Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2’s Lax Views on Gender and Diversity Kept Me Coming Back
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an excellent return to form for a franchise I’m sure many of us thought was dead. If you’ve read a review of the game, you probably know that already. People really like this game, and that’s great. I really like it too, but I can’t say I was going into it expecting to be surprised by anything, and I especially wasn’t expecting to be surprised by its lax views on gender.
I’m not going to make a grand statement saying that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is some super left-leaning deconstruction of gender or anything like that. In fact, these games aren’t usually that great when it comes to representing women, people of colour, and other marginalized people. Since they’re not that story focused, they usually rely on stereotyping the characters you interact with, which often leads to unfortunate results. However, THPS 1 + 2 does some really cool things (or lack thereof) to make things more inclusive.
The first and most obvious example is the inclusion of Leo Baker, who is a nonbinary skater and the first trans skater to appear in a Tony Hawk game (or any game, I’m pretty sure, but don’t quote me on that one). Despite the inclusion of more diverse skaters as the series has progressed, the world of skateboarding has often been dominated by men. As a nonbinary trans person myself, it was really nice to see some inclusion on that front, and I did my first playthrough of the game as Baker and had a blast doing it. They also happen to fucking shred, so if you’ve got the time definitely check out some of their video parts.
The thing that really surprised me when entering THPS 1 + 2 for the first time, however, was its character creator. It’s far from robust, but as I finished inputting the basic information for my skater — name, location, skating style — I realized that it hadn’t asked me for one piece of information: my sex or gender (which, contrary to what many a character creator would tell you, are quite different). Every character maintains the same, gender neutral physique, and as is commonplace in most character creators nowadays, clothes and hairstyles are not blocked off by your sex. If you want to be a guy in a crop top, you absolutely can. Girl with mutton chops? Definitely. Enby in nothing but boxers and a gecko tattoo? Hell yeah, go for it!
The character creator isn’t even that good, to be completely transparent. I couldn’t really find a hairstyle that matched mine, you can’t change your body type even if you want to, and clothes are locked by your level, which is raised by completing the in-game challenges. That’s fine until you visualize an outfit you want and then find out that the pieces are locked off. My character isn’t going to get the checkered Vans to complete their ska outfit (checkered button-up, checkered shorts, checkered Vans) until I’m level 50, which with how slow the level bar is moving in the 40s, might take a while. It’s a shame that it works that way, but it also incentivizes completing the challenges and playing through the game with the swath of skaters at your disposal. It’s not ideal, but I get why they did it.
I’m not really writing this to review the game’s character creator, though, or even review the game at all. I mostly just needed to get my thoughts out on how this game views gender, because it’s surprisingly lax, and I appreciate that. It’s nice to see this series evolve not just in terms of gameplay, but also in terms of how it portrays the world of skateboarding. There are more women, trans people, and people of colour taking to skating, and the advent of social media has helped propel the availability of skating videos and only done more to level the playing field of who gets noticed. Even just considering the countries a lot of the skaters in THPS 1 + 2 hail from, there’s a lot more variety than prior games. You’ve got Aori Nishimura repping Japan, Shane O’Neill repping Australia, and there are two reps for Brazil in the form of series veteran Bob Burnquist and relative newcomer Leticia Bufoni (she was also in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, but we don’t talk about that). The world of skating is a diverse one, and it’s great to see that so many of the newcomers to this series are showing off that diversity.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is not some politically left powerhouse or anything like that. It’s just a really good skating game that has some really neat ways of representing gender and diversity that don’t necessarily come about explicitly in the events of the game, but more so implicitly through simple mechanics like the pros you can play as or the character creator. As excellent as this game is, that’s ultimately what kept me feeling good about coming back to it again and again. Where some of the earlier Tony Hawk games made me feel ashamed to say I was into skating and skate culture (especially the later ones), Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 does more than enough justice to the culture, which was the whole point of the series in the first place.
Oh, and the soundtrack fucking rips, obviously.