From moment one of playing the game, everyone knew that this was the Spider-Man game for which we have been waiting. Every aspect of this game, from the web-swinging, to the suits and power-switching, to the gradual opening up of tasks and side quests around the map gave the game a smooth and rarely tedious feeling. Tedium is the scourge of any open-world game design, and despite the map being absolutely massive and meticulously crafted, the vicarity experienced with Spider-Man’s movement makes travel from one end of the city to the other feel like mere minutes. When it comes to the philosophy of Spider-Man, everything comes down to a single, ethical rule, “With great power comes great responsibility.” An ethical philosophy akin to Noblesse Oblige, but one that removes the divides of social class and its corruption of reciprocity
To understand this game, we must look at the unique ways it expresses and evolves that message.
Every major character in this game, from Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Miles Morales to Norman Osborn, Martin Lee, and Dr. Octavius, struggle with how to do what you can to help others. Aunt May gives all of her effort and her health to the FEAST organization, a homeless shelter and food pantry founded by Martin Lee. Yet, while always encouraging others to take care of themselves, Aunt May rarely takes her own advice. Mary Jane, in order to get secret information to the public eye, actively puts herself in harm’s way while submitting herself to the court of public opinion as a reporter. Miles Morales, following in his late father, Jefferson Davis’s, footsteps, also puts himself at risk in trying to procure medicine for the needy, actively challenging the Sinister Six, The Demons, and Silver Sable despite having neither the support of the police nor Spidey’s superpowers. All to follow his father’s adage, “I’m just a guy who does not give up.”
And Peter Parker? Despite his eight years of experience, the immense power he wields still causes him to blame everything that could go wrong on himself, even when there is no conceivable way he could have known or helped a situation.
Even the villains of this world are motivated by the same desire to help people Martin Lee started the FEAST center in order to fight against the injustice of society. Dr. Octavius was driven to improve the lives of veterans, amputees, and otherly-abled people by created new and better prosthetic limbs. A technology that could help his own degenerating motor neurons. Even Norman Osborn sought to use a viral infection to cure his son, Harry Osborn’s, genetic disorder, but instead created Devil’s Breath, an extremely virulent disease that posed a threat to all life on Earth.
So exactly what then distinguishes a villain from a hero is both are seeking to help others? The difference lies in how far you believe that help extends. Yes, Martin Lee founded the FEAST center, but how much harm did he cause in creating The Demons criminal organization? Would punishing Osborn for a failed treatment, an accident, truly undo any of his wrongs? Would it really help more people than it has hurt?
Norman Osborn was filled with good intentions, and had the resources necessary to attempt great things, and to endure when those pursuits failed drastically. His personal obsessions with acquisition, with control, however, made him unable to recognize failure in the face of potential. He could have ordered that the Devil’s Breath be destroyed after realizing its risk, but he did not. His desperation to save his son made him delusional.
As for Dr. Octavius, his hubris as a genius scientist led him to ignore the risks of his direct, neural connection to his prosthetic arms. This caused not only the acceleration of his degenerative condition but advanced it to the rest of his mind as well. HE believed so strongly in the individual righteousness of his invention that anyone who opposed his justice, his personal vendetta, deserved to pay the ultimate price. His self-righteousness was so great that he was happy to not only exterminate the entire population of New York City, but also emotionally manipulate and abuse Peter Parker, his admiring pupil and respected partner, just to prove himself right.
Throughout this game there has been a serious focus on themes of balance. The Kongo statues at Wilson Fisk’s estate sale represent the guardians of the Buddha in the Mahayana, or “Greater Wheel,” pantheon. The Buddha, having attained enlightenment, freedom from suffering, is a symbol of peace. But he is guarded by Misshaku on the right, representing birth and violence, and by Naraen on the left, representing death and potential. Together they demonstrate that, in order to protect and pursue peace, it is sometimes necessary to use violence. It is necessary to know how violence works in the cycle of life and death. Befitting for Wilson Fisk, who perverted the idea to think that by created and controlling crime he would create peace.
Martin Lee was taught by his parents to pursue balance in all things through the principles of Yin and Yang, to see how conflict and harmony exist within each other in an endless flow. The negativity inherent in his powers, however, eventually overtook him. Peter Parker, too, strived to teach balance. As Spider-Man, Peter always encouraged people contribute to their communities, albeit in a way wholly different that vigilante crime fighting. Even when Spider-Man has a 1-0n-1 training session and pep-talk with Miles Morales, he emphasizes balance: match size with speed, be calm and avoid the adrenaline rush, keep your shoulders square, and strike when you opponent is off-balance.
In Marvel’s Spider-Man, every character is faced with the challenge of how to balance power with responsibility. How to balance active force with passive potential? How to balance the positivity of life and the negativity of death. Beyond that, can you balance your values with the values of others to create a more peaceful world?
That is what separates the villains from the heroes.
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