New Responsibilities: How Insomniac’s Spider-Man Evolves the Mythos

Intro

I realize that this is not a unique sentiment, but I was very into Spider-Man as a kid.  I devoured the giant Essential Spider-Man books, fervently watched and rewatched each of the animated series, and bought every Spider-Man branded knicknack I could get my hands on. And this is an obsession I’ve mostly stuck with as I’ve grown older, because new Spider-Man content is always being released. When I got tired of the original Amazing Spider-Man run, I aged into watching the Sam Rami Movies. When those got…umm…bad…Amazing Spider-Man had gotten good again, and I read J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.’s Volume 2, along with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s run on Ultimate Spider-Man. By high school and college, there was a new crop of Marc Webb Spider-Man movies of varying quality for me to dig into. And now there’s Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) (wow, that’s a mouthful), something I’ve sunk a frankly excessive number of hours into since it’s launch back in September. So, when Stan Lee died a few weeks ago, I had a lot to think about in terms of how his most popular character has been such a consistent companion for me since childhood. Because, when playing Insomniac’s Spider-Man (I’m just going to call it that for the sake of convenience), I found myself consistently saying, “Wow, this is really good Spider-Man writing”, without having a solid definition for what good Spider-Man writing was. Still, having spent close to two decades with the character, I think my gut feeling is probably a good place to startFortunately, Insomniac’s Spider-Man is not only an accurate recreation of what I internally think of as Spider-Man, but a genuine expansion on the literary value of the character. Because, despite his pulpy roots as an adolescent power fantasy (and it very much still is that), Spider-Man has an inherently literary

Marvel's Spider-Man_20180924005337

quality that sets him apart from most other superheroes. In short, I have read/watched/played a lot of bad Spider-Man media, but even the worst ones, such as Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, cannot help but tap into the fundamental human truths that Spider-Man represents. Still, it takes a lot of effort to write Spider-Man in a way that that doesn’t just reference the literary value of the character, but actually expands upon it, and I think Insomniac’s Spider-Man has done that. Yes, its web swinging feels incredible, its combat is systemically deep, thematically appropriate, and flashy as hell, and yes its soundtrack feels as epic as any superhero score should, but I think the writing in the game is what really makes it stand out as a piece of Spider-Man media. So, in this piece, I want to dig into how Insomniac Games’ writes Spider-Man, explore a few other works that write Spider-Man similarly, and try to get to the heart of what makes good Spider-Man writing so compelling in the first place. In short, this is an an attempt at publicly defending the ungodly amount of time and money I’ve spent on this franchise.

Tone

Let’s start with tone, because this is something a lot of bad Spider-Man adaptations get very wrong. Compared to other superheroes, Spider-Man’s tone is a bit more complex, because there are many different takes on the character that writers can lean into. To list a few, there’s Spider-Man the low-budget engineer, Spider-Man the human being with real life obligations, Spider-Man the wise-cracking crime fighter, Spider-Man the dorky high school kid, and Spider-Man the high-budget scientist. Other writers have carved out their own side of Spider-Man, such as Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2’s take on Peter Parker as an earnest high school teacher, or Spider-Man as a monstorous spider, operating on animal instinct. So, while many Spider-Man stories feel formulaic, they have a lot of possible options to choose from when writing the character itself. However, despite these varied sides of the character, most good Spider-Man stories follow a very particular tone that carefully balances seriousness and levity. Go to far towards the levity and you get a kind of PG-Deadpool, mostly written for animated kid’s shows. Go too far towards the serious and you get…well, everything written in the 90s. Going too far in either direction breaks the character, and good Spider-Man writers know how to balance both. As far as humor goes, something a lot of writers don’t seem to get is that Spider-Man is not Deadpool. Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films fall into this trap the most. That Spider-Man is making quips non-stop, and they feel distinctly mean-spirited in a spider-man-001way that most other Spider-Man writing doesn’t. Because, Spider-Man is a dork. He’s making bad jokes at criminals because he genuinely finds them funny; it’s not done out of malice. Fortunately, Insomniac’s Spider-Man follows this mold. In a very important distinction, Spider-Man is cracking jokes to himself, not to the people he’s beating up. And, also in keeping with other good Spider-Man writing, these joke are horrible. I cringe at at least half of them! My favorite one takes place during the Turf Wars DLC where Spider-Man, quietly talking to himself, comes up with a punny name for a variant of enemy tank, laughs at his joke, then repeats it louder for the bad guys to hear. And they make fun of him for it! Bad guys making fun of Spider-Man for his bad jokes is a perfect encapsulation of Spider-Man’s humor.

However, the game is not all light-hearted, and knows when to hit some serious beats. It’s main plot centers around honest-to-god terrorists invading the city, and a militarized police force sent in to combat them. These are much more explicitly political issues than most Spider-Man writing usually deals with, as most of the franchise’s writers’ attempts to engage with explicitly political issues are goodhearted, but often sloppy. Insomniac’s Spider-Man, meanwhile, seems to avoid commenting on the issues directly. It says that terrorism is bad and scary, that the militarized police force is bad an overextends its reach, but the NYPD are paragons of virtue. This is a…troubling narrative, and flies in the face of Spider-Man’s history being consistently at odds with the NYPD. In this game, he is functionally a special forces freelancer; the game even opens with him going on a SWAT raid. Avoiding discussion of politics when your enemies are dudes in wacky costumes is one thing, but refusing to acknowledge the political messages when engaging with real-world organizations with sweeping systemic problems is quite another. The game wants to stick to its simple message that egomaniacal plutocrats are screwing over honest, hard-working New Yorkers, and I can respect that. But by uncritically including the NYPD in its “us”, I think it inadvertently steps over a political line it wasn’t intending to cross.

However, the rest of the game’s more serious beats are much more competently executed. The general setting of the story pulls heavily from Sam Rami’s Spider-Man 2, leaning into the “Spider-Man as a real human being with real life obligations” side of the character. Peter’s juggling paying rent and managing relationships with crime fighting and an actual career in science. This is pretty commonly stated as the aspect of Spider-Man that makes him compelling as a character, and I absolutely agree. Spider-Man was created to appeal to teenagers reading comic books, and shares many of the troubles and experiences that they do. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne own skyscrapers and mansions, but Peter Parker gets evicted from his apartment in the first few hours of the game. This is, from a writing perspective, what makes the character so malleable and consistently interesting. The character’s foundation involves him struggling with real-world issues, and this is something most superheroes just don’t do. Spider-Man may be just as much of a power fantasy as Batman or Captain America, but it’s not just a power fantasy, because it’s contrasted against conventional character writing. I think this dichotomy is highlighted in the game’s best scene, where Peter swings and wall crawls through the city while talking to Mary Jane after a dinner that may have been a date, but neither of them are quite sure. It’s not really clear, and that’s the dramatic linchpin of the scene. Both of them are trying to figure out exactly what they’re doing with their relationship, and are Annotation 2018-12-11 211012both really bad at communicating. If this scene were written in a non-superhero film, it might have Peter pacing around his apartment, but, “someone paces around their apartment while texting” is not exactly the most cinematic of setups. But, when that awkward pacing is up the side of a building instead of in an apartment, that gets a lot more cinematically interesting. It allows the animators to exaggerate smaller gestures into more obviously readable ones. Want to show Peter getting uncomfortable? Just have him awkwardly swing to another building. This contrast of the grounded and real with the dramatic and exaggerated is a perfect encapsulation of Spider-Man as a character, because it sends the message that even superpowers cannot save you from reality. And that is strangely comforting.

Characters


Aunt May

Like most good Spider-Man writing, this game is centered around just a few core characters, in this case, Mary Jane, Aunt May, and Doc Ock. Each of these relationships is written wonderfully, reaching the core of the character from the comics, while adding additional depth. Peter’s relationship with Aunt May is, I think, the most transformative. There have been a few interesting takes on Aunt May in the past, though most of them fairly limited. In the original run of Amazing, she really only existed as someone to worry about Peter, and for the occasional story where she found out he was Spider-Man. She cared about Peter, and Peter cared about her, but it was never especially deep. The best take on the classic version of the character I have see is in Straczynski and Romita Jr.’s Amazing Spider-Man Vol 2. run, where proxy.duckduckgo.comAunt May discovers that Peter is Spider-Man (for what must be the fifth time), and they spend a few issues talking about it, processing it, working to establish a new relationship with that knowledge in mind. It felt incredibly realistic in the tone of its writing, contrasting the bombastic web-swinging art on the cover of the comic, with the twenty-odd pages of two people just talking about trust and family. Aunt May’s is still the strong old woman who has had to deal with a lot of pain in her life, but they lean into that depth a lot more than previous writers had. Bendis and Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man iterates on this approach, with Ben and May being written as an old hippie couple. Where the May in Amazing Spider-Man felt fragile and troubled, Ultimate’s May is no less troubled, but is fiery where Amazing’s is frail. Amazing’s May would worry about Peter, Ultimate’s May will yell at him when he’s being stupid. I really like this take on the character, as it creates a more explicitly hostile but no less tender relationship between Peter and May. Because, from May’s perspective, Peter has become a flaky and moody teenager since Ben’s dead. It looks to her like he’s spiraling. But, she is also dealing with her own grief over losing her husband, and genuinely feels like she has no idea how to raise this angsty teen on her own. Ultimate’s May is more directly empathetic than Amazing’s; the reader is given the ability to relate more directly to her struggles. I find both takes on the character to be interesting, but neither entirely define where Insomniac went with the character.

The most notable thing about Peter and May’s relationship in Insomniac’s Spider-Man is just how many people I’ve heard comment on how good it is. Aunt May is rarely the focus of the drama in any given Spider-Man story, and in this one, she is still mostly in the background, but the story beats that do happen with her feel more substantial. The player gets a real sense of the history between them, feels Peter’s overwhelming gratitude for what she’s done for him, and just how much the two of them have been through together. This is something that requires writing Peter as a little bit older, when he’s lost the rebellious teenager personality, so the relationship has gotten more mature. But in a really obvious bit of characterization, Aunt tumblr_inline_n2i3kpI03d1rnipfwMay exists as a character outside of Peter. In Amazing and even in Ultimate, it’s never mentioned if she has hobbies or even a job (Note: Ultimate’s May has a job, but I have yet to find out what it actually is). She exists purely in relation to Peter. But in Insomniac’s, she basically runs a homeless shelter on her own, she tries to help out Miles when he’s dealing with the death of his father, and she is close to one of the game’s main antagonists. You start to see Peter’s overworking of himself not as something particular to him, but as a family trait. At one point, Peter says that, after trauma, it helps him to stay busy, and given the amount of trauma Peter and May have had to go through, it makes sense that they always seem to stay busy. So, while May’s relationship with Peter is still important to the story we see, it’s not her only or even her defining characteristic. And this a good segue into how the game treats Mary Jane.

Mary Jane

Mary Jane is a…hard character to write well. The early comics never really gave her any defining characteristics other than, “She’s hot.” Which, aside from being a deeply problematic way to write one of the main characters in your canon, is also a really difficult starting point for new writers. Other major characteristics include “she has red hair” and “she likes Peter,” which doesn’t really help you much. So, pretty much any author that tries to write Mary Jane in any other than voyeuristic (which is, frustratingly, the route that most writers seem to take) certainly has their work cut out for them. One advantage of this is that

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Pictured: A very normal way to draw fifteen-year-olds

writers can pretty much do whatever they want with the character. Ultimate writes Mary Jane as a childhood friend of Peter’s who is actually kind of a geek (though still uncomfortably sexualized for a FREAKING FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD). She, again, has actual interests and personal problems going on outside Peter. When Peter acts like a stupid fifteen-year-old boy and claims to be entailed to her affections, she shuts that shit down. But…ultimately (heh) the take on the character only goes so far. Her main hobby is sewing Peter’s many costumes. She is still, consistently, drawn to be gawked at by the presumably straight dudes reading the comic. There’s some more depth there, but it has its limits. It does include the one bit of depth Mary Jane’s character did have from the early Amazing comics, which is her abusive father, but…it feels kind of trite. The writers don’t really have anything to say about abusive homes, it doesn’t feel authentic to people’s lived experience, and it mostly just serves as an easy source of drama.

This is an area where some Amazing runs actually surpass Ultimate in character writing, because it does eventually have some actual depth for Mary Jane. Over the early 2000s of Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2’s run, Mary Jane is slowly transformed into an interesting character. Straczynski and Romita Jr. create a backstory tries to explain why she was written as such a shallow character, and how she can grow from it. In what is mostly a retcon, they cast her shallow and carefree aspects the early comics as a defense mechanism for her broken home life, to deny the shitty reality she had to go home to. And…okay, that’s not a bad take on the character. It explains her earlier actions, and lets them transition the character her into a more interesting one as she learns to process her past trauma and start to grow past it. Throughout the early 2000s, Mary Jane takes her modeling career (which only ever existed so MJ ASMv2the artists had more excuses to draw more “HOT MJ” panels), and have her try to transition into acting. She struggles with being typecast as a model in early movies, but eventually transitions to a successful stage acting career, and there are a few legitimately insightful scenes where she talks about how she acts by channeling past experiences. So, basically, Mary Jane becomes a method actor. This leads to some genuinely good character beats between her and Peter as well, as their struggling marriage is approached with some actual depth, genuinely exploring how a regular human being would feel if they were married to a superhero. She feels unimportant, like she can’t be involved in the most important beats of Peter’s life, and she is always worried that there is something he’s hiding from her. These are realistic approaches to fantastical problems, and I found them immensely personally understandable. So, despite the many missteps previous writers have taken with the character, there were a few solid examples that Insomniac had to pull from to start writing their own Mary Jane.

They ignored all of them. And the game is much better for it. Mary Jane in Insomniac’s Spider-Man is pretty distinct from all previous incarnations of the character. I suppose in visual design she resembles Kirsten Dunst’s mostly forgettable portrayal of the character, but the resemblance ends there. They don’t pull from Amazing’s characterization of her messy family history (aside from a single throwaway line), her acting career, or her modeling career. They don’t pull from Ultimate’s characterization of her as a geeky childhood friend. They basically just write a new character, have her date Peter, and give her red hair. And even though there are some aspects of previous Mary Jane iterations I found interesting, I think this was the right decision. Their new character is an investigative reporter, she’s working on the same cases Peter is, she’s not just there to be saved by Peter (though that does still happen). This is strange, considering game director Bryan Intihar said that, they created Mary Jane by Mary Jane“deciding what we wanted from Peter and his journey. Mary Jane’s role came as a result of that, to balance everything out.”[1] If that was their goal, they definitely failed at it, because Mary Jane seems to exist as an independent actor in the world. Yes, she works with Peter, but she’s doing her own thing most of the time. Their relationship is played very straight, just a realistic, messy, twenty-something relationship. Oh, and the game never obviously objectifies her, something which…I don’t think any Spider-Man media has done before? She’s still Hollywood-attractive, and there’s still sexual tension between her and Peter, but it’s, again, played realistically. She does not exist for the presumably straight dudes playing the game to gawk at. So, when the game takes their relationship seriously it’s easy for the player to get invested in the back-and-forth of their relationship.

Black Cat

This isn’t to say that the game is entirely sexless. Black Cat is in it, after all. And, the way the game wrote Black Cat was ultimately what convinced me to write this piece, because, I think a good rule for Spider-Man writing is, if they know how to write Black Cat, they know how to write Spider-Man. Black Cat is a (not at all Catwoman-inspired) antihero who Spider-Man alternatively fights and flirts with. They date for a bit, they hook up, she steals something, Spider-Man chases her, she gets away, repeat. This is a fun dynamic to write, because it has clear rules and conflict: Black Cat will always go back to her life of crime, and Spider-Man will always try to get her to go straight. This means the end of any Black Cat story will already be known to the reader, so good Black Cat writing is just about having fun along the way. Unfortunately, most writers interpret “having fun” as drawing multiple, incredibly detailed panels of Black Cat looking hot. And having her shamelessly flirt with Spider-Man. Black CatThe best Spider-Man writers will use this as an opportunity to just write some fun superhero banter. My personal favorite take on the character an arc in Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 where the two of them team up to take down some big bad. They are crawling through the air vents preparing to attack some henchmen, but instead, they get distracted and have sex. While still in the vents. Which is probably the best superfriends-with-benefits writing I’ve ever read. The problem with the character, however, is that even the best writers fall into the trappings of the bad ones. So, with Insomniac’s Spider-Man being a video game, I was worried that this would be taken to another level of creepy pandering. If Black Cat flirts consistently with Spider-Man in the comics, then in the games, where the player is Spider-Man, this could get borderline masturbatory. Fortunately, they don’t do that, and just have fun with it. Banter between Spider-Man and Black Cat is consistently hilarious, with Cat taunting Spider-Man and him reacting as uncomfortably as you would expect. There’s a consistent back and forth (I refuse to write cat and mouse) between the two of them, and they consistently reference their years of history together. They know each other; they’ve been through this before. It’s a great example of the game taking something that worked in the comics, and removing much of its less effective aspects.

Doc Ock

How the game writes Doc Ock, however, is an example of taking something that never worked in the comics and turning in into something that absolutely does. One of the biggest problems with Spider-Man writing is that his villains are usually pretty boring. Doc Ock is perhaps the greatest example of this. Best I can tell, he has only been written well once. ONCE. One of the best-known Spider-Man villains and his only interesting story arc is in Sam Rami’s Spider-Man 2. In the comics, he is just an angry science dude with a bad haircut who makes some robot arms. They have him try to marry Aunt May one time. That’s about the only interesting thing he’s ever done. So, the Insomniac writers looked to that one time he was written well. In Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock is a sympathetic scientist who takes on a mentor role to Peter before being turned evil by his robot arms. And, okay, that’s an interesting start, certainly more than his comic iterations. But Insomniac takes that foundation and goes much further with it. Where Spider-Man 2 didn’t have the time to develop the mentor relationship, Insomniac can spend the majority of the game developing it. So, as Doc Ock slowly slides towards super-villainy, it can be both more believable and emotionally complex for the player. While his transition to super-villain is definitely too abrupt, the complexity behind the shift remains intact. Peter treats him as a father figure, and that doesn’t feel trite, because the player spends most of the game working with Octavius and feeling sympathetic for him. While the wholesale murder of an entire city is a slightly extreme reaction, the player can, at the very least, understand why Octavius is doing it. And that is because of the real villain of the game, Norman Osborne.

Norman Osborne

I said earlier that Spider-Man villains are boring, but Norman Osborne is one of the few exceptions to that. He is Spider-Man’s most famous villain, and as a result, has been adapted several times. Willem Dafoe’s portrayal in Sam Rami’s Spider-Man might be the best known, and went for a fairly goofy take on the character despite the film’s cinematic leanings. But the basic idea of a genius billionaire who experiments on himself and goes “insane” is still present. Other adaptations lean pretty hard into the “insanity”, which is lazy and problematic for a dozen reasons, and simplifies what could be a complicated take on real mental health issues into an excuse to make him act weird. Ultimate Spider-Man’s take on the character is probably the most tonally consistent, and it exchanges the mental health metaphors for an addiction/alcoholism one. Despite being an egomaniacal sadist (and not the hot kind), Ultimate’s Norman is a relatively mentally stable person. He’s not coded as having dissociative identity disorder, and while he does hear voices, they’re portrayed as the side effects of the drugs he’s taking, rather than an inborn mental health issue. That Norman is addicted to Oz, his genetic engineering goop that drives most of the superpowers in the comic. This isn’t exactly a progressive take on the subject matter, but it is, at the very least, less regressive. Ahh, my standards for comic book writing.

Insomniac’s Norman, however…never actually becomes the Green Goblin in this game, though they tease the hell out of it. He’s deep into genetic research, trying to cure a genetic disease lifted from, of all things, the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man movies. His son Harry is dying from the disease, and most of Norman’s foyers into more gobliney science seem to be driven by that. The game even ends with a tease that Harry’s disease and Norman’s attempts proxy.duckduckgo.comto cure him have turned Harry into the goblin. Either way, the game is setting up a hell of a sequel. But Norman himself is an interesting character, even without his goblin-focused pursuits. Going off of the pre-release media, a lot of fans, myself included, thought they were setting up Norman as a sort of Donald Trump analog. And, even with the final product, that isn’t too far off. While it’s The Kingpin of Crime’s Fisk Tower that defiantly occupies Trump Tower’s Fifth Avenue local in the game’s New York City, Norman is the more obvious Trump stand-in. His general character design, mannerisms, and speech patterns at least gesture in the direction of our current president, but it’s his role as both a sleazy New York CEO and the mayor of the city (a conflict of interest that is barely even acknowledged in the game) are the most explicit comparisons. While the game doesn’t lean too hard on the comparison, writing a Trump analog who is so villainous that his awarding of lucrative city business deals to his own company is his least damning trait is a fair critique. So, the comparison feels present, but not heavy-handed; Norman has Trump-like elements, but is not just Trump with a name change. At least Norman never turns to the camera and says “Make New York Great Again”.

 

Structure

So, the game has all the written elements for a great Spider-Man movie, or maybe limited series. How do they turn that into a video game? Well, the obvious elements, like web-swinging and combat, have already been deconstructed and explored by a lot of really smart critics, so I want to focus on something I haven’t seen talked about as much: the game’s structure. Spider-Man is an open world game, closer to Assassin’s Creed than Skyrim, and this tends to make thematically-relevant pacing difficult. Usually, the story of Ubisoft-style open-world games doesn’t meaningfully address the order the player is doing things. Assassin’s Creed used its computer simulation framing device to state that, in the game’s actual alternate history, Ezio and Altaïr probably were not living these events out in the exact order that the player did. And this works for the type of gaming Ubisoft was trying to make, but not so

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This shot is *so* on the nose, but I still love it

much for Spider-Man. Fortunately, the developers use this open world framework to tap into some fundamentally Spider-Man characteristics. Essentially, Spider-Man is always stretched for time. He’s always late to everything, every part of his life is always just about to fall apart, and he never has time to just relax for a little. The structuring of the Ubisoft open world game, then, fits this perfectly. I’ve complained before about open world titles spattering activity icons all over the player’s map, because they feel like a list of chores, but in a Spider-Man game, that is exactly how they should feel. Spider-Man has so much to do and not enough time to do it. So, constantly having to jump from activity to activity feels perfectly in-character. There is a point, probably near the end of the game depending on the player, where they have completed nearly everything in the game, and then genuinely can just swing around the city and relax. That does feel out of character, but since the game can’t generate infinite content, it’s a character break I’m willing to accept.

Additionally, the plot structuring of the game fits into this format as well. Unlike most open-world games, Spider-Man takes place over just a few, concretely-defined days, starting with Peter waking up and ending with him finding a place to sleep. Before the main plot even really kicks into gear, we see a full day of Peter’s life, taking place over a few hours of gameplay. The player takes down the Kingpin, goes to work, meets up with Aunt May, has an awkward encounter with Mary Jane, and stops random crimes throughout the city. This feels like a day in the life of Spider-Man, and the rushed pace makes the player feel like they are experiencing that day the way Spider-Man would. Each of the individual beats work well on their own, but this structuring makes the experiencing of each individual beat stronger. When Spider-Man says he’s overwhelmed and rushed, the player feels that, because they are overwhelmed and rushed. This is something unique I think games can add to the Spider-Man canon, to expand upon the characterization of a well-trodden aspect of a character that has been adapted dozens of times. One beat I particularly like in the game is when, after completing a few story missions in a row, Spider-Man will say something along the lines of, “Okay, that was a lot, but I’ve been neglecting the city, time to relax and go on patrol.” Functionally, it is the game telling the player to take a break from the story and do side missions. I love when open world games do this, but this particular example accomplishes that same functional purpose while communicating something important about Spider-Man to the player: he can never really focus too much on any one aspect of his life.

Conclusion

This, I think, is the most valuable literary contribution of Spider-Man. In all its mediums, the franchise has tried to explore the idea of a super hero that is overwhelmed with real-life obligations, just like everyone who reads his comics, watches his movies, and plays his games. This is the very personal value I have gotten from the franchise, and why I have found it so compelling for so long. Because despite being about a dude in spider-themed spandex who punches a wide variety of people in other animal-themed spandex, Spider-Man feels profoundly grounded. The comics, films, and now games are consistently committed to exploring this on-the-ground take of a character’s life, to see what being overwhelmed with conflicting obligations does to a person, and how they can deal with it. One of the weaknesses of serialized content is that the state of the world rarely significantly changes over its many installments, but this is a strength for Spider-Man. One of the rules of his character is that he will never solve his problems; he will never figure out a perfect life balance. His relationship with MJ will always have issues. Aunt May will always be worrying about him. He will always struggle to pay rent. There will always be super-powered dudes in equally ridiculous-looking spandex trying to punch him real hard in the face. This does mean that any particularly dramatic arc will most likely be reversed (Aunt May will not die, Peter and MJ will never break up for good, Peter will never quit being Spider-Man). But it also means that the character and the audience spend their time sitting with that inevitability. When discussing the themes of Spider-Man, the phrase that so often comes up is, “With great power must also come great responsibility,” and this is a wonderful lesson. But I think an often-neglected thematic contribution of Spider-Man is the capital-T-Truth that you will never have enough time to fulfill all of your responsibilities perfectly. And that can be okay. There have been a lot of Spider-Man games released in the past four decades. Some of them have been fun; most of them have been crap. The best of them have really captured the physical feeling of swinging around New York City. But, until this point, none of them have captured this particular aspect of Spider-Man, and this game has not only captured it, but contributed to it; evolved it. I think that’s pretty cool.

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