Look, superheroes—especially of the Marvel variety—do very little for me. Batman is cool but he is also just a rich billionaire with parent issues. Now, The Avengers? I don’t care, I really don’t. And the Marvel Cinematic Universe is genuinely one of the worst things to happen to modern cinema and to the discourse in and around cinema. It all sucks. I am also 22 hours into Crystal Dynamics' new game, Marvel’s Avengers, and I’m as surprised to be typing this as you probably are while reading this.
Marvel’s Avengers is one of the most AAA-ass AAA games that I’ve played in some time. Every aspect of the game is meant to sell you on something us, to get you engaged in the endless grind of this post-Destiny live service experience. And those games have never really clicked with me! But I picked up Marvel’s Avengers on a whim after hearing that the campaign—which was buried in the game’s marketing—is actually pretty fantastic. Well, dear reader, the campaign sure is pretty great. Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, is who we experience most of the story through. She is an Avengers obsessive, a fan fiction writer, and an overall fandom teenager. Kamala’s overwhelming positivity is pretty grating at times, but it worked on me. She is so endearing (and well-acted), and the fact that a Muslim character centers this game is something genuinely special (though it is a bummer that it has taken AAA games this long for it to happen and it makes her and the campaign being buried in the marketing feel all the more insidious). The story is great, too! There are moments of genuinely clever humor, heartfelt conversations, rousing fights, and it is truly some Comic Book Shit that I gave myself over to—I’ll get into why later on.
The story is only a small fraction of what this game is supposed to be. The other half of Marvel’s Avengers is the endless loot and number boosting grind of daily challenges, faction missions, raids, vendors, gear allocations, experience points, and more. It literally feels like some suit at Square Enix saw the finished campaign and was like “Okay how do we monetize this and ensure that folks never stop playing this game?” and then proceeded to hand the developers a checklist of all the current living-game-experience trends. I usually hate this shit, but here I am grinding away with a smile almost always on my face. The story endeared me to most of these characters—except for Iron Man, he needs to shut the fuck up, disperse his wealth, and die—and now I just feel happy existing and playing in this world. The gameplay feels great top. It is very simple—nothing more than a modern sheen draped over a 3D brawler from 2006. But I just so happen to like 3D brawlers and pressing buttons to see people punch a lot of stuff so, whatever, it works for me. I really can’t put this game down, but why? Why has a big dumb superhero living experience grindfest taken over my gaming life? Well, Marvel’s Avengers happened to release at the exact right time for me to be open to a game like this and to what this game is doing.
It feels like everything around me is falling apart. My life is in a constant state of flux. The five-year plan I had devised for myself post-graduation has been shattered, and I can only find the energy to take things day by day. It is impossible to look forward to a month or two from now because everything is dancing on a razor’s edge. Fascism is steadily on the rise, America is continuing to fail in addressing a literal pandemic that has almost killed half a million people in the U.S. alone, California is on fire, capitalism and class dynamics have rarely been as “mask off” as they are right now in the United States and around the world, and the cops just keep fucking murdering people and showing us that they are exactly what we think they are—racist, militant arms of the state that exist to beat down anyone they feel like. Living with this day by day sucks, it does, but some people have it way worse than me. I am aware of this. What I am getting at is that I just want to smile sometimes, I just want to cry, I am okay with the trite and the familiar as long as it offers me some respite from my everyday. Marvel’s Avengers does just that. It is just the right game for me at the right time. The story is so simple and bubblegummy in a way that would usually make my mind numb but right now its warmth and the overwhelming sense of companionship mean so much to me. Seeing the Avengers reunite and fall back into their old, all-too-familiar friendships made my cry (I cannot believe I am saying this, but it is true). Seeing how they embrace the young Kamala Khan and welcome her into their super-group with relatively open arms is so nice. The repetitive loop of the game and the overall grind means I do not have to think too much, and after a long day at work and with just dealing with the news means that, well, not thinking too much is just what I am after. Everything this game is doing just so happens to have found me at the exact moment for it all to click with me. This feels like a one-of-a-kind relationship to a game that I have never had before and will hopefully never have again. Marvel’s Avengers is, on paper, the opposite of what I look for in games, but I am holding onto it for dear life right now. It has become a sort of weird safety net that I can fall into when I need to just get away from things for a bit, and I love it for that. I might just always love it for that, and with it being a living game, I hope there are reasons for me to come back to it for a long, long time. Looking towards media as an escape from anything is a slippery slope. There are politics at work in Marvel’s Avengers and a lot of said politics are pretty ugly (I guess good ol’ Captain America fought in the war on terror) and any art that means a lot to us is the art that we should really, really work through. Yes, having a “problematic fave” is okay but that hand waving only goes so far—be aware of that. Yes, using art as an escape is okay but is that escape letting you not engage in what is going on in the world and/or is that escape working through the sociopolitics of the world in some gross ways? Always keep these questions in your mind. Do not go uncritical into that warm escape from your day-to-day. Enjoy things, but enjoy them critically.
Lastly, I just want to work through a moment in Marvel’s Avengers that I already hold dearly in my mind. Tony Stark goes to check on Kamala Khan in her room relatively early on in the story mode. She is embarrassed to see him because she is still trying to find the right superhero outfit for herself. Stark remarks that her suit looks ridiculous, and after a beat, he says that looking ridiculous is the point. He then goes on to make fun of Thor and The Hulk. Kamala smiles and starts to feel a little more assured in her own superhero outfit. She stands a little taller, a little prouder. And with that, Tony leaves her be to go do whatever else he has to do. It is a pretty small moment that, for whatever reason, just floored me. Maybe it is because I have never felt comfortable in my own skin or maybe it is because I am just so open and vulnerable to almost anything emotionally charged right now. Regardless, this moment will now forever be a part of me. It just means so much to me, that’s all.