Representation in Gaming Matters and the Afro-Latino Spider-Man is Helping with This

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Photo courtesy of npr.org

There’s a new Spider-Man in town, and his name is Miles Morales. Okay, Miles may not be “new” per se (his comic debut was in 2011, and his feature film debut was in 2018), but his appearance in the video game world is. 

For those of you who are uninformed, Miles Morales is an alternate version of Spider-Man a biracial Black and Puerto Rican teenager who fights crime in his Brooklyn neighborhood. At the time of his debut, Morales was groundbreaking because he wasn’t just an Afro-Latino superhero (a rarity in itself), but he was an Afro-Latino Spider-Man arguably one of the coolest superheroes in the history of comics. 

In November, Playstation released a brand new video game entitled “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.” Typically, another run-of-the-mill Marvel superhero video game wouldn’t garner much attention. But having an Afro-Latino protagonist at the center of a big-budget video game is incredibly out of the ordinary.

Now, if you’re the type of person that sticks to books, TV, and movies when it comes to your media consumption, the realm of video games might baffle you. While you might assume that video games are the oeuvre of shut-ins and teenage boys, they actually attract a vast and diverse audience that runs the racial, gender, and age spectrum. Knowing that such a diverse group of people play video games, you would think that video games’ content would reflect its users’ diverse makeup. Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

Video games have a representation and diversity problem both in front of and behind the screen. According to the International Game Developers Association, 81% of game developers identify as white. It tracks that the majority-white game developers end up creating content that reflects their lived experience. All too often, their games exclude characters of color altogether. 

This phenomenon seems to have made a relatively toxic gamer community. Many gamers like the characters in their games the way they are i.e., white and male. These toxic gamers feel like any moves to add more diverse characters into video games’ storylines are “politically correct” attempts by “social justice warriors.” 

But Insomniac Games, the video game development company behind “Miles Morales,” approached this project with an entirely different attitude. They took pains to research Afro-Nuyorican culture, identity, vernacular, everything when designing this game. They hired dialect coaches to correct their actors’ pronunciation. They had families in East Harlem critique the game for maximum authenticity. They cared.

“It was so important for us to get this representation right, and the only way to do that is to make sure you have enough voices in the room that can contribute and make sure that it does feel the way that you want it to feel,” said the game’s lead writer, Ben Arfmann, in an interview with CNN.

“The sentiment that gaming is just for 18-35-year-old white dudes still persists for a lot of people,” said Tanya DePass, founder of I Need Diverse Games, in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Getting gamers to understand that putting a woman, a POC, a queer character, disabled character, [in a video game] is not some ‘agenda.’ It’s making games reflect the world that we live in. Because, you know, everyone games.” 

That sentiment couldn’t be more accurate. A quick Twitter search will turn up tens of Black and Latino gamers praising “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales” for creating a character that “looks like them” a luxury that most of them have rarely experienced. 

“As someone who’s also half Black/Puerto Rican, the representation brings such joy to me,” said one particularly emphatic Twitter user. “Listening to Miles’ mom speak Spanglish around the house reminds me of growing up.” 

And just like that, a person who up to this point felt invisible in mainstream media is seen.