I’ve never done this before, but my reaction to this article was so impassioned that I had to write a direct response to it. This is a response to Heather Alexandria’s Kotaku article called Spider-Man’s Take on Police Feels Out of Touch.
To start I’m not an individual that feels the need to champion Sony, or their newest exclusive. It really doesn’t need my help or defense in any way as it seems to be doing just fine, both critically and commercially (at least overseas, we don’t have the numbers for North America yet). I say that to get the accusations of being a upset fanboy out of the way upfront. In fact, if you’ve followed me at all in the past you know I mostly despise fanboy nonsense and fairly judge all games and systems based on their individual merit.
I’d also like to apologize ahead of time, I didn’t feel the need to randomly insert photos in the post to keep it colorful. Either you care about the article and wish to read to the end or you don’t.
If you haven’t read the aforementioned article I suggest you do so. I may not agree with the sentiment even remotely, but it is well written and obviously provides the basis of this entire article. For those unwilling or unable to read it at this present moment the overall idea of the article—as much as one can boil down thousands of words to a basic premise—is that the PS4 exclusive Spider-Man doesn’t treat police realistically. In doing so the author states that it somehow sets these same police up as unimpeachable individuals, and also simplifies the criminals of Rikers to just be villains to beat on.
First and foremost, I’m an individual that feels that everybody deserves to be treated equally, and feel that the black lives that have been lost in shootings by racist police officers is unacceptable. Very near to where I live we had one of these situations occur, and I’ve never been so embarrassed and ashamed of my city as when this police officer walked free. The recent elections shown light on a side of America many of us hoped or believe was getting better, a dark underbelly of racism that has always been there barely hidden from sight.
That being said I also don’t think that this is a system wide issue, and I still believe that there are a vast majority of police officers out there that do the job because they want to serve and protect the public. In the same way that our military isn’t without reproach, I still feel like the majority of them are fine individuals who have offered to possibly sacrifice their lives to defend us. In this way the police are very often the “good guys” and I feel the good things they do that don’t really get examined by the press outweigh the bad.
There is injustice in the world, and some police officers propagate horrible racism, but not all of them. An entire profession of people across every race, religion, and creed shouldn’t be thrown and judged in one lump sum. Isn’t that the very root of the systemic racism we face across this country?
That being said there is an air of absurdity to the article, because this game revolves around a man who was bitten by a radioactive spider and given the abilities of said spider. He swings about the city writing wrongs, swinging from super strong webbing and fights unrealistically enormous men in rhino suits, old dudes dressed as vultures, and waves of henchmen that are empowered with some sort of negative energy…demon…stuff. Ok, so that part isn’t that fleshed out, but you get the idea: this game is as far from the real world as it can be. Sure, it is grounded in a real New York, but it is also a New York that has things like an Avengers mansion. To compare this fictional world with vastly different issues to our own is somewhat ludicrous, but to do so in the name of realism is even more so.
To take this a step further I believe tackling such a difficult issue in a game of this time would belittle the issue itself, and would have to be the focus of the game in order to do it justice. Do you really want something like corrupt police shooting a black man to be addressed in the same game where moments later you are fighting a giant Scorpion man? It would be such a ridiculous concept that it would make the more serious issue ridiculous by the same lighting, and then people would be up in arms about that.
The author also asserts that Spider-Man has been much maligned by the press and police in the past, but this is an entirely separate universe. We are looking at a Spidey that is 7 years into his job as a superhero, and there are hints in the game that he hasn’t always been so popular. There are places in the game where you hear police disgruntled by the idea of Spider-Man doing his job, but as a police force wouldn’t it be more realistic that a large majority of them would be rooting for him?
Think about it, you have a man who tackles the worst crime syndicates and works alongside you to hand them up to you on a silver platter. Spider-Man saves your fellow officers lives, reverses impossible situations, and actually helps criminals see real justice. Even in the game he talks about how he needs to get away from the scene, but yes when a terrorist situation is happening in the middle of a city I’m sure a police officer is willing to look the other way when a super powered individual wants to help save lives.
Of course you are working alongside police officers, what would be the alternative? Spider-Man routinely beating up cops, or the cops always being against Spider-Man? What narrative would that suit and who exactly does it help?
There is also a section of the article that addresses viewing Rikers in a simplistic light and just painting the individuals as bad guys, but since the author is so interested in making these giant leaps of logic in regards to a video game about a man with spider powers, then I should be able to also: the men that Spider-Man is fighting are the ones that are attacking him and the police with blatant disregard for their lives. These are clearly bad men, and don’t care who they kill in their bid to escape. Does Spider-Man chase down and beat up a kid who is only in Rikers for stealing a backpack? No, he doesn’t, and nowhere does it state that only bad people are in Rikers.
That being said prisons may have systematic issues that need to be addressed, but that doesn’t mean there are actual horrible people in Rikers that wouldn’t behave in precisely the way they do in Spider-Man. All of that again is absurd on its face to even talk about, because we are talking about a video game that is horribly unrealistic, and trying to apply real world politics to the situation.
The most frustrating thing about the article is the fact that it reaches so hard for these concepts in a bid to write an article that, while well thought out and presented for the most part, reads like sheer click bait. It is a worrying trend I see mostly from the left, as there aren’t really a ton of hard right conservatives writing about video games, but a worrying trend none the less of writers doing everything they can to insert political controversy into games that are devoid of it. They do so because it drives clicks, causes controversy, and gets the most eyes on their piece. From what I can tell Heather is an incredibly intelligent individual that I have a hard time believing actually believes most of this nonsense, and would have to really stretch to see it.
I had an English teacher in Honors English in school, and she would do everything she could to find symbolism in everything, often religion based. Every single story she would tear apart—simple and nuanced alike—and would come back with some deeper meaning to everything. It was frustrating, because even with something like Lord of the Rings when the author himself stated that the story was simply a story she refused to believe it; there had to be some deeper motive there, something driving the discussion forward.
The author even attempts to make something as innocent as Spider-Cop—a hilarious send up of edgy cop movies, or old noir detectives—seem like something more nefarious than it is.
But sometimes? A story is just a story.
A video game about a man with spider powers, is just a fun distraction from the world around us.
There is no need to drag real world politics kicking and screaming into games, and to do so because the game is currently popular and the politics hotly contested is misleading at best, and downright irresponsible at worst. By trying to shoehorn problematic issues into everything you consume in an attempt to seek some kind of political justice, you devalue the very cause you are fighting for by trivializing it in your attempt to see it everywhere.
We don’t have to go looking for ugly things, they find us readily enough in the often times awful world we live in. To see them everywhere–even in the most innocent of expressions devoid of the things you accuse–is a very sad way to live.