderstanding of Weddle’s disability. For a pro skater of Hawk’s stature to use his game as a jumping-off point for a new relitigation of the skateboarding lexicon is a powerful thing. One can only hope that the renaming of this trick will snowball into relitigation of more of the sexist, homophobic, and just gross trick names out there that should be changed. It is already happening, if ever so slowly. (For example, derogatory references to transgender people were once used as ways to describe transition skating.) While it is great that these terms are not used as often now, those changes have only happened recently. Trick tutorial videos made as recently as 2015 still refer to these tricks and types of skating by their original, offensive names.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 also pushes against how skateboarding has long been (and sadly still often is) a boys’ club. When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater first released in 1999, there was only one non-male Skater in the game — Elissa Steamer, a famous and incredible skateboarding legend. The boys’ club of skateboarding is and was incredibly misogynistic, as can be seen in many skate videos of the ’90s and early 2000s. Some of the only times any women are seen in those videos are when skaters are at bars trying to hook up, or at demos signing their names on female fans’ breasts and underwear in Sharpie. Skateboarding was for men and women were just objects, or at least that was the message that skateboarding culture put out at the time.

Steamer is often seen as the first pro female skater, and her inclusion in the first Tony Hawk game was a big deal. She went pro for Toy Machine in 1995 and has had a killer career ever since; her parts in Baker 2G and Toy Machine’s “Welcome to Hell” and “Jump Off A Building” videos are genuine all-timers. But she is no longer the only non-male skater in the game’s roster. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 introduces three more female skaters (Lizzie Armanto, Leticia Bufoni, and Aori Nishimura) and one nonbinary skater (Leo Baker).

There are more nonwhite skaters represented in the game, too, from Nyjah Huston to Aori Nishimura and more. Whether they are new skaters or legends of skateboarding, seeing more nonwhite skaters is a deeply important thing for a sport and a culture that has often been read as just so white. And what is so special is that these inclusions do not feel like someone is just ticking off any boxes. They all feel fully fleshed out and like they belong and that they should’ve always been here, because, well, they do belong and they also should have always been here. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 shows that women, people of color, trans, nonbinary people, and more are all welcome at the skate park. The character creator also emphasizes this. None of the clothing, hairstyles, or the like are tied to the gender of your skater — clothes are just clothes, hair is just hair, and so on.

Image: Vicarious Visions/Activision

Although skateboarding has changed a lot since the first Tony Hawk Pro Skater game, there will always be people who push against that. For years, skateboarding has been so ugly to women, people of color, and anyone who isn’t a straight, white male. I still see it happen at skate parks sometimes, and it’s so disheartening. We are always told skateboarding is this inclusive thing and that skateboarding is one big family of misfits — from skate videos emphasizing the band of outsiders’ mystique, to brands using phrases like “skate family” and more. Even pop culture has shown skaters as tight-knit groups who always look out for one other, but these tight-knit groups are almost always just white dudes. Those messages about who gets to be a part of skateboarding have trickled down to the way people behave in skate parks, where gatekeeping is still pretty rampant, and where, in all honesty, so many skateboarders are still assholes.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 pushes against that history with both its positive, fun tone and its fantastic inclusivity. In a culture where gay skaters have stayed closeted for years (Brian Anderson, one of the best skaters to ever hop on a board, being one of the highest profile examples) and where skaters have been directly involved in horrific hate crimes, there is a certain power in seeing genuine representation and progress in such a high-profile game—a skateboarding game, at that.

Because of that, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 is a lot more than just a remake. It grounds the Tony Hawk games in the skateboarding culture of today, and it does so for the better. The cherry on top is that it is also an absolute blast to play. The game still has some nostalgia for the skating scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s, from the hyper-chunky skate shoes to the classic board graphics. But times have changed, and so have the skaters. They’ve grown up, as shown by the game’s decision to animate the skaters of the original game at the ages they are now. Skateboarding has grown up. Skate culture has grown and shifted and is in many ways unrecognizable compared to what it once was. The hardest skaters of that era are now sober, many of them are parents. Younger skaters, for the most part, no longer adhere to the “Skate or Die” lifestyle. They care about their bodies and those around them.

Skateboarding still has room to grow. It is inclusive, but it’s not inclusive enough. Lots of change still has to happen. Tony Hawk’ Pro Skater 1 and 2 reflects the moment that skateboarding is in: It’s an endearing, welcoming, and nuanced look at how far skateboarding has come in terms of bettering its culture, as well as just how far it still needs to go.

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