Web-Sling Your Way Into Gaming

Posted by | May 12, 2014 | Tips for Parents | No Comments
Marvel Heroes

Is your family in the superhero mood after the new release of “Spider-Man 2” or the recent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier?” Marvel Heroes may be a fun way to continue the adventures as a family—especially if you are new to gaming.

Marvel Heroes is an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game released in June 2013 on the PC platform. The game allows players to team up as a variety of superheroes from the Marvel universe. These heroes range from the famous Captain America to lesser known, newer heroes, such as Squirrel Girl.

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Squirrel Girl, AKA Doreen Green

The game is free to play and provides you with access to one of nine heroes right off the bat. The relatively simple gameplay and free-to-play aspect make the game particularly good for parents who might be brand new to gaming. There’s no risk to trying, and you’re likely to pick up the basics pretty quickly.

Moving your hero is a simple point and click. Your hero starts off pummeling robbers and Hydra agents. Later your hero will learn new abilities you control via keyboard keys. Don’t worry. By that point, you’ll be an expert and ready to incorporate new abilities. New gamer or experienced, you’ll be webbing up enemies and taking down threats to the universe itself before you know it.

Making the Most of Your Family’s Supergroup

Although Marvel Heroes is an easy game to pick up and play, mastery of the game comes through teamwork—this is where working together with your kids can really take off. Playable heroes have different sets of abilities that  work for different styles of play. Since every hero is different, parents and kids should work together to figure out what combinations and tactics work best.

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The Avengers work together to fight some bad guys.

A parent-child team can create an amazing duo that functions better than either individual hero alone. Families can form a group of up to five players, with each team member helping round out a formidable crime-fighting force.

Unlike some MMOs, Marvel Heroes is not designed with strict guidelines on what roles or play-styles are needed to make a successful group. There is no set formula for victory. If the bad guys are giving you trouble, it is up to your team to figure out the solution. It’s always a pleasure to see kids leap into team games with the chance to teach and lead, and it’s something they love doing. Games that encourage teammates to each focus on a different part of the challenge also give each player the chance to shine and be good at something different. As long as everyone gets a chance to contribute, team games like this are awesome.

Content Rating

Marvel Heroes has not been rated by the ESRB, but Marvel itself has rated the game at “T for teen and up.”

The violence in Marvel Heroes is less intense than current Marvel movies and is more in line with what you might see in a kid’s cartoon series based on the same characters. The villains are straightforwardly villainous in ways that any kid could understand—they’re robbers and sometimes meanies who cackle. The content is gritty enough to feel real, but in a cartoonish way. Players, both child and adult, can feel like what their heroes are doing has some weight, but with no sense of needing to hustle sensitive younger siblings out of the room.

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Spider-Man knocking down some baddies.

Parents should keep in mind that the source material for this game is Marvel Comics going back all the way through its history. While Marvel Comics has made a conscious push to make their roster of heroes more diverse recently, non-white and female characters are underrepresented in the game. Female characters can suffer from some atrociously nonsensical and sexualized costumes, even if they are now written with empowered narratives. There seems to be a conscious effort to diversify characters with serious respectable roles in Marvel Heroes, but the female costuming and scarcity of non-white characters is still disappointing.

There is no content that is explicitly sexual.

Online Community

Of course, there is one component that no game developer can ever monitor 100%—the online community. Despite the filters and mechanisms for reporting bad online behavior, it is always possible that a player will do or say something inappropriate. This is beyond the game designer’s control, and it’s one reason gaming with your kids can be a good idea.

Fighting crime without pants is a time-honored tradition, unfortunately.

Fighting crime without pants is a time-honored tradition, unfortunately.

The Marvel Heroes community, however, is pretty quiet in-game. There are rules about what is acceptable to say in public chat, and the discussions I’ve seen in Marvel Heroes have mostly been related to strategy or help within the game. I believe the game’s cooperative (rather than competitive) nature helps foster this supportive sense of community. Perhaps the fact that everyone is first introduced to the game as part of the same crime-fighting team steers people away from the taunting or ugliness that can sometimes plague other MMO games.

Opportunities To Learn

The cacophony between empowered narrative and sexist costuming in Marvel Heroes can be a good point of discussion with kids about the issue. What does it mean when a character like Captain Marvel—a woman who is an accomplished pilot and can tear cars apart with her bare hands—wears a costume with no pants? Media producers often give to female characters with one hand and take away with the other. It’s okay to appreciate a character’s good points while criticizing the ways her authors have diminished or objectified her. If an issue like this resonates with your kids, encourage them to get active about it. They can write letters or emails expressing their views to authors. Let children know that things may not change right away, but they will definitely never change if nobody speaks up.

Want to try Marvel Heroes for yourself? Visit MarvelHeroes.com for more info!

Jason de Kanter

About Jason de Kanter

Jason grew up a PC gamer from the days games came on cassette tapes. He has worked as a writing teacher, and knows his continued interest in gaming creates a shared vocabulary with young people. Jason loves bringing new players into the gaming hobby. His preference is for multiplayer games–particularly ones where players can form their own communities to work together. You can catch him blathering on at length about various issues with geek culture at KitschKobold.blogspot.com.