When I say ‘90s skate culture, you know exactly what I mean. So pervasive is the image that you’re probably already getting the whiff of baggy jeans, pop-punk, and fish-eye lens coming to you on the breeze. As fun and as irreverent and as cohesive as this culture was… it was also most commonly the solitary preserve of white, twenty-something-year-old men.
Times have changed, and the modern skate scene is one of the most inclusive and encouraging environments a person could wish for. Skateparks are full of kids of all genders having a go, the culture is wide and all-encompassing, and skating groups around the world have been responsible for some incredible community and social projects.
Skatebird was conceived within this culture, and fed from its roots, growing to encompass something of the more inclusive and progressive elements of skate culture. That, and it’s about a skateboarding bird.
Megan Fox, the creator of Skatebird, says this was very much a conscious decision, and it was always her intention to modernise through music – arguably one of the most important facets of skate culture. The developers of skating games seem to find it hard to tear themselves away from the ‘retro’ angle that the culture readily provides, the pop-punk and Tony Hawk vibes endlessly recycled due to their ubiquity with the genre.
“In terms of skate games, there are two kinds,” she says with some authority, “Either you roll hard on ‘skatepunk’ or certain kinds of hip hop, and that points you dead in the mid-nineties, dead in the middle of that culture, which is pretty exclusive. It’s really full of machismo. Or you ground in any of the more modern genres. Then that’s targeting more current skate kids.”
Fox credits her interest in real-life skate culture and its development over the years for the ease with which she settled into creating this new generation of game. “The “skate fairy” went viral in the mid-teens, skating around wearing a little pink tutu, and this year she’s at the Olympics, and that’s kick-ass! That’s awesome! And that is modern skate culture.”
— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) September 8, 2015
“I’ve been following the career of some of the newer skate kids online and the music choices they’re making are very influenced by SoundCloud rap, it’s not “classic” punk. You do see videos that have classic punk, but it always comes off like they weren’t the ones making the music choices. Like it was their manager or something, this was made to appeal to Thrasher magazine or whatever.”
Throughout the game, players can find tapes of original music that was written for the game by several modern artists on the scene, and of that, Fox is very proud. “In consciously avoiding that older sound we ended up with licensed music from We Are The Union, Illicit Nature, Grave Danger, and HolyWOW. We Are The Union is very heavily ska-influenced, Illicit Nature is kind of… a modern take on punk, Grave Danger is… surf rock? Skate rock? Well, they’re really awesome.”
So why those bands? Are they modern enough? Fox says she chose the bands because of how they seamlessly blend the old and new, opening a new avenue of connection between two halves of the same coin. “Those bands represent an aspect of classic skate culture, but things like ska were laughed at back then, people sort of said it’s dead, it’s just “ironic”, like no! Ska is, and always has been alive and really quite cool, and that’s another aspect of modern skate culture we’re trying to channel.”
Fox was keen to express the importance of music on the development of a culture like the one she knows and loves. She doesn’t want her role to stop at creating Skatebird, she wants the acknowledgment of the cultural shift to be a first step in welcoming new potential skaters to the fold.
“No one can really agree what a skate game should sound like. Skate games have often been a starting point for both culture and music. My introduction to skate culture and punk was growing up, I was there, that was my introduction. I’m hoping in some tiny way, people might get that from Skatebird, and might graduate from there and go on to learn other stuff. Hopefully then on to actual skateboarding. I mean, aside from the fact that it’s birds, you are doing real moves with specific names, they’re named and shown properly on actual skateboards.”
With this, Fox believes positivity and inclusivity are values that can be instilled through the game and the development of the culture as a whole. “We’re trying to avoid grounding down into a classic skate game from that culture for inclusivity and diversity reasons that weren’t… great,” she says, “Modern skate culture is generally a lot more socially conscious.”
It’s not all talk either, Skatebird in itself is a welcoming and accessible game. Fox was emphatic about the focus on positivity and inclusivity, not just in Skatebird but across the modern gaming landscape. “There’s no good reason to not cater to accessibility,” she informs me, “The only difficulty is if you didn’t think about it until late game development.”
“I play Dark Souls, I think it’s fine. Do I think all games need to be Dark Souls? No. Games are supposed to be fun. If you want a game to repeatedly kick you in the balls and you find that fun, that’s up to you, but other people don’t want to be kicked in the balls or don’t have balls, and that’s also totally fine. Hopefully, Skatebird will have an audience that appreciates the fact that generally speaking, it’s pretty chilled out.”
“We went through Microsoft’s accessibility testing, which I found extremely useful. They do a bunch of cool accessibility stuff. I got this huge laundry list of things I could add to make it more accessible for the colourblind or neurodiverse… I’ve also been working with an accessibility consultant, who helped me a lot with physical disabilities – like whether or not button holds are required, avoiding certain kinds of input, etc. There’s a lot of options that let you collapse three buttons down to one, so you don’t have to move your hand as much, reaction times can be changed with the speed slider, there are also multiple ways of pushing… we’re still working on it. But we’re happy with where it is now.”
As our interview draws to a close, the message of the game seems clear. “The main thing is,” she concludes, “Skatebird is just a game about trying your best.”
Skatebird was released for PC via Steam on September 16.