Opinion: Why I Long for Superhero Games Over an Onslaught of Films

Opinion: Why I Long for Superhero Games Over an Onslaught of Films

We live in the age of the superhero. More specifically, superhero films from a specific brand. Like a scene straight out of The Boys, they’re everywhere – decorating billboards, t-shirts, water bottles, chips, and phone cases. This is no longer niche nerd territory; superheroes are a beloved worldwide phenomenon. And to their credit, they’re beginning to ask some very intriguing questions: do superheroes cause more harm than good, or should they be subject to government regulation? Frustratingly, the focus often shifts to CGI-driven spectacles and explosions instead of exploring these themes. What starts off as an exciting take on the genre boils down to a massive showdown against the villain. Which is why I have more hope for superhero stories told through video games. No, hear me out – I’m not hating on the MCU.

MCU Becomes Mainstream

A screenshot from Iron Man (2008)

MCU offerings started gaining more traction after the success of Iron Man (2008)
Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment

I grew up in the dawn of the Marvel era – when Iron Man took off on the big screen and the Avengers became a household name. It was impossible not to get drawn into a majestic world full of other-worldly gods and fascinating sci-fi tech, starring virtuous yet flawed (however minutely) heroes who could be counted upon to save the day when needed. I have enjoyed countless films, both Marvel and DC productions, which clearly boasted of top-notch direction and performances.  

However, by the time Endgame rolled out, I felt saturated. I accompanied my cousins to watch the film together. Settling into my seat at the cinema, I realized that I was surrounded by hardcore Marvel fans – people sporting Hulk wristbands and Iron Man quotes on their t-shirts. People who had already been here and seen the movie twice, thrice, five times, who knew every line by heart (and insisted on whispering them just seconds before they were said on-screen). People who shouted their approval every time Cap’s shield knocked out an enemy or laughed in unison as if Spider-Man’s quips were the funniest thing in the whole world. Their love for the franchise and characters was evident and infectious – it enveloped the room like a thick fog, glittering with the promise of a fairer world where things did work out.  

Why I Slowly Lost Interest

And halfway through the film, I realized why I felt an increasing sense of detachment from this genre. The knowledge that no matter what, things will work out; I likened the experience to getting what you pay for – it’s your favourite dish at your favourite restaurant. You know exactly what you’re going to eat. There’s no risk or genuine anticipation of an unknown taste that comes with something you’ve never had before.

Sure, there could be a cliff-hanger or a couple of heroes could potentially be written off in the ensemble films, but those are rare breaks from the usual routine of exploring interesting themes that ultimately lead to an explosive CGI-fuelled battle. There are multiple arguments to this view, that yes, it is possible to simply enjoy media that doesn’t involve philandering New Jersey mobsters or Madison Avenue ad men of dubious morals, that at times it’s just as important to sit back and watch a relaxing film that allows the whole family to bond over a shared interest, bridging the gap between generations. Films that restore some hope in the world rather than leaving you anxious and pondering existence – and hope is more important than ever in these trying times.   

A shot from The Sopranos showing Tony Soprano sitting in his car

As entertaining as certain drama shows can be, they are definitely not for family viewing
Image Credit: HBO

When this happened, I felt a sense of relief that I had never brought it up with any friends; the backlash from fans was pure outrage. Embarrassingly, I have never confided in more than a couple of people that superhero films simply don’t interest me anymore (Scorsese takes that a step forward by explaining how these box-office juggernauts are hurting the medium). Shortly after, I came to the surprising realization that I never had this complaint while playing superhero games.

Why Superhero Games Appeal More To Me

When we come to the medium of the video game, the superhero genre holds potential for sequels that don’t seem formulaic (looking at the Arkham games here). Though there aren’t as many big-brand superhero games as there are films, several of them out there show that the genre is an increasingly promising and exciting one to explore (Insomniac’s Spider-Man and its sequel being recent examples). The reason why games succeed in winning me over is by directly placing me in the heroes’ shoes. You’re not just passively watching their exploits anymore, you are them. You control what building to sling or glide to next, whether to turn the Unibeam on your enemies or equip the Hulkbuster suit. This element of interactivity does wonders for immersion. If the goal is to make the audience suspend disbelief, video games can reach a wide audience of varying temperaments. 

Promotional art for Batman: Arkham Asylum

Rocksteady’s Arkham games did a great job of making players feel at home playing as Batman
Image Credit: Rocksteady Studios

As it becomes increasingly normal for games to be longer, this removes the restriction that arises for most movies: fitting the content into a fixed amount of time. Storytelling can span tens of hours instead of a couple, allowing for experimentation and a subversion of superhero tropes; I long for video games that explore superheroes and their powers in a way most movies don’t.

Conclusion

Which is not to say that superhero games are always better than their theatrical counterparts. This IGN article provides a deeper look at why licensed superhero content has often failed in the past. However, watching a failed attempt like the recent Avengers game makes me smile (not because I hate Crystal Dynamics and definitely not because it’s Marvel property) because it shows that there is no fixed formula to create the ‘ideal’ superhero game (yet) that pleases the majority of players. Commendably – and it is no small feat – Marvel has perfected the superhero movie recipe and holds audiences entranced, such that even mundane offerings from its roster go on to achieve record box-office figures (Captain Marvel was the 5th highest grossing film of 2019).

Maybe someday video games will have their very own Marvel Studios dominating sales charts, having perfected the formula that checks off every item for an enjoyable experience; for now, I’m content with the occasional superhero game and the all-too-human risk of failure it carries along with it.

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