Recently Kotaku published an opinion article stating that ‘Spider-Man’s Take on Police Feels Out of Touch‘. Click the link to check out the article, I’ll summarize the piece right here though. Deadspin also has a similar article that lambasts Spidey’s relationship with the Police force. That’s linked in the final paragraph but its points are similar and it’s much less in-depth. The Kotaku article describes the New York featured in the game as a place ripped from reality:
“New York is many things, but it is also the city of Eric Garner, stop-and-frisk, and Palantir. Rikers isn’t some fake pastiche location like Arkham Asylum. Real life police are a complicated presence in New York, but in Spider-Man they’re part of Spider-Man’s vigilante quest for justice, rather than members of the communities they’re supposed to protect.”
Of course New York City is a very real place and Insomniac have done a genuinely wonderful job of bringing it to life in Marvel’s Spider-Man. It feels real, it feels active and even energetic. Citizens react to your presence, you’ll ride the subway with them and you’ll save their lives constantly. This is your city. You are New York’s protector. However, New York has one other protector: Yuri Watanabe and her NYPD. Police are real life heroes. Of course there’s negativity surrounding every police force in the world but in reality, that is a problem of the system that they are part of, not the vast, vast majority of men and women who don their uniform every day and set out to protect and serve. The racism and profiling that exists is systematic. The Police force in real life is intended to be a public service and Insomniac paints them that way in their comic book tale.
Spider-Man is and always has been the people’s hero. He’s a kid who dons a mantle that’s far too heavy for his own shoulders and the reason he does it is because he genuinely believes he has to. That’s an inspiring thought. How many people have considered the line, “With great power comes great responsibility“, in their lifetime? I know I have. The NYPD has great power. They have the role of protecting one of the greatest, toughest and most dynamic cities in the world. The article makes reference to several real-life events, Edward Snowden and unjust, racist murders committed by Police officers. Those crimes are outliers. How many officers do you think go home after their shift and see this news, then lament the actions of their colleagues?
“This is the world we live in and the world Spider-Man was released into. While it might be nice to escape into a world where these problems don’t exist, that is a luxury that countless people cannot afford.
Spider-Man’s portrayal of policing feels divorced from reality, to the point that it feels out of line with Spidey’s comic book heritage.”
It’s undoubtedly true that we live in a world plagued with problems. Problems that I nor most other people will ever remotely comprehend. Spider-Man exists in a different world. He isn’t Captain America or the X-men. He isn’t a political symbol. He’s Marvel’s Superman. He is hope. He is the proof of a better, more optimistic way. He works with the Police because he genuinely believes in them, he believes that they are the good guys and that they’re on his side. The article makes this statement, “This can’t quite overcome the game’s tendency to paint simplistic portrayals of police as good and criminals as evil.“ There’s one key difference between our real world society and the video game here. Yes, both feature New York. Yes, both feature the NYPD and criminals. Only one features a masked vigilante.
Spider-Man has to be on their side. He’s a criminal. On a daily basis, he commits breaking and entering, assault, vandalism and so much property damage that his biggest nemesis is every New York insurance agency. Although I’m sure they all include Spider-Man packages to boost their prices. His methods include the very brutality that the article crucifies the Police for. He may not racially profile and he may be one of the people but that hasn’t stopped him hanging petty criminals from rooftops for years. Nonetheless, he has to have an effect. It’s obvious the effect he has. He gives the Police hope.
The Police have a thankless task. Crime is always going to exist. They’re a constant target of it and have nowhere to hide. Someone needs to do it. Someone needs to protect us. No matter how many unjust actions Police Force’s commit we still believe that on a whole they’re what’s best for society. What would be better? Martial Law? Total freedom? Locke’s social contract will deal with those claims. Spider-Man paints a picture of an idealistic Police force because that’s what he could create. That’s what his presence could create. He is the most positive force the Police could ever imagine having on their side. He bridges the gap between them and the people. He literally changes the world. One section of the game even includes dirty cops and Spider-Man is disgusted at it. It’s something that he would root out. His presence would make the NYPD strive to be as good as they could possibly be. That’s what we should take from the game. Not that Insomniac should be panned for not recognizing real world issues, but Insomniac should be praised for presenting a world that has been realistically impacted by the presence of a friendly masked hero.
The article’s other main grievance is with the city wide surveillance system. Spider-Man clearly approves of it, he uses it to his advantage to track crimes. Now in the real world this could be horrifying. The government having the potential to track our every move? Terrifying. However yet again the article misses the point. This is a very different world. The Avengers tower is present, this means one thing. This is a world where the Avengers are required. That means there are all kinds of big picture threats. In this game Spidey deals with some genuinely powerful foes capable of causing all kinds of destruction. Villains exist in real life. We have people capable of committing evil, devastating acts. We don’t have super villains though. For all we can assume the people of this fiction NYC are aware of these towers and happy with the extra surveillance because it lowers the risk of a man in a Rhino costume rampaging down a street and killing hundreds. It’s not a problem we have in real life and therefore it isn’t relatable.
“From cheesy detective impressions to Rikers prisoner beatdowns, Spider-Man’s uncomplicated approach to crime clashes with the reality of day to day life.”
At the end of the day what this article gets the most wrong is that it tries to compare something fantastical with reality. Sure, comparisons can be made. There’s a reason the Ultimate line of comic books exist, to create a more grounded and relatable universe. Insomniac hasn’t taken that route. They’ve crafted a wholesome, exaggerated and friendly version of Spider-Man that is refreshing in a time where everything is getting gritty and dark. Kotaku and Deadspin have totally missed the point of this game and it’s truly sad to see that they’ve tried to form a controversy and make a political statement just for the sake of it. Sometimes a video game is a video game. Sometimes it exists to give us a break, to give us freedom or just to put a smile on our faces. That’s perfectly okay. Not everything has to be Schindler’s List or Escape from Sobibor. Sometimes it can be just plain and simple fun. Embrace it.
If you want more Spider-Man you can check out my review right here! If you fancy winning a copy of the game, check out this tweet:
— [TLG] The Loot Gaming (@TheLootGaming) September 7, 2018