Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers

  • Claims of racism and brutality dog Los Angeles County Sheriff ‘deputy gangs’

  • Parents fight for daughter after ‘pervasive and egregious’ violations by family court volunteers

  • California laws end era of secrecy around police misconduct

  • Phase one of New York’s ‘Raise the Age’ law goes into effect today, but many are disappointed

  • George Will calls for death penalty repeal

In the Spotlight

In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers

Reviewers have said that the new Spider-Man video game is the game that “fans deserve,” “raises the bar,” and is possibly the “best superhero game ever.” But others have pointed to a darker side of the game: “the primary objective boils down to Help The Cops,” writes reviewer Tom Ley. “Not just any cops, either, but the NYPD specifically, because the game takes place in a true-to-life rendering of New York City.” Spider-Man’s enthusiasm for the police had one writer calling Spidey a “narc.” Another reviewer, Heather Alexandra, wrote that Spider-Man was “way more accepting of state power than I expected from a hero with a history of being wrongly maligned by the press and police.” Spider-Man is “no longer performing heroic deeds out of just the goodness of his heart, but also for the purpose of solidifying the existing power structure’s grip on the city.” While beating up drug dealers, Spider-Man taunts them by yelling, “If you just got real jobs you wouldn’t have to work so hard at being criminals!” [Tom Ley / The Concourse]

“Police are an unimpeachable group in Spider-Man,” writes Alexandra. “They show no real flaws and make no mistakes. They don’t feel like an integrated part of the the community.” When villains orchestrate a breakout at Rikers Island, she says, it is “treated as a crisis so dire that Spider-Man temporarily abandons his search for a potentially pandemic-causing biological weapon to help the NYPD bust skulls and put down prisoner riots. Without fail, every convict is violent and aggressive.” In real life, the conditions at Rikers Island and safety concerns are complex, but games like Spider-Man “flatten that complexity in favor of giving you criminal enemies to overcome. In Spider-Man, these prisoners function as generic thugs to fight in waves.” [Heather Alexandra / Kotaku]

“Spider-Man doesn’t just help the cops by catching armed robbers and putting deranged super villains in jail, he helps them maintain a high-tech, citywide surveillance network,” writes Ley. One of the missions of the game is for Spider-Man to repair surveillance towers that allow the NYPD to monitor people. Constructed by a fictional shady mega-corporation, Oscorp, these towers have eerie parallels to real-life Palantir-led projects to collect massive amounts of data from New York City residents.  [Tom Ley / The Concourse] One scholar from the NYU Game Center noted on Twitter similarities between these towers and the security cameras that IBM recently used in New York City to make skin-color profiling technology.

Modern superheroes appear to be trending toward authoritarian extremes. Last year’s game Injustice 2 is based on the idea that Superman could rise to lead a “strict and heartless regime” after the Joker orchestrates Lois Lane’s death, writes Alexandra. “That incident, and its extremes, call to mind the reactionary shift in American politics since September 11th, 2001.” Even the heroes facing off against Superman in that game “share a similar authoritarian streak.” Batman has a “Brother Eye” surveillance system, which can spy on anyone in the world. [Heather Alexandra / Kotaku]

Although certain claims about video games––including President Trump’s suggestion that violent video games are partly to blame for mass shootings in America––are suspect, video games that align players with police are part of a culture that looks to law enforcement and prison as the solution to its problems. “NCIS,” a police procedural show about a team of special agents that investigates crimes, was the most-watched television drama in America for nearly a decade, and also became the most watched in the world. Crime shows often dominate the ratings charts. Many of them contribute, in ways that have been called “downright misleading,” to this narrative of law enforcement as savior. “If you look at a show where every week there are one two three homicides to solve, it gives the impression that in that neighborhood homicide is a common occurrence when really they’re quite rare … especially over the last few years,” says Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale.  [Hannah K. Gold / AlterNet]

A 2009 study found that people who watched police shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI,” “Cold Case,” and “The Closer” estimated two and a half times more real-life murders than non-viewers. According to one of the study’s authors, “Heavy TV-crime viewers consistently overestimated the frequency of crime in the real world.” Cop shows also dramatically exaggerate the rate at which police solve cases, which contributes to faith in the system. The shows also play into racial stereotypes. A 2004 study looked at racial representation in “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue” and found that Black people are shown as suspects 40 to 50 percent more often than as victims, while white people are about twice as likely to be shown as victims, rather than offenders. According to Gray Cavender and Nancy Jurik’s academic article, “Policing Race and Gender,” “both primetime crime drama and reality television programs present crime in a manner that heightens fears by whites when they view persons of color,” relating not only to the numbers of people represented but how they are portrayed. The shows also disregard the prevalence of plea deals, the rampant violation of civil rights and liberties, and wrongly treat forensics as infallible. [Hannah K. Gold / AlterNet]

Crime procedurals have the potential to change viewers’ perceptions of police. A group of researchers surveyed over 2,000 Americans and found that “those who watched crime shows view police as better behaved, more successful at combating crime, and relatively responsible in their use of force, than those who don’t partake in, say, 24-hour marathons of ‘Law & Order: SVU.’” [Kate Wheeling / The Week] This is precisely the outcome that critics of the new Spider-Man video game fear.

Stories From The Appeal

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in riot gear stand guard in front of an apartment complex as police force protesters down a street near a Trump campaign rally in May 2016 in Anaheim, California. [Photo illustration by Anagraph / Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

Claims of Racism and Brutality Dog Los Angeles County Sheriff ‘Deputy Gangs.’ A lawsuit brought by a Compton resident detailing an alleged beating by deputies is just one of  nearly three dozen federal civil rights lawsuits alleging brutality and racial bias at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. [George Joseph, Raven Rakia, and Ethan Corey]

Parents Fight for Daughter After ‘Pervasive and Egregious’ Violations By Family Court Volunteers. Washington case raises questions about the role of court appointed special advocates. [Roxanna Asgarian]

Stories From Around the Country

California laws end era of secrecy around police misconduct: Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two new laws that “give the public access to internal police investigations and video footage of shootings by police officers and other serious incidents” for the first time, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The measures begin to undo decades of laws and court decisions that had made California the nation’s most secretive state for police records.” According to Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the ACLU of California, these records will allow the public to press for more police accountability. The laws will also grant broader access to records that could bear on the credibility of a police witness with a history of misconduct, which could impact everyday criminal cases. Until the new laws, California was the only state in which even prosecutors could not directly obtain officer personnel files, and a recent investigation found that past misconduct by police witnesses is routinely kept hidden. Brown was the governor who signed the original police confidentiality law in 1978, during his first term in office. [Liam Dillon and Maya Lau / Los Angeles Times]

Phase one of New York’s Raise the Age law goes into effect today, but many are disappointed: As of today, New York no longer automatically charges all 16-year-olds as adults. In October 2019, the law will apply to 17-year-olds as well. Today, too, everyone under age 18 will be removed from Rikers Island. In an opinion piece, Vincent Schiraldi, former commissioner of New York City Probation and director of youth corrections for Washington, D.C, argues that this “marks the end of a long and abusive chapter in state history” but “the new law creates a hybrid system that is nationally unprecedented and potentially dangerous.” The law establishes “a quasi-adult system” which would house incarcerated youth in facilities run jointly by adult and juvenile corrections personnel. But youths kept in youth systems have been shown to fare better in the future. “This approach counteracts the intended goal of raising the age of criminal responsibility in the first place—namely, to treat youth like youth.” [Vincent Schiraldi / New York Daily News]

George Will calls for death penalty repeal: Stalwart conservative commentator George Will argues in the National Review that America should get rid of the death penalty. He focuses on the case of Vernon Madison, whose death sentence for the 1985 murder of a police officer will be argued before the Supreme Court this week. In the case of Madison, whose memory and mental functions have deteriorated so much that he is now unable to remember the crime itself, there is serious reason to “question the retributive value” of his execution, as a lower court held. Will adds that the death penalty offers a “vanishingly small” deterrent value “because imposition of the death penalty is so sporadic and glacial.” The process of litigating the death penalty is so expensive that it has become disproportionate to any demonstrable public safety gain, but also “because of a healthy squeamishness” that it induces. Conservatives, he argues, should join his opposition because the government is “already is altogether too full of itself, and investing it with the power to inflict death on anyone exacerbates its sense of majesty and delusions of adequacy.” [George Will / National Review]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Have a tip for The Appeal? Write to us at tips@theappeal.org. A good tip is a clear description of newsworthy information that is supported by documented evidence.

Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.