Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a bold step forward for representation in AAA games.
Insomniac Games’ latest leap into the Spider-Verse is full of all the comic book action and thrills you’d expect from a big-budget Marvel project. But Miles Morales' focus on a Black Puerto Rican superhero also affords the developers the opportunity to break new ground by including more characters from diverse backgrounds.
Miles Morales is a love letter to New York’s culturally vibrant Harlem neighborhood, and ever since the PlayStation exclusive’s November 12 release, scores of gamers have praised and celebrated the game’s portrayal of underrepresented communities on social media, including Puerto Rico-based blogger Christian Quiles.
“My playthrough was more enjoyable because I saw a bit of myself there,” Quiles tells Inverse. “While I don't share the same skin color as Miles, this game is a way that I can attest to the Black community's cause for more representation in media and how it truly matters.”
Spider-Man: Miles Morales has struck a chord within communities of color as well as with people with disabilities. In addition to Quiles, Inverse also spoke with comics writer and Danny Lore (who grew up in Harlem) and Morgan Baker (a Deaf accessibility consultant who worked on The Last of Us Part 2) about the game's cultural impact.
These three paint a clear picture of why Miles Morales is such a powerful game for so many different communities, just like the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did before it. They also offer advice on how Insomniac can improve representation efforts in the future.
Visibility and representation
Danny Lore is best known for their work writing James Bond or Wonder Woman comics. Lore grew up in Harlem and loves howMiles Morales represents that community.
“There was so much that made me smile,” Lore says. “His almost Scarface-spoof accent at one point saying ‘okay,’ his slang, his attitude — truly reminds me of Black boy joy!”
They were also a fan of how Miles and his mother spoke Spanish to each other. “I know so many kids who speak Spanish, but their accent isn't quite traditional,” Lore says. “It felt like he came from a house that flowed in and out of the language.”
That said, Danny is a bit more divided on the game’s portrayal of Harlem.
“Harlem right now — it's in deep gentrification with Columbia University reclaiming a lot of the land they own,” Lore says. “So a lot of the map is really off and weird, and then there will be one or two places that really feel right, like the (above-ground trains! In that way, it feels exactly like when I go back to my mom's neighborhood, where I grew up.”
“I was witnessing myself in a video game.”
Miles Morales fully embraces the character's Puerto Rican heritage when protraying with Miles’ mother, Rio Morales. Quiles says this aspect of the game stood out from other 2020 releases.
“Seeing every single detail that Insomniac added to demonstrate the Latino side of the city and Miles' Puerto Rican roots was truly one of the biggest highlights of the game for me,” Quiles, a resident of Puerto Rico, says. “Even the way Miles and his mother Río Morales say ‘te quiero’ to each other felt like I was witnessing myself in a video game because it carries the same weight I, and many other Puerto Ricans, use to express our love to our parents.”
Puerto Rican flags and other cultural touchstones are sprinkled throughout the game. The music around Harlem, and even Miles’ own apartment, offer an authentic look at the real Harlem represented in a video game universe. “As a gamer who has never experienced this type of portrayal of MY own culture in a game, this is a breath of fresh air.”
It gives Quiles hope for improved Puerto Rican representation at a time when relations between Puerto Rico and the US government have become strained after Trump's widely criticized handling of hurricane relief since 2017.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is also unique in its portrayal of the Deaf community through Hailey, a supporting character. For Deaf accessibility consultant Morgan Baker, who also worked with Sony on The Last of Us Part II, this character and the plethora of accessibility options in Miles Morales were exciting.
“Whenever I see sign language on the big screen, I can’t help but get warm fuzzy feelings,” she says.
As an interactive medium, video games can create uniquely profound moments of personal connection. Miles Morales succeeds in making those moments happen for a broader audience than a typical big-budget release. It’s not just about shifting the story’s focus — it’s about making it wider.
Hailey is featured prominently in one sidequest and a couple of times throughout the main story. She and Miles communicate via American Sign Language (ASL), and her disability is never portrayed in any sort of negative way.
This emphasizes the fact that Miles is Harlem’s Spider-Man, and he looks out for people in the city no matter who they are or where they come from. He even knows sign language so he can communicate with anyone who needs his help. This is even one of the main appeals of the character for Quiles, who thinks that “Spider-Man represents the whole 'anyone can wear the mask' philosophy.”
Lore was also inspired by how the game represented heroism.
“From the beginning to the end of Miles, he not only feels like a hero in his triumphs, failures, and sacrifices but you root for him,” they say. “The video games, more so than a lot of the movies, have the space to develop the relationships that really hurt to watch.”
Reimagining heroism also demands a revised approach to gameplay. While the portrayal of Hailey and a robust set of customization options make the game accessible to more people, small but easily overlooked changes could make the game even more inclusive. For example, directional subtitles could help Deaf players locate where certain characters are speaking from.
Still, Baker praised the consistent accessibility in Sony’s first-party games like Miles Morales. “It’s really cool to see that our rigorous work is continually useful for titles beyond The Last of Us Part II,” she says.
However, Baker also points out that when Hailey was first unveiled, she was revealed in a haphazard way that framed her story as “inspiration porn” and called her hearing impaired. “If you don’t know, this is a big fat no in disabled communities, and especially audist towards Deaf communities and Deaf cultures.”
What the future holds
While this mishap almost made Baker pass on the game, after playing it for herself she confirmed that Hailey was an accurate and nuanced character portrayed well by Natasha Ofili. “It is clear that a lot of love and care went into Hailey’s character, and as a Deaf woman, I appreciate that,” she says.
Baker wants more prominent roles for Deaf characters in Marvel’s video games and points out that Hawkeye is canonically Deaf. As for where future adventures in the Spider-Verse could improve in terms of representation, Danny Lore would like to see diverse cultures integrated into the narrative even more seamlessly.
“Sometimes it hits really naturally, and other times it's an issue where I'm not sure if things feel forced or not, particularly in the dialogue,” Lore says. “Are they talking about these things to build characters and the world, or because the game wants us to notice? That said, I'd always rather them show off than avoid!”
Quiles is effusive when talking about Insomniac's efforts towards inclusion and remains hopeful that the studio can continue to include people from underrepresented communities in future games.
“The fact that Insomniac has dedicated their time and effort into adding those little details that remind me of home is evidence enough that they are willing to tell more inclusive stories."
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is available now for PS5.