• Michael T. Christensen

What's Inspiring Me Today - "Marvel's Spider-Man" for PS4

When the pandemic started, my fiancée and I bought a PS4 - I've never had a lot of game systems growing up (I had a Gameboy and a Gameboy Color, and then I played some City of Heroes on my dad's PC), so video games were never a big part of my life until I met Victoria.

I'm a big fan of Spider-Man comics and other media, so I was pretty excited for the Spider-Man game for PS4. But I'm also not a L33T gamer, so I mostly watched Victoria while she played through it. It became one of our bedtime rituals, a way to relax at the end of the day.

Well, it was relaxing for me, because I just watched. For Victoria, the game was fun but also stressful. Because "Marvel's Spider-Man" hacks your brain and makes you feel like Peter Parker.

I won't spoil anything here for folks who haven't played the game, but I will speak in broad terms: "Marvel's Spider-Man" is an open world game, and whenever you're swinging through the city on your way to a mission, other crimes and side quests pop up and pull your focus. It never feels like there's enough time to do everything. And half the time, you hear podcast clips from J. Jonah Jameson complaining about how you're ruining the city.

As she played, Victoria would often say things like, "I can't be everywhere," or "What do they [the New Yorkers] expect from me?"

And I would smile. Because this game makes you feel exactly how Spider-Man feels all the time in the comic books, or at least the well-written ones.

Outside of the comics, only two other pieces of Spider-Man media have come close to capturing this feeling for me: the Tobey Maguire films, especially "Spider-Man 2," and the 2008-2009 TV series, "The Spectacular Spider-Man." Both do as good a job as any media can of making the audience feel Peter's plight; pulled in all directions by his responsibilities as Spider-Man and as Peter Parker.

But the game takes it a step further by putting the choice in the player's hands. Now we have a scenario where some random crime occurs while you're going to meet Aunt May, and you can decide what kind of hero you want to be. Can you ignore the sounds of someone in need? Is it worth trying to finish a side quest, no matter how frustrating, before beginning your next mission? How far out of your way are you willing to go to collect all the backpacks and pictures? When designing new suits and web-shooters, which skills are most important to you?

Much has been made of the many other things the game does really well: how it creates its own continuity, yet is full of homages to the Spider-Man stories of the past; how well the voice cast channels the characters (Yuri Lowenthal joins Josh Keaton on the short list of "People who sound like the Peter Parker in my head"); how Mary Jane is given a stronger role in the story (by basically being converted into Lois Lane); how well the villains are executed. But I don't see anyone discussing how the game is designed around replicating the perfect Peter Parker experience.

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