How Skater XL and Session Got Me Back on a Skateboard
I love skateboarding again, and it’s all thanks to video games.
Over the past 6 or so years I’ve dedicated the majority of that time to video games. While I’ve had some really great memories and met some amazing people through that dedication, I’ve always felt unsatisfied. Something was missing. Really, anything you dedicate yourself to you end up almost unhealthily obsessed with it. So, as a result, a lot of other hobbies I had fell by the wayside.
For those who don’t know me, I’ve always liked video games but I never became “knowledgeable” in this realm until I started writing about them. In fact, the only reason I started writing my thoughts on video games was because I wanted a playthrough of any given game to “mean something”. What I mean by that is I didn’t want to just shrug my shoulders and move on to the next game. I wanted to channel all these feelings and emotions into something, and writing seemed to be the thing I was best at.
However, before I started writing about video games, I was really into writing music (I’ve played drums since I was 7 years old) and skateboarding (I rode a board for the first time around 7 years old). In retrospect, I really lived and breathed those activities from adolescence up until I started my newfound obsession with gaming. It was a part of who I was and how I expressed myself.
So, why did I stop writing music and skating if they made me so happy? Well, like my venture into video game journalism, I was pretty obsessed with music and skating and wanted to pursue a career in one of those fields. After years of bad bumps on a board (and just not really being all that great at skating) and a lot of creative differences in many bands, I stopped taking those hobbies seriously. To be completely upfront, it started to make me sad to play music or skate because it just reminded me of my failure to break through into any of those industries.
Fast forward to 2020 and the same feelings of failure had started to arise. This time, it was in my writing. I think if you were to ask my peers here at DualShockers, they would probably say I wrote some pretty decent things. However, save for a few articles I’m pretty proud of, I didn’t feel the same way. From late 2019 to 2020, I started to just feel defeated and was probably at my unhealthiest both physically and emotionally.
So, where do video games and skateboarding come back in? Back in late 2019, I previewed Session, a skateboarding sim by Crea-ture Studios. For those who don’t know, this is the game that was shown during the Xbox E3 2018 Press Briefing and is essentially a spiritual successor to EA’s beloved Skate series. The headline for that preview was “Skate Spiritual Successor Session Makes Me Want to Jump Back on a Skateboard Again.”
First, that is a terrible headline. Second, while it totally made me want to jump back on a board, I didn’t at that moment. I did actually look at boards, but it was expensive, and I wasn’t really at a place where I can spend money frivolously. Especially on something that can potentially hurt me severely.
Regardless, Session is such a solid skate sim. Out of all the games that will get mentioned here, I think the unmodded base version of the game is the best representation of real-life skating I have ever played. Much of that notion is due to its gameplay. Rather than using an analog stick to turn, you use the left and right triggers; the sticks are used to control your feet with the left stick controlling your left foot and the right stick controlling the right foot.
While the gameplay isn’t all that different from Skater XL, Session’s physics in the unmodded base version of the game is way more realistic than Easy Day Studio’s skateboarding sim. It also has some legendary New York spots, like the Pyramid Ledges, LES Coleman Skatepark, and the Brooklyn Banks. The next update, which is due to come out very soon, will bring the famous Love Park back from the dead. If you haven’t, already, it’s a game you should check out.
Something people don’t really know about that preview is that I played Session on my brother-in-law’s PC. I didn’t actually have a computer that could play it at that moment in time. I played around 7 hours of the early access version, wrote my opinions of it, and didn’t touch it again for a while. However, even though I wasn’t playing it, I was following its tumultuous development. I still do to this day with each update bringing more changes, such as customization, new physics, and more. But throughout this past year, it is clear the “1.0” version of Session wasn’t going to come out for some time.
That is where Skater XL comes in.
Just a few months after Session was revealed at the Xbox E3 2018 Press Briefing, Skater XL was released on Steam Early Access. Not going to lie, even though I knew my laptop couldn’t run it, I bought the game and tried it. Turns out I couldn’t run it. As a result, I never really played it until I irresponsibly bought a computer with my stimulus check. Even then, it would have to wait until I had moved in with my brother-in-law mentioned above. When I finally got my computer set up, the first thing I played was Skater XL.
Skater XL is another skateboarding sim in the same vein as EA’s Skate. While its base physics feel a bit off, I love how Easy Day Studios’ board physics work. Instead of using “canned animations” when you put in a specific input, it attempts to simulate how the board flips depending on how you flick the joysticks. It is pretty incredible how realistic that facet of skating is in Skater XL. Like in real skating, not every trick you do will look exactly the same.
That little detail, along with its incredibly approachable replay editor, made Skater XL my obsession for a few months. That obsession only increased when I began modding the game. I could not stop making clips. It is far and away, the most fun I’d had with a video game in 2020.
This is when the idea of skating started to surface once again. I was thoroughly enjoying my time with Skater XL so much, both with the early access version and the full release back in July 2020. It was both nostalgic and refreshing. I was constantly thinking of new clips to make and then spending hours trying to execute them. So, what if I tried doing this in real life?
However, that urge to actually buy a board again was crushed. Not because of my financial situation but because of how physically unfit I was. I was the biggest I had ever been and I didn’t really have the confidence to just jump on a board and start riding again. Which was totally fine since I could just channel that energy into playing Skater XL and living that dream through the game instead. Then my other brother-in-law —from Florida— came to town with his skateboard.
I’m not entirely sure why my brother-in-law came to town, but what I do know is he came by with his board and he wanted to skate. So, myself, my two brothers-in-law, and one of our friends decided to play a game of SKATE against each other in reality. And for the first time in what felt like 20 years, I would finally step on a board again.
The game lasted about 30 minutes, with each of us alternating turns. In reality, I wasn’t on the board all that much. But I came to two realizations during this session:
- I am so terribly out of shape.
- I absolutely missed skating and needed to get a skateboard.
About a week after that game of SKATE, My brother-in-law and I went to a Vans store in the closest mall and I got myself a complete board. For those wondering, I got an 8.0” Zero deck (a variation of the iconic “Bloody Nose” graphic), Independent trucks 139, 53mm Darkstar wheels, Spitfire bearings, Mini Logo grip, Pig risers, and Shorty’s hardware. This is far from what I now prefer, but it was definitely a good starting point for me beginning this weird skateboarding journey.
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I should note, at this point, I wasn’t entirely on board with getting back into skateboarding fully. Yes, I “needed” to get a board but it didn’t feel essential nor did it feel like the smartest thing to get during a pandemic. There are other things I could have bought that would have been more useful and didn’t have the potential to hurt me, but my love for skating was brewing. And had my brother in law not buy himself a board at the Vans store, I probably would not have got the board I did.
In the same week, we went to the closest skate park and had a very quick session. It lasted a whole 30 minutes and I was dead tired. But for the first time in a long while, I was genuinely happy with an activity. Don’t get me wrong, I love video games, but sometimes playing them feels like a job — and sometimes, it actually is. I have no career aspirations for skating. I just wanted to do something fun.
I wasn’t really sure I would stick with skating. A part of me thought this was some sort of midlife crisis thing at the age of 29, which is nowhere near midlife I hope. I started to wonder if I would slowly drop the whole idea of skating after a month or so. I didn’t.
The thing is I am absolutely infatuated with skateboarding. I am constantly thinking about it. I think part of it is that it brought me back to my teenage years where I would go skate with friends after school then play Skate when I got home. I essentially do the same thing now. I’ll go out and skate with some friends for a few hours, then I’ll come home and play Session or Skater XL for a few hours. It’s nostalgic.
But nostalgia can only be great for a limited time. Truly, it was people’s reactions to me picking up a board again that really got me hooked. When I first made a post on Instagram that I was skating again, a bunch of old friends I haven’t seen in years commented and wanted to go skate again. Some of my newer friends who I didn’t even know skated also messaged me saying they wanted to go skate. And overall, everyone was so positive, which was a breath of fresh air to see.
Something that became very apparent to me about a month after jumping back on a board was how fit I was getting. Not only was I able to skate for longer, I was also losing a ton of weight. In the first month, I think I lost 10 pounds. Now, six months later, I’m down 40 pounds and am the lightest I have been since probably 2014 or 2015. It felt as if my weight was holding me back from skating, so in addition, I started eating healthier and lowered my beer intake from two beers a day to one beer every other day.
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I guess, in the end, I was clinging to something that gave me positive vibes during a year that was, quite frankly, absolutely atrocious. There’s nothing bad I could say about skateboarding. Looking back, I think it was something I really needed for me to live a healthier lifestyle. So, I just held onto it and I will probably continue to for the foreseeable future.
Without Skater XL and Session, I wouldn’t have reestablished my love for skateboarding. I wouldn’t have changed my unhealthy lifestyle. I wouldn’t have bonded with some of the people that made 2020 an okay year for me. More than any game I have played in the last 29 years of my existence, these two legitimately changed my life in such a significant and positive way. It got me out of this writing slump and made me realize I should do things because I want to, not because I think I have to. My mindset on what I want in life fundamentally changed, and I’m happier for it.