My boyfriend and I have found a game into which we can settle for now: Marvel Heroes 2015. For me this is an amusing turn of events: it’s been within the last handful of years that I have become rather enamored with the Marvel Universe (having mostly stuck to indies and DC Vertigo before), and I did not really expect to be sucked into a free-to-play MMO of sorts. Part of how I snagged my boyfriend into the Marvel Universe (fairly easy considering the media saturation currently happening) was by reading Young Avengers and seeing queer representation in Wiccan and Hulkling. It then helped to see comics such as Ms. Marvel starring Kamala Khan, having Captain Marvel round up the wacky space hijinks, and She-Hulk to represent an amusing take on the legal profession (somehow we have found ourselves surrounded by a cabal of nerdy queer lawyer friends).
So, most days we at least log in to Marvel Heroes 2015, and at this point we’ve spent a fair bit of money in the game. In fact, two of the more significant purchases in my memory are for skins of existing characters: Scarlet Witch’s enhanced skin to turn her into Wiccan (a gay Jewish son of hers; it’s more complicated, but that’s comics) and All-New X-Men’s Iceman skin (he was recently outed by Jean Grey in the All-New X-Men run). Were they to release an Ultimate Colossus skin, I would likely also pick him up (he also being of the man-loving-man variety).
Marvel Heroes 2015 is among that line of action RPGs that sticks to an isometric view and is heavy on its loot; these skins I have purchased are cosmetic (and in the case of Wiccan, have a completely different vocal track). Wiccan actually does reference Hulkling, his in-comic boyfriend, exclaiming that Teddy (Hulkling’s actual name) will never believe how easy Wiccan is finding it to fight as a real superhero. Iceman will hit on women, however. This makes sense, as the comics change outing his younger self pulled forward in time (again, comics) only occurred recently. While some would argue there have been hints historically, reading a text as queer is not new, and is not likely to go away any time soon, Supreme Court rulings only carrying so far in how far they can push change.
Today, as I was playing Iceman to farm some daily Shared Quests, Iceman in fact hit on Ms. Marvel, “Hey, is there a Mr. Marvel.” Wearing this young Iceman skin, the one who was recently outed, it struck me as odd to suddenly think of my character: here is someone trying so hard to hit on women that it is a bit overbearing, and probably even more telling considering how his sexuality is currently known to me.
This is odd.
The reason this is odd for myself is because I haven’t done much thinking of who my character inhabits in this universe of Marvel’s where the varying realities and alternate realities can comingle and all exist next to each other (good way to explain how you can have dozens of Scarlet Witches or Doctor Dooms running around on the same screen). This is a game whose primary focus is the game, the story serving seemingly as an also-ran of the typical comic book events. If you’ve played either the X-Men Legends or Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, you can pretty much hash out how that formula goes.
Which made me think in particular about the mutant metaphor that Marvel relies on: mutants are a minority among minorities (a point Chris Claremont makes in a forward to God Loves, Man Kills, which also made me raise an eyebrow). The idea is that the mutants are loathed and hated across the world: laws are set up to restrict them, they are lynched, and everyone seems invested in somehow controlling, subjugating, or ridding themselves of them as a species.
Games have not communicated this well; if anything, they have proven why people should be frightened of these super-powered heroes who are able to wreak havoc at a whim. Part of what seems to make the mutants, and the X-Men in particular, so appealing is their use of their powers and fighting a struggle that they always seem to surmount (not without casualties). This makes most games about them into a power fantasy, though the minority status is relegated to barks from enemies calling them less than human. Or to quote some Purifiers from Marvel Heroes 2015, “Human rights are for humans!”
While at Wabash College, one of my later English courses was on the character of New York and how it not only has been depicted in varying forms of media over the ages, but how that character has shifted with its varying populations. Comics, naturally, became a talking point. The professor, with a mischievous look in his eyes, listened as I explained the mutant metaphor as a parallel to the struggle for queer rights in the 1970s, before he jokingly and tauntingly mentioned that the Jews had claimed the X-Men first.
I’ve met many people who feel like outcast in some regard who identify with the X-Men, and the mutant struggle. The frankly insulting comparison of Professor X and Magneto as analogues for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X is frankly so because it tries to simplify into a base comparison what a mutant struggle would be as compared to the black civil rights movements. It is not a good analogue to map it so squarely into real events in our history, even if we can see glimmers of it in varying struggles among different communities.
This makes me wonder what a game that tackles that would be like: it is the struggle of depicting privilege and having a feeling of not being able to control your fate as easily as a more privileged person might. That’s hard to convey in a game where you just beat people, beasts, and demons up while leveling and grabbing loot. Perhaps in a more story-focused game, which theoretically the announcement of the Telltale Games collaboration with Marvel could bring, this could be conveyed. However, the quest to constantly better myself along the exact same track as someone like Tony Stark or Thor (where I am to be an equal in that system in the name of game balance) makes those odd barks about my character’s inhumanity, or my noticing a slight discrepancy with a currently evolving storyline about adopting further minority stories, seem like it’s more of an, “Oh yeah, aren’t I supposed to be prosecuted by the public?” moment than an actual event in the game.