As a gamer I’ve been a player, but I’ve also been an observer and supporter. It’s with those latter two roles in mind that I write this post and discuss my experiences with one of my fiancé’s favorite games: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (1999). (Click here for a great write-up on the Tony Hawk series.)
I met my fiancé a little more than a year before THPS came out, and within weeks of knowing each other, we had established ourselves as two gamers that were destined to be together. Hahaha…ha..hoo boy…no. Okay, so it wasn’t all roses and rainbows at first, but we did quickly establish a common ground with video games, which has remained with us, and has probably helped keep us together to some degree over the past many years. He was also a skateboarder and I, well…I knew about skateboards because we once lived next to a kid with a skateboard. I tried it and learned to roll down his driveway and fall on my ass. It was…um…fun? Yeah, I didn’t know much about skateboarding or its culture. So in 1999, when my significant other and his friends nearly flipped their collective lids when they heard about THPS, I looked on with a mixture of “that’s cool” and ambivalence. I could barely picture myself on a skateboard let alone playing a skateboarding game.
And I didn’t play. But I watched.
On watching video games… Being able to watch video games is an important and necessary trait among gamers. I imagine it dates back to arcades and crowding around that one game to watch that one person attain the highest of high scores. But regularly watching and accepting the notion of watching video games produces, I think, more open-minded, knowledgeable, and curious players. I doubt I’d have gotten into ME or GTA IV without seeing them played beforehand.
In some cases, spectators are merely cheering onlookers taking in the sights and sounds of the game and prodding the player to achieve. Other times, spectators serves as extra pairs of eyes, helping the player find things that they might have otherwise missed. And sometimes, spectators are coaches, guiding the player to proficiency and building their skills. Major League Gaming might not exist today if we hadn’t crowded around Pac-Man and Galaga back in the day.
Of course, much depends on the game and the players. Personally, I usually don’t like being watched during a game, but my fiancé doesn’t mind it, so I’ve watched him play countless games that I’d have probably skipped alone and have found most to be generally enjoyable. Unlike movies, watching a game is never the same twice, so it’s fun going in both knowing and not knowing what to expect.
And I watched him play THPS a lot because for awhile that was all he and his friends played. I was mostly the cheering onlooker. I’d never really seen a game like THPS that involved so much precise movement and action, and the graphics were pretty great for the Playstation. He liked the intuitive controls, the many levels, and that he got to play as famous athletes. I liked that, for him, the game was pure enjoyment and incredibly fun; and it was interesting to watch he and his friends play almost as competitively as they would if they were actually skateboarding. But besides the visuals, the one thing from the game that really stuck with me was the soundtrack.
In fact, to this day, Jerry was a Race Car Driver will still pop into my head at the strangest of times.
I like video game music just fine, but the fact that THPS used real songs, and a great bunch of *real songs*, was just fantastic. THPS didn’t introduce me to the sound of then-sorta-but-not quite-current punk and alternative, but it certainly furthered my interests in the genres. As he progressed through the THPS series, I enjoyed each soundtrack more than the last. (For another take on the awesomeness of THPS’s soundtrack,. click here.)
In later THPS installments, while I still didn’t play the games, I did become a fairly decent park creator. THPS 2 introduced a “park editor” feature that allowed players to create their own skateparks. Early on I had learned that skateboarders see the world in terms of what is and is not skateable. What I saw as a bunch of park benches and ledges, they saw as a good time. So my first parks, with pretty looking stuff crammed every which way, were not always playable. Going to skateparks and learning from my fiancé about what was good and not good to skate helped me become a better creator. So with THPS 2 and 3, my main role eventually became “assistant park editor.” Some of them worked and some didn’t. It was fun to create from “scratch” in a virtual world and watch those creations being used. I never thought of it as anything less than gaming even though I never took charge of a single THPS character.
We still have all the Tony Hawk games – he kept up with the series until Project 8. But because he’s a good person and an all-around Tony Hawk supporter, he gave Ride a try, on the Wii no less. Ride made E. T. look Super Metroid. He gave it the good ol’ college try, but by god that game was downright awful.
He’s since moved on to EA’s Skate series; and just about every day after work, he’ll still play a few rounds of Skate 3 while I’m making dinner. And on occasion, when I’m waiting for something to roast/boil/stew, I’ll usually take a seat and watch him play.