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The documentary explores the tremendous impact and legacy of the popular video game franchise within skateboarding culture.

Film

‘Pretending I’m a Superman’ Emphasizes the Legacy of ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’

The documentary explores the tremendous impact and legacy of the popular video game franchise within skateboarding culture.

The influence that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games had on many youths, let alone myself, is incalculable. As an entry point for many into skateboarding, and the many other cultural elements that go with that, the games maintain an impressive legacy. Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story explores the birth of the Pro Skater series, the impact it’s had on culture, and the many ways in which it has evolved the sport it emulated. The documentary is a fascinating look at a subculture that has been marginalized in the past only to grow into something far more expansive.

Consisting of interviews with many prominent names in skateboarding including Jamie Thomas, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, Bob Burnquist, and many others, including, of course, Tony Hawk. Tracking the rise of skateboarding from its inception to those beginning to make a living off of it, Pretending I’m a Superman is fascinating in the many types of conversations that it broaches. Even at a brisk 73-minute runtime, it feels like everyone has a wealth of stories to share that could have made it into the film and still there’s a lot of great content coming from everyone. Wisely, the movie doesn’t just center around the skateboarding community but also includes people like figures in the competitive gaming community and those involved in the development of the games.

Serving as the three pillars of the film, Tony Hawk acts more as the guiding light through the chronology of events. As he shares stories about the X Games, pitching skateboarding games to several big companies like Rockstar and Nintendo, and the timely inclusion of the 900 in the first Pro Skater’s trick list, there appears to be no one more humble about his situation than Tony Hawk. Every skateboarder has their own story to tell about how they got into the game or how the game influenced them, but they are all just excited to be where they are and to see the extreme sport still standing strong. That extends out beyond the skaters to musicians on the soundtrack like Primus and Goldfinger, and then those who went into skateboarding because of the games.

The generational aspect is what stands out in Pretending I’m a Superman. With all the talk of those that the game impacted, the ones who were already in their respective fields didn’t reach far beyond their grasp. The skateboarders remained skateboarders, developers continued making games, and musicians kept making the same music. Instead, it’s those who grew up on the games and ventured into skateboarding because of it that proves something very potent about the franchise: it shaped people’s lives and influenced the future of the sport. Many games leave an indelible impact on those who play them but very rarely does that impact come back around to shape the source. 

There’s plenty in Pretending I’m a Superman about how much everyone just wanted to capture the feeling of skateboarding with the Pro Skater franchise, but the tricks were always over-the-top and ridiculous. Nobody was doing the equivalent of a million point combo in real life. It opened the gap for games like Skate to come in and take mind share and players away from the Tony Hawk games. As they stagnated, the documentary charts the downfall of the franchise but makes one solid point: the games never lost their impact. New skaters are doing tricks that the old skaters thought impossible. They’re pushing the limits of the sport, and it’s because they saw it in a game and said “yeah, that can be done”. For an extreme sport like skateboarding that hasn’t been as popular as it was in the late 90s and early 2000s, seeing a revitalization because of a game is truly something.

There are so many stories surrounding the game that make it seem like dumb luck that everything worked out the way it did; and yet, they’re all fascinating. From business decisions with Activision to early prototypes from Neversoft; the concerns surrounding the corporate influence on skateboarding and the philosophy behind making the sport and games accessible to everyone; everything seemed to just balance out and work. The documentary rarely seems to capture any conflict in the era of those first four games. It also kind of rushes through many of the later games, presumably because the franchise isn’t necessarily a part of the zeitgeist as much as it was then. It’s the only part of the documentary where I wish there was more exploration of what went wrong, as opposed to off-handed remarks and eventually glossing over some of the more disappointing endeavors. 

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Even without any substantial reflection on the franchise’s mistakes, Pretending I’m a Superman is a genuinely great look at the mark the Tony Hawk games left on the sport. It’s a look at the people most closely impacted by the sport’s rise in popularity because of these games. The documentary is concise in its focus and while that hinders it from going too deep into many other subjects, it explores crucial elements of the Pro Skater story and keeps things interesting. Whether it’s hearing anecdotes from those involved, a primer on the history of skateboarding, what the games have done to the sport, or what it was like during that era, there is so much for even the most pedestrian viewer to discover.

Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

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