“Hey Damien, what would you say are your favorite video game genres?”
Well, Disembodied Voice of Fictional Person That Finds Me Interesting, that’s a tricky question to answer. While I can’t call myself a particularly enthused fan of the modern first person shooter, there aren’t a lot of games that I’ll steer away from as a rule. I tend to look at games from the perspective of how they fill a need and how I deeply I want to engage with them. Over time, I’ve broken this down into three types.
a) Long games full of lore and sweeping narrative for me to get lost in. These are the Mass Effects, the Skyrims, the Metal Gear Solids, the titles that demand a lot of time and attention, and in turn usually become obsessions of mine for a period. These are the games that have me browsing wikis hours after I’ve beaten them.
b) Pure gameplay driven experiences (usually difficult) that require mastery through repetition. This is Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls, just about any fighting game.
c) Games that require little more than my casual interaction to keep me entertained, often while doing something else at the same time i.e. any sports or racing game, old school platformers.
Today, we’re in heavy “c” territory.
Let’s get one thing straight, though. Giving a game that classification is in no way a commentary on its perceived value or depth. Often these are games that I find myself spending the most time with; where an entry level engagement is fulfillment enough that I don’t mind repeating it over and over. At one time, the Tony Hawk franchise was my staple and it remained in that spot long after the appeal had seemingly worn off for everyone else. I didn’t just play the classics, either. I spent time with dark horses like Project 8 and American Wasteland, partly because they were underrated games, but also due to my familiarity with the visual language of skate lines and combo timing. They just felt right, no matter how many times I’d booted up the same school level for a two minute run.
Then Skate happened.
To say it was a natural evolution of the Tony Hawk formula seems disingenuous. To be honest, they’re not really playing the same game (no pun intended). Tony Hawk was always focused on the player themselves as the center of attention. It was about the progression you made in the story or even just stat increases. Skate has always been angled lower by default, empathizing the board as more of a main character than whatever created avatar you decide to put atop it; something than can be discarded and even injured for your enjoyment.
While both embrace the culture, Skate always just felt more authentic. Part of it probably has to do with how much better it seems to emulate an activity that often looks easy, despite being a very specific skill. In Tony Hawk, a kickflip is a button; in Skate, it’s an accomplishment. It’s rare that grounding us in a more realistic setting translates to being more fun, but that’s because it captures that simple satisfaction of landing a fancy move without breaking every bone in your body. It reminds us all of the passing fascination we had as teenagers; the two week period in our lives when we needed to buy a skateboard, only for it to take one ill-advised ollie towards a curb to kill our buzz.
That’s why whenever I’m not sure what to play, I play Skate. Even if only for a few minutes at a time, a simple grind or drift through the city have a weight to them that most games, regardless of genre, seem to lack. In a generation where “sandbox” and “open-world” are so commonplace, it’s one of the few of that want to keep playing in, even without promise of a new skill or unlock.
Now if only they’d make a new one.