It’s been a fun week for video game nerds, comic book nerds, and other groups of nerds to which I belong because the new PS4-exclusive Spider-Man game just came out. I play video games for legitimate medical reasons,* but it’s also just plain fun to pretend to be a superhero with great powers and great responsibilities. When I was little, I wanted to be Spider-Man. Now that I’m (too) big, I’m as close to being Spider-Man as current technology allows.
The 2018 video game version of Peter Parker is in his early 20s, so he’s obsessed with his smartphone and loves selfies and social media. But he’s still insufficiently millennial, and millennials don’t like it. Why? Because he actually helps the police, instead of taking a knee to protest them!
The reviews are in. Tom Ley, Deadspin:
I am only a few hours into the game, but so far the primary objective boils down to Help The Cops. Not just any cops, either, but the NYPD specifically, because the game takes place in a true-to-life rendering of New York City. It’s dumb to expect video games to be responsible reflections of real life, but it is also impossible, for me at least, to not feel some ickiness about the game forcing me into cahoots with even a fictionalized version of the NYPD, an organization that routinely oppresses some of the most vulnerable residents of the city I live in.
That’s right: In a video game where you control a dude in a brightly colored unitard who swings around on magical spider webs beating up crooks, the depiction of the NYPD is unrealistic.
From cheesy detective impressions to Rikers prisoner beatdowns, Spider-Man’s uncomplicated approach to crime clashes with the reality of day to day life…
Spider-Man’s enthusiasm for the police—from his stated love of busting drug deals to his cheesy “Spider-Cop” impersonation—had my coworker Tim Rogers calling Spidey a “narc.” While I found Spider-Man as good-hearted and heroic as ever, he was also way more accepting of state power than I expected from a hero with a history of being wrongly maligned by the press and police.
He’s also wrongly maligned by the press and police in this very game, but whatever.
In addition to his Spider-Man alter ego, the web-slinging Peter Parker assumes a goofy, secondary persona he’s named Spider-Cop. “Spider-Cop” is a rogue NYPD investigator who exists only in Spider-Man’s conversations with his irritable NYPD liaison, Yuri Watanabe…
The gag underscores the game’s strange optimism about modern policing. It’s a reactionary outlook that some skeptical players might highlight as copaganda, a term coined to describe media efforts to flatter police officers and spare them from skeptical coverage.
In other words, Peter Parker befriends a cop, and he does a silly “Spider-Cop” voice to spout cliches from cop shows and movies. He does this because he’s Spider-Man and he likes to keep things light. It’s one of the things that sets him apart from, say, that big grouch Batman. But that’s bad, because cops are bad.
It’s too late to keep Spidey from becoming a tool of the fascist pigs, but the makers of this game can still make him less problematic in other ways. Thanks to the magic of downloadable update patches, they can add some new missions to correct this social injustice and earn back some goodwill from his peers:
- Hate Speech Isn’t Free Speech. In this mission, Spider-Man must swing around Manhattan stopping shipments of The Daily Bugle newspaper, which is running a transphobic cover story about a newly gender-fluid Flash Thompson. Webhead must leap into action to stop NYC residents from being irretrievably triggered by the headline “FLASH IN THE PAN(SEXUAL),” or he’ll be the target of an outrage mob on Twitter. (Unlocks the Rainbow Spidey suit.)
- More Like Whiter-Man, Right? The world can’t see Spider-Man’s face, but when Peter Parker takes off his mask and looks in the mirror, he sees a white man. Gross! Nonetheless, his guilt over letting Uncle Ben die has overshadowed his guilt over his inherent privilege. People of color are killed every day. Why doesn’t he weep for them? In this mission, Parker must go to the grave of every single POC in New York and apologize for his arrogant complicity in their oppression. If he doesn’t mourn them all before the timer runs out, he’ll be the target of an outrage mob on Twitter. (Unlocks the White Guilt skill.)
- Peter Patriarchy. Mary Jane Watson isn’t just Parker’s on-and-off girlfriend. She’s not just a sidekick. She’s a strong, independent career woman in her own right, and she deserves respect. In this mission, Spider-Man must read MJ’s entire 10,000-word Tumblr post about a slut-shaming microaggression she endured while ordering at Starbucks. If his Sleepy Meter goes from green to yellow to red, he’ll be the target of an outrage mob on Twitter. (Unlocks the Male Feminist suit mod.)
Those are just a few ideas, Insomniac Games. You can have ’em for free, and I think you’ll find they’re worth every penny.
And if you’re a gamer and you thought any of what you just read was funny or amusing, shame on you. Show me a person who says he and/or she plays video games to escape reality, and I’ll show you a racist.
*This is not a joke, mostly. I deal with chronic pain, and brainy science guys have done studies showing that video games can effectively manage pain. Any kind of distraction can help — books, movies, blogging, etc. — but video games are especially effective because they make you an active participant. Plus, I’m a complete dork.