Previously published in Paradise Zine Issue 1, revised and reedited for publication in lowscore
recently, i’ve been thinking a lot about skateboarding, and in particular skateboarding videogames. a big reason is that i’ve developed my own skate adjacent game, bruxa, with my friends at xinela, and after the first version of this essay, also went deeper on some ideas outlined here with another ongoing project, pondlife: discone (a videogame), with my friends at pondlife. when starting bruxa we didn’t think of it as a skate game: you couldn’t even be very expressive with your movement! but most of the work i ended up putting in the game was making the movement feel more interesting, thinking about how level design would relate to that, and how to show feedback/gamefeel/juice (for more on this see the juice essay in Paradise Zine Issue 1, a very in depth debate) for an extremely contrived and arbitrary movement system that arose from following the kind of interactions that made me enjoy playing the game.
— to quickly throw some references in writing that have deeply inspired me: Stephanie Boluk and Patrcik Millieux’s Metagaming (of course), Bernie Dekoven’s The Well Played Game, Tim Rogers’s In Praise of Sticky Friction, Andrew Yoders’ Playground and Level Design and Frank Lantz’s Counting Frames, anything David Kanaga has ever written…
i’ve been thinking a lot about how videogames ARE just real life (and this is nothing new: Juul’s Half Real basically brought up this argument 20 years ago), and how to embrace more of this (messy) aspect of games, make more games that blur these boundaries, that make clear the arbitrariness of the magic circle. all of this recently culminated in getting to read a series of blog posts at letterclub.games (a very inspiring style of blogging) about the (still very raw) concept of:
– as opposed to immersion
– not to be confused with emergent, which is a characteristic of a system, not the player.
it’s a way to describe designing towards pushing players to experience the game as reality. to push them towards the outside of the magic circle (instead of the usually more “artistic” approach of shattering the circle altogether).
i have 2 different ways to see emersion right now:
- while playing the game*, the player notices something about the real world. it can be about their body, or about their reality. or about their usual relation to the magic circle. examples are droqen’s asphyx, or Die Gute Fabrik’s B.U.T.T.O.N.. by having rules not computationally defined/enforced, these video games open the doors to see outside of them, being constantly aware of the possibility of “cheating”.
- it can also happen that the game continues to exist outside the magic circle. you learn something new about your body, our how the world works, and can relate back to the game.
a classic example of this is the tetris effect (not the game), thoroughly explored in The Witness. this is also, i believe, an unexplored part of movement based videogames, and where my desire to write about skategames came from. (it’s interesting that even when talking about breaking the magic circle, there’s still a construct that i keep thinking of here, which is “really” playing the game. maybe it’s inescapable).
so, what about skategames?
when i say skategames, I believe at least one of these two will immediately come to mind: Tony Hawk Pro Skater (THPS) and Skate. i also have a feeling that people that thought about both and are thinking about “skateness”, are already arguing in their heads how Skate is much more a skategame than THPS (keep that thought). i will now make an important, annoying and extremely confusing distinction: “skategames” vs “skate games”, or games that are like skateboards vs games about skateboarding. (this is inspired by Charles Pratt’s also annoying and confusing, but interestingly thought provoking distinction between “video games” and “videogames”, which i will not attempt to explain here). the important thing to understand is that the skateboard itself is probably the ultimate skategame, and thus, attempts to recreate it digitally tend to be skategames as well, but most of said attempts fail, sometimes failing forward producing unintended emergent skategames.
the core principle of the skategame is the ability to do tricks, and to express yourself outside of the standard metagame of the game. i believe that standard metagames that are directly related to the tricks themselves are usually the problem of most skate games(THPS and even Skate)): these games have kickflips built-in the skate object, so even if you can perform a thing that looks like a kickflip, it has nothing to do with what an actual kickflip is, the kickflip is not built in to the skateboard, nor does the skateboard acknowledge the kickflip. this brings us to look at skategames through the the lens of the kickflip, through multiple axes, the first (and most boring), being:
- how much do the tricks reflect real life, how real are the tricks. (i.e: does your game have anything like a kickflip?).
almost any real-time videogame can be a skategame (would love it if anyone has thoughts on non realtime skategames. Jack Kutilek wrote this. d.h. says: “Magnus Carlsen is like fucking Tony Hawk”, expressive narrative). if you can move in realtime, you can probably do tricks (even if they are boring). having skateboards as a benchmark for this is probably the main reason why i chose skateboards and not parkour, or dancing. it’s an external, analog, designed object that you use your body to perform with. and so comes the second axis of skategames:
- the analog/digital, athleticism axis of maneuvering the skateboard. (i.e: how much of your body are you using to perform said kickflip?)
this is the axis where the argument for Skate being more skatefull than THPS usually stops at, since making a kickflip in the former is not a single button press, but a shoryuken-like input. some people say that makes it more like skateboarding. i disagree. i think Skate is more like skateboarding because the analog and glitchy inputs make non skateboard tricks possible, tricks that only exist in Skate. (which maybe points to the existence of Skategames, with uppercase S, but I digress).
finally, a thing that differentiates skateboards from other bodily* toys (like juggling or yoyos), is the aforementioned emersion. skateboards escape their own play, changing how any space is viewed within their physical constraints. Once you know how to skateboard, any surface can be seen as a space to do tricks on. In this sense, other skategames to consider are parkour, climbing, slacklining. so, here’s the final axis:
- the exploitation/exploration of the environment with the trick object (i.e.: can you kickflip down these cool stairs?). the insight in this case is that the more the spaces are designed towards the skateness of the game, the less interesting the game is itself as a skategame. again THPS vs Skate vs Skate(glitched) are interesting games to think about, level design wise. but how undesigned can a level be? (bennett foddy’s piece on zk map for stranger is interesting in this regard) how much can a game affect how you look at the real world? how much can it affect other games you play? (if only I could spawn Mario 64’s control into dark souls)
go to mut.media/skategames for an updated (hopefully) list of things that i find interesting from a skategame perspective. and please send any interesting things my way on twitter @mutmedia (bonus points if its a skategame without a skate in it)
finally here are some stray questions/thoughts that I didn’t know where else to put:
- – how to not acknowledge tricks but still incentivize them?
- – how to make it possible to have a game of S.K.A.T.E. without having it be built in?
- – is this different from dancing?
- – can skategames be competitive? are they just adversarial?
- – physically expressive toys with no intrinsic evaluation system
- – is falling required in a skate game?
- – what’s the difference between a slip, a mistake and an error?
*bodily: not exactly physical, cause most objects/toys are. not only something that requires your body, most things do. things that are basically extensions of your body, like a cyborg. objects about your your body. implies that they are somehow part of your body.