As a kid, I was always called a "tomboy." I liked video games; I wore Dickies and whatever accessories I could convince my mom to buy me at Hot Topic. I listened exclusively to hip-hop, punk, and pop rock—basically anything that would fall on a Tony Hawk game's soundtrack. The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series was nothing short of formative for me. Playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 in 2020 has taught me that both nothing has changed, and everything has.
When the Tony Hawk games thrived, it was in an era where raunchy, masculine humor was king; an era where the likes of Jackass reigned supreme. Skateboarding bled into the culture naturally, as yet another sport with men typically at the forefront. Viva La Bam, another reality show that followed a group of Jackass alum pranksters, starred skateboarders like Bam Margera. As a dumb kid and tween, I ate it all up. In a sense, I wanted to be as free as the silly, juvenile-minded adults I saw on my TV every week. In other words, I always wanted to be cool like "the boys." In retrospect, it's sad how toxic this idea ingrained in me—where as a cis woman, I believed I had no place among the boys club of skateboarding, no matter how cool and welcoming it seemed to be.
The early Jackass-era of a juvenile sense of humor has aged badly over the years. Still, its tone persists in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, albeit in a modern way. Characters now yell "woo-hoo," when they fly off a half-pipe; they groan when they crash. Playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, you get the sense that through the ups and literal downs, these digital characters are having just as much fun pulling off sick combos as we are. But Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2's improvements aren't just a spit shine into the modern era. Its positive changes run deeper than that.
Ahead of the Warehouse demo for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, the Birdman himself. Tony Hawk revealed via Instagram that they had changed the name of the "Mute" grab to the "Weddle" to better pay tribute to the skateboarder Chris Weddle. The move, named in 1981, was pioneered by Weddle. "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," Hawk wrote about the change. "I asked him last year as I was diving into trick origins and he said he would have rather named it the 'deaf' or 'Weddle' grab if given the choice. His exact quote to me was 'I am deaf, not mute.'"
This came after the confirmation of the return of all the original line-up of skaters, plus the likes of Lizzie Armanto, Aori Nishimura, Leo Baker, and more. Before, the first and only woman on the line-up was Elissa Steamer; in the remake, more women, BIPOC, and even a nonbinary skater have joined the roster. It's a more inclusive game top to bottom, right down to the character creator. Players are able to choose from a variety of faces, skin tones, and hairstyles. It's never gendered either—all you have to worry about in terms of identity is their name, hometown, skate style, stance, and push style. It's not just an ollie forward, but a full combo. It's showing that women, trans and nonbinary people, diasabled folks, BIPOC—literally anyone and everyone—is welcome at the skate park.
"[T]he young kids who are able to see representation like women pro skaters, trans pro skaters, dudes, whoever. It's just going to reach such a wider audience. And I think that it's just going to be really fascinating to see what comes from it," Leo Baker, the first nonbinary skater to appear in a Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game, told Hypebeast in an interview about their appearance as a playable skater in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2. "Because I was able to see Elissa [Steamer] in the game, there was a part of me that was like, 'Oh, I can be a pro skater.' Now, there's even more representation. I think that's really beautiful. As a queer skateboarder, I feel like it's a real win for queers who skate, that there's trans representation in this video game that's extremely influential. It means a lot to me, and I'm super grateful to be a part of it."
Indeed, as USgamer contributor Stacey Henley wrote last month in a feature regarding the resurgence of skate culture in recent years, skateboarding has always been appealing to audiences beyond straight men—and the games hardly reflected that despite skateboarding as a culture's welcoming energy. "The biggest change I've seen is the number of girls getting into and competing in skateboarding now," professional skater (and one of the best in the world at that) Lizzie Armanto told Henley. "Ten years ago, there would be two girls at a park and now, it's common to see groups of girls at a park."
For the first time, I'm seeing myself in a Tony Hawk game. (Literally—there's a face that looks startlingly like me from a distance. I swear!) Per the character I've orchestrated for myself (and I am compelled to max out all the stats of to make me the Greatest Skater In the World of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2), just a woman who wears minimal makeup, dons baggy hoodies because they're comfortable, and has tattoos. I'm well past the time of dismissing things I like as "boyish hobbies," but it's heartwarming nonetheless to think of all the kids and teens of different backgrounds and identities who will play this game, and maybe, just maybe, take up the board themselves.
I'll have a full review up about Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 next week, when I've managed to finish all the challenges across Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2's levels and played more multiplayer. But in the meantime, my feelings on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 are extremely positive. It feels great; the levels are lovingly remade. Even the SKATE letters are in the same place that I weirdly still remember them to be. In my mind, Activision and Vicarious Visions couldn't have done much better than this. And that's perhaps the highest praise I can give.