In the lead up to Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man, there was no doubt drama circling the game. From supposed down-grades, which turned out to be false, a concern over the amount of content in the game, and of course would the developers be able to nail the Spider-man character? All of this, of course, has been answered with the massive critical and financial success of Marvel’s Spider-Man becoming the fastest-selling PlayStation first-party title ever, selling 3.3 million copies in only 3 days. While critics gave it an 87 average on Metacritic, with many stating it was one of the best super-hero games since Rocksteady’s Arkham series. With all these positives it seemed like we had seen the end to the drama surrounding this game. Enter, the Spider-Cop controversy.
A few sites and critics latched onto Spider-Man’s relationship with the cops as being “problematic” and ignoring an opportunity to dive into the issues with law enforcement we see on an almost daily basis from media. There is no debate that the relationship between law enforcement and the American public is rocky at best. While these issues do need to be addressed, they are very complex topics that require a very careful touch in order to convey them without feeling heavy-handed. However, here are a few reasons I truly believe Insomniac Games made the right choice in not tackling this topic directly but still covering it to an extent.
This isn’t New York City the way we know it, this is New York City within the Marvel Universe. Those that are familiar with the comics and movies know that there is quite a clear distinction that this is not a piece of non-fiction. When was the last time you saw a man swinging from roof to roof in pursuit of a huge man in a rhino suit? We can even look at other examples of people changing the realism in a title to better suit the developer’s portrayal. We can look at the recent drama surrounding the development of Battlefield V. Battlefield developers cited adding women to a more frontline role due to wanting to promote equality amongst their player base. Which Battlefield a historic based series made such an adjustment to a game based on non-fiction, and it was applauded by the same critics that are so quick to criticize Spider-Man. I personally am always fine with developers wanting to have a different presentation through the diversity of characters to be more inclusive of the wide variety of people that play video games. If Spider-man having a good working relationship with the cops is part of Insomniacs vision of a fictional world then more power to them.
The second problem, is none of these critics referenced the fact that the police did have flaws throughout the game. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, we are exposed to the corruption from within the NYPD when a bomb squad turns on Spider-Man and attempts to assassinate him during a raid on Kingpins office. Throughout the game, you are exposed to crooked law enforcement, even cowardly moments where the police refused to help Spider-Man out of fear. With some even being condescending to Spider-Man even after he saves their lives in very dangerous situations. To say that the police were paired in a flawless light is factually wrong and if you have played the game you know this to be true.
The problem that this kind of criticism brings is that should every game “have” to tackle a complex social issue? While tons of Indie games tackle complex social issues such as Not Tonight which covers what could happen to the UK post-Brexit. Other titles like This is the Police also tackle in detail the difficulties of law enforcement and the flaws that plague it. In conclusion, if people really want to play games that tackle these issues, there is a mountain of games to choose from that tackle them. While other developers can choose to be as political or non-political as they choose to be. At the end of the day, don’t we want to let these developers make the games they want, and not try to force them to step into a topic they are not comfortable with?