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A Spiderman For Populists

The new Marvel video game offers players an honest representation of traditional, conservative American values in a modern setting.

(The following contains mild spoilers for the 2020 video game Spiderman: Miles Morales)

It’s hardly a secret that the entertainment industry leans left. Your average Hollywood zip code resembles the cast and crew of a Democratic Party fundraiser. From cinema to pop music, there is little room for people with traditional values.

That isn’t to say there’s not a cottage industry of entertainment targeting social conservatives. But the conservative Christian film industry, for example, regularly produces content that fetes only a tiny audience and is poorly received elsewhere. If you want to watch B-movies about atheist college professors, you’re set. But if you’re a conservative who wants to see your views represented in high-caliber entertainment that addresses contemporary hot-button topics—like policing and the rise of anti-corporate populism—you’re mostly out of luck.

But if people on the right are looking for safe harbor in the ocean of liberal-leaning entertainment, they should check out Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a recently released video game you can play on the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5 consoles.

A follow-up to 2018’s PS4 game Spider-Man, this title takes us out of the shoes of series protagonist Peter Parker and instead tasks us to play as Miles Morales, a friend of Parker’s who resides with his mother in Harlem.

His life story is in many ways the embodiment of traditional values. The son of a Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father, Miles is dedicated to his family and his Uptown community. While bashing the police as an institution of “white supremacy” has become vogue among cultural progressives, Miles is the son of a police officer who gave his life in the first game protecting innocent civilians from a criminal gang.

This tragic death leaves us without the presence of Miles’s father in this title, but his presence looms large over his son’s motivations. After Parker, the first Spider-Man, decides to abscond for several weeks to Europe with his girlfriend Mary Jane, it’s up to Miles to protect his city from all manner of crooks and criminals.

And protect he does. With his own signature Spider-Man suit, Miles aggressively takes down gangsters, foiling weapons deals and helping imprison notorious drug dealers. Although he works outside the law as a vigilante, he does so with healthy respect for the NYPD, who he allows to arrest the bad guys he dispatches of with non-lethal violence.

Alongside the usual crime-fighting, Miles also has to deal with a pair of new threats to the city. First, he must investigate the mysterious Roxxon Energy corporation, a firm that has an ever-expanding presence in the game’s New York City. Roxxon is led by Simon Krieger whose dressed-down attire and cocky attitude is reminiscent of any number of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs.

Although Roxxon comes from long-time Marvel lore, the way it is presented in the game could easily remind players of Amazon or other mega corporations who move into our nation’s metropolises and dangle the promise of jobs and social benefits to manipulate their politics. If Krieger shaved his spiky hair, he could probably pull off a pretty good Jeff Bezos.

It quickly becomes clear that Krieger is building products that endanger the general public; Miles’s mother, Rio Morales, decides to run for city council on a platform of holding Roxxon accountable. The elder Morales’s politics are that of a quintessential hyperlocal populist – she doesn’t want a massive, unaccountable corporation reshaping her historic community for its own profit.

But not everyone in the community is satisfied with addressing Roxxon’s behavior with the tools the system offers them. Therein lies the other threat: the Underground. This techno-futuristic gang takes up arms and tries to violently uproot Roxxon’s operations. Miles, who like Peter is opposed to lethal violence, sets out to stop them from committing acts of terrorism. In what one could read as a subtle dig at Antifa and other nihilistic groups that use vandalism and violence for political ends, he sternly lectures one Underground member that what they’re doing isn’t just throwing a rock through a window.

As Miles pushes himself to his limits trying to stop Roxxon’s monopoly from controlling the city and the Underground’s terrorism from blowing it apart, we’re greeted with a story that, ultimately, is about the honor in defending one’s home against the leviathan of corporate America and the chaos and disorder of criminals and terrorists.

It is unlikely that the technical wizards at Insomniac Games set out to develop a title that appeals to the populist right—they probably just wanted to make a darn good video game with a compelling story, a task in which they succeeded. But what they’ve crafted here is a tale that encourages us to respect the bedrock values of our civilization while defending it against those who would undermine them. Conservatives couldn’t ask for a better story to represent their arguments.

Zaid Jilani is a freelance journalist who in the past has worked for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, The Intercept, and the Center for American Progress. 

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