Like bored, listless teenagers in the middle of summer vacation, we're standing around an empty parking lot, patiently, but only half there. We're not a particularly diverse group: white, male, late teens to early 20s, baggy pants and hooded sweatshirts. If this were a real parking lot in a real city, we would probably be trespassing, or at least loitering. But the lot belongs to "Threadly Apparel," a fictional clothing store in the virtual city of San Vanelona, and we're loitering with some sense of purpose: We're playing a game of "Spot Battle," one of the six online multiplayer modes of EA's skate. Between minutes of nonchalantly watching our peers' attempts to grind, manual and kickflip their way to the high score, we'll each have three opportunities to "own the spot" ourselves by pulling off the sickest, most off-the-hook sequence imaginable.
And yet, I get the distinct feeling that none of us really know why we're waiting around in a parking lot in the suburbs when we could be skating anywhere else in the city, which stretches for virtual miles in every direction. The objective in skate's single-player campaign is to become the most famous skater in San Vanelona - not necessarily the best. You achieve this by plastering your image in every magazine and sponsorship video you can and watching the cash roll in; high scores and gold medals are optional. Of course, you can choose to battle it out directly with other local skaters in addition to your print and online marketing efforts, but these in-the-flesh public appearances almost feel tacked on and obsolete by comparison. Why bother physically competing when a photo-op will provide twice the exposure for half the effort?
Our unenthusiastic Spot Battle reeks of this kind of casual defeatism: It's fun to pull off a difficult sequence in front of a captive audience, but there's no pressure to succeed when a good spill is just as fun to watch. Winning just isn't all that gratifying. But maybe this type of "competition" is more fitting of the sport's punk heritage, with its contempt for rules and authority. Place first in one of the best trick competitions in the single-player campaign, and you're actually mocked by the stoner-esque announcer who emcees most of the game's events. "That's what I'm talking about," he says. "Skateboarding is all about winning." Of course, EA and the consultants they hired to help produce skate know what skateboarding - at least, modern skateboarding - is all about: image.
At the start of the single-player game, you're presented with the same dilemma that presumably affects every aspiring professional skater: How can I get paid to do this? While winning competitions may provide a fraction of your salary, you quickly learn that the real money and attention comes from sponsorships. Each time you're introduced to a new pro, you're treated to a 30 second clip of him skating around the area, interrupted every few seconds by gratuitous logos of the brands that have allowed him to put off getting a desk job for a few more precious years. Your role models firmly established, it's up to you to attract the sponsors' attention and acquire some logos yourself. You can earn sponsors for your board, wheels, trucks and shoes, which gives you access to free gear and allows you to earn up to an additional $300 each time you complete one of the game's challenges.