That Guy? He’s Our Spider-Man
I’m covering this game slightly late because it was a bit of a nightmare to procure a PlayStation 5. But once I did, you bet that I played Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The sequel to Marvel’s Spider-Man and one of comic book history’s best Afro-Latinx superheroes. The first-ever to get the spotlight of his own AAA video game. Personally, I loved everything about the story campaign. I felt it hit on some pressing topics, mostly because of the nature of representation regarding the game’s titular hero. Yet, there was something disturbing I’d encountered while playing in a post George Floyd America. Something that every major outlet seems to have shied away from in coverage, as the focus was on how the game did a poor job in representation calling it a tourist’s version of NYC. Particularly because Miles, a black Afro-Latinx teen, doesn’t address his relationship with the police. But in doing so they missed a much more subtle and more powerful moment that I’m going to address in the game.
How A Black Spider-Man Has a Gun Pointed At Him Once His Skin Color is Revealed
Yes, it’s something that I thought should have been obvious but apparently wasn’t? I’m not certain why. The racial allegory is there but it’s not in any conversation about race in this game. Especially because this scene happens in the most famous part of the game’s marketing: the bridge demo showcase that was made available to most outlets prior to release. Be ready for some spoilers below.
Now for context, at this point in the game Miles had spent his first big day as Spider-Man, learned some revelations, and tried to stop the bad guys along the way. In the commotion, he’d even rushed over and saved a tanker from killing a bunch of innocent civilians. Yet despite all of this, Miles gets held up by Roxxon security, much to the outrage of the thankful bystanders. Instead of thanking him, Roxxon points a gun at him. In a subtle but powerfully symbolic moment that’s probably the most BLM event in the game. Why? Well, because dressed as Spider-Man and having made a great sacrifice, Mile’s skin color is revealed. And what does Roxxon’s private security force do? Well, they try and shoot him, forcing Miles to trigger his camouflage for the first time-ever and flee.
Now, to be fair, Roxxon soldiers asked for orders from their boss first. Atop of this, Miles had caused most of the accidents that befell the bridge, making him technically the one to blame. Still, it doesn’t change what happened, and as far as these bystanders know (whom we’re meant to feel sympathetic with) Miles is Spider-Man, now revealed to be black, who is now having a gun aimed at him after having his costume torn during the game’s crazy events. If that wasn’t enough, then let’s look at Miles’ first words after that powerful scene:
What Happened to Roxxon Being Here For Us? They Were Gonna Shoot Me! They Didn’t Even Listen!
Replace the word Roxxon with police and you have a powerful metaphor for police violence against black people. Why no one talked about it, but instead obsessed over the fact Miles doesn’t do more to address the police or be against the police (in a game meant for teens no less) is beyond me. More important is what results after the scene, where Miles decides to finally come into his own. He crafts his own independent black Spider-Man costume and emerges as the hero. All by being himself both as Spider-Man, but by also a young black teen living in Harlem who both gets to know his community, has a mom who’s running for office, and helps stop an evil corporation.
I’ll admit, it’s tricky making a statement about police brutality when Miles’ dad was himself a police officer. One beloved by the city and by Spider-Man himself (Peter), so it’s hard to go down that route unless we make this like that full-blown episode of Family Matters. Still, I think it’s admirable what the game tried to do, especially in the gaming community, where going too far in one direction of the social justice ladder is considered pandering, and too far in the other and paints you as cowardly. But I think there’s something wrong with seeing a black man with a gun pointed directly at him without feeling some sort of remorse, guilt, or animosity. Even if he’s a superhero. The image of such actions has forever changed now thanks to 2020.
Be Greater. Be Yourself.
I think there’s something telling that the bad guys in this game put their deathly cancer-causing chemicals uptown because they saw the minorities of Harlem as disposable people. A harrowing message, yet one central to the heart of this Spanish Harlem conflict that Miles Morales actually takes the time to explore. It’s a game that artfully reconstructs the area and shows some of the best in culture, language, music, and art that describes the Black and Brown experiences of Harlem New Yorkers. It’s showcasing the best of both worlds in the most teen-friendly way possible, which is why I get angry about the game’s being criticized as a tourists’ depiction. I live two hours south of Harlem. I’ve spent a good deal of time there while exploring the city. The same city that’s featured in this game that I’ve spent 30 years of my life exploring.
I say this because there’s nothing pandering about this game. If anything, it’s a celebration and one that doesn’t take the racist and easy way out the way that we often do while representing minorities or people of color. And though gaming has a long way to go in terms of getting more types of characters out there, I will take the small victories of culture when they can be addressed. That a game deserves to be applauded for being so unapologetically true to itself.
There’s a logo in Spider-Man: Miles Morales – “Be Greater. Be Yourself”. I think Miles does just that. Because representation matters and Black Lives Matter. And I think the game does a great job of saying both.