Maybe the most poignant scene in the warmly received video game "Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales" comes at the end. Miles, the titular superhero protagonist, has spent the whole game trying to save Harlem, and both he and the neighborhood look the worse for wear. A reporter on the scene asks residents who their masked savior is.
"That guy?" a muralist says, just as Miles swings away. "He's our Spider-Man."
The "our" is said as if it were underlined. Miles belongs to an authentic Afro-Latino community brimming with life. He wears Timberlands and dances to salsa. He speaks Spanish with his mother. He can take a bodega cat with him on his adventures. This Spider-Man is different because he's theirs.
The character has been around since 2011 but has quickly climbed in stature among fans. And "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," the 2018 best animated feature Oscar winner, lets Miles take up more permanent residence in the American consciousness. If Peter Parker was always New York City's "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man," Miles makes it clear that his neighborhood matters.
"He's going to feel that responsibility in a different way," said Evan Narcisse, a writer for the game who helped shape its narrative. "You know how it is when you're a Black person and you're breaking new ground? You're like, 'I can't mess up.' "
Insomniac Games brought in Narcisse, a Brooklyn-born Haitian-American writer and critic who wrote the "Rise of the Black Panther" comic book series, to help the writing team give Miles and his home a sense of authenticity. He spoke with the New York Times about the writing process for the game as well as the character's importance. This is an edited version of the conversation.
Q: What was it like in the writers room?
A: Part of it was anticipating — or trying to anticipate — audience response: As a reader and critic, somebody who has written about Miles as a character before, what did I see as areas to explore? And the big thing for me was this can't be a re-skin. This can't be a palette swap of the Peter Parker game. Miles is different as a character. What kind of stories you can tell through those differences.
Obviously, his cultural background, his race, is one of them. But even aside from that, with Peter Parker you tell stories about a very individual kind of guilt and responsibility. With Miles, he's got a mom and his dad, and an uncle. He has a family. So you can tell stories about family through Miles in a way that you can't about Peter. Peter pretty much only has Aunt May.
Q: This game feels timely in how it portrays people of color, their communities, and their relationship to political and corporate power. It just feels like it hits differently in 2020.
A: One of the things that I know from having written about and written comics, there's always this weird onus on Black superheroes to solve racism. One thing that's tricky about that trope with a character like Miles is that he's a teenager. He doesn't have all the answers. But I think we definitely want to gesture at themes of encroachment, gentrification, obviously. On corporate overreach and how a lot of times that asymmetrical power imbalance negatively affects communities of color.