Black People Are Always The Side Story

After the announcement last night, players expected Miles Morales to be the star of a Spider-Man sequel. It shouldn't be surprising that he isn't.
Miles Morales having an emotion
Image: Insomniac

Yesterday's Playstation 5 presentation opened with Spider-Man Miles Morales. Though the teaser was brief, I couldn't hide my glee. I've wanted to play as Miles Morales—the black Spider-Man that is beloved by the fandom—since I first saw that the character would make an appearance in Insomniac's Spider-Man game. Turns out, this game is just a side story. I should have known.

Black people are used to being DLC, side stories, and expansion packs. There are very few games where Black characters are the leads. Though one such game was announced last night, Arkane's Deathloop, Black video game protagonists are so rare that I can count them on my fingers. I am glad that Miles Morales, a very good boy who has never done anything wrong, will join that list. Although The Telegraph reported in an interview with Insomniac that Miles Morales would be an expansion for the remastered version of the original game, they walked that back today on Twitter by calling it a "standalone game." A source told Bloomberg News that it is similar in scope to Uncharted Lost Legacy, which is more of a spinoff than a full-length game. I just think it's really lame that we won't get a full on, 60 hour video game-ass video game where I can play as the Brooklyn-born-and-bred webslinger.

Especially in these major franchises, Black characters aren't given a chance to really take the lead in the same way their white counterparts are. Assassin's Creed has not yet had a mainline game where the main character is Black, but you can play as a Black assassin in the Assassin's Creed 4: Freedom Cry, a standalone adventure that can be completed in five hours. Uncharted has always had the white Nathan Drake at the lead, though when his adventure ended in the fourth game, the non-white Nadine and Chloe took over for Lost Legacy—another shorter side story. Spider-Man Miles Morales was in fact directly compared to Lost Legacy when Insomniac and Sony explained more details about the game this morning. Lost Legacy is a 10-hour game. I want to play as Miles for much, much longer than 10 hours.

When I learned that Insomniac wouldn't be making a full-length game about Miles, it was hard to feel any surprise alongside my disappointment. The industry has been clear: it sees Black protagonists as a risk, and thinks it's safer to A/B test them alongside larger, bigger-budget offerings featuring white protagonists.

This has never, ever made sense to me. I know it's anecdotal, but from my perspective the Black community at large has always loved video games, ever since Biggie Smalls was rapping about Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in 1994. Every single Black man I have ever known has played Battlefield. If you get on a bus around the time school gets out in New York, you'll hear Black teenagers talking about the games they're playing, about to play. Hell, the Black community was one of the only ones that latched onto Sony's effort to get into the handheld market with the Playstation Vita. On top of that, Black people have always loved and read comics, and ever since Into The Spider-Verse, Miles Morales has become an icon in the Black community beyond just the diehard nerds. How would it be a risk to put Black characters front and center, especially this Black character? Those players are already there, waiting for it.

The question isn't "why is Miles the star of a side story," but, "why isn't Miles the main character of this franchise?" Once you start to look at what might motivate a company to release smaller, shorter games with Black protagonists, or why these characters can only tell their own stories in expansions and DLCs, you'll paint a pretty unflattering portrait of the video game industry. They want Black players to know they're appreciated, so they'll develop the game with Miles Morales. But Black players can't expect the same depth of experience that their white peers do. It's separate, supposedly equal.