Skater XL, the skateboarding simulator developed by Easy Day Studios, is one of two more recent genre entries that attempts to capture the zeitgeist of EA’s Skate. The game plops you in a myriad of selectable maps, each replete with various obstacles (such as benches and rails) to trick over, all while skating as either a signed athlete like Evan Smith or a created character of your own imagination. Skater XL also comes packed with a whole host of community-created mods on console and PC. But strangely, it seems the console mods in particular favour whiter skin tones much more.
On PlayStation 4, where I’ve been playing, the Skater XL mod scene isn’t exactly thriving. However, there are some 501 mods available to download, with new ones added every blue moon (and there’s no way to know when they drop). Most are for decks, hats, shirts, trucks, and wheels, of which there are 459 pieces of gear for your custom character that you can install on your hard drive. Then there are a few really cool community-created maps of iconic locations, like San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza and Canada’s Quebec Skate Plaza. Mods like these bring skateboarding’s rich and rather long history — of culture, of style, of legendary spots, etcetera — to life.
But the game’s character creator and, more specifically, the mods that alter your appearance, are demoralising. Because there aren’t enough Black protagonists in video games, I tend to create an avatar that either resembles me or has a darker complexion. Skater XL lets you create a character with one of four skin tones — light, medium light, medium dark (my preference), and dark — but the mod you choose to equip overrides whatever hue your character’s skin is. So, say you create a dark-skinned skater, then choose one of the most popular gear mods in the game: Full-Body Traditional Tattoos. Though all the mod does is add American traditional tattoos to your created character, because the base character of the mod is a white dude, you’re now a while dude who happens to have American traditional tattoos. The same thing happens to any created character whenever you equip a mod that has a white person as its base image.
It’s worth noting that while there are a few mods created by the developers themselves (like the Primitive Skatepark), most are designed and uploaded by the game’s fans. Furthermore, it appears that modders get the choice of what skin colour their creation takes, seemingly illustrating that the game’s community would rather cater to whiteness.
That’s not to say there aren’t any mods for darker skin tones in Skater XL. But I’d be a liar if I said the options were plentiful. In fact, of the 459 gear mods, there are only seven dark-skin mods, with one for tattoos and the rest are socks. (There are a couple more on PC, but not much.) You created a medium dark-skinned skater and want a beard? Sorry, that mod is reserved for this white dude. How about tattoos from head to toe? Like all the others, it will override your skin tone and turn you into a white dude.
Things get marginally better for women skaters in Skater XL — but not enough to be celebratory. On console, there are zero dark-skinned mods for women. In total, the game houses 12 mods, with only one applying tattoos to, you guessed it, white skin. There is a single mod available for all skin tones to equip, but it’s a measly pair of ripped jeans. Otherwise, just like with darker complexions, Skater XL’s pickings for modifying a woman’s appearance in the game are paltry at best and insulting at worst.
We’ve reached out to Easy Day Studios for clarification and will update if we hear back.
It’s puzzling to see such a slim selection of modifications in the game for complexions other than white and, moreover, it’s perplexing that they all override the skin tone of your created character regardless. This is in stark contrast to the burgeoning inclusivity skateboarding has seen in recent years, as evidenced by HBO’s skateboarding show, Betty. Even Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 gives you more freedom with your created character by not locking items to a gender, illustrating how important representation is.
And that’s what these Slater XL mods unknowingly perpetuate: the idea that skateboarding is specifically for cishet white dudes, a boys’ club where others are excluded because they don’t resemble the majority. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just look at the skateboarding landscape. You have women shredders like Alexis Sablone and Elissa Steamer, who’ve been paving the way for women for decades. There are popular athletes of colour such as Nyjah Huston and Zion Wright. And even nonbinary skaters like Alana Smith and Leo Baker. This all proves that skating is for everyone. It’s a shame, then, that Skater XL and its modding community would seemingly rather alienate than include.
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