Marvel's Spider-Man has already proven to be a smash-hit, but not who played the game is amused. There are some players who believe that Spider-Man is aggressively pushing an unrealistically-positive pro-police agenda on players, and selling them on the idea of a city under complete surveillance.
A recent article from Deadspin writer Tom Ley laments the fact that Spider-Man players are forced to work together with the NYPD.
According to Ley, the beginning of the game boils down to a single objective: "help the cops." "Not just any cops, either," Ley says, "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."
Ley also detests the fact that Spider-Man spends a good chunk of time repairing surveillance towers for the police. These towers are what reveal the map to players as they progress, but the fact that they're called "surveillance towers" seems to communicate some kind of spooky, big-brother eye in the sky keeping watch over every citizen and all that they do.
Some players are adopting this perspective very seriously, suggesting that Insomniac Games, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is grooming young players to place their faith and trust in a police force that aims to serve only itself. The concern is that a fantasy world where police are always good guys, and cameras on every street corner mean more security for everyone, is being shoved down the throats of the young and impressionable. A lively debate spanning more than 20 pages on a popular gaming forum suggests that this isn't an isolated opinion, either.
Of course, not all who are concerned go to such extremes. Some simply worry that we may be too quick to praise a game that, overall, communicates an acceptance and promotion of the NYPD that many simply can't align with their very real, very dark reality. Some people are wondering if it's productive or even ethical to crank out another game that posits "kicking ass" as the best way to deal with criminals. Personally, I didn't think twice about it, because I was acutely aware that I was playing a superhero video game.
Contrary to what the above article claims, Insomniac did not create a true-to-life New York City. This is a fantasy version of New York City where landmarks like the Wakandan Embassy, Sanctum Santorum, and Avengers Tower are as common as phone booths.
The surveillance towers, as far as we're told and shown in the game, do not exist to spy on the lives of the citizens of this fantasy NYC. Whenever you're adjusting the frequencies and tuning into these towers, the only thing you ever hear is police radio chatter. These seem to be in place to establish a city-wide network for the police to report and communicate crimes as they happen in real time, and that doesn't seem so spooky to me; it seems practical.11comments
I'd also like to point out that, at one point in the game, a kind of military police force does take over, led by Silver Sable. When the military police show up to start investigating and quarantining citizens, Spider-Man starts punching up their shiny, armored faces. He's not out to assist the police in establishing city-wide dominance; he's out to protect New York's citizens.
Of course, Ley did admit that he hadn't made it very far into the game when he wrote that article, and so it's very possible that he's yet to encounter Sable and her special police force. What you do see within the opening hour, however, is a scene where Spider-Man arrives to help a police SWAT force, only to be betrayed by them and shot at. The game does not portray an always-pure, always-righteous NYPD in any way, shape, or form, but it also doesn't go out of its way to demonize them.