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‘Spider-Man’ modification scene turns into Pride flag battlefield

(Marvel; iStock/Washington Post illustration)

“Marvel’s Spider-Man,” the open-world, web-slinging game originally released on PlayStation 4 in 2018, finally came to PC last week. Among those who make unofficial modifications for games, this would normally be cause for celebration. Some, however, decided to rain on that parade by taking aim at a very specific target: Pride flags.

In the world of PC gaming — where enterprising users can crack open games in ways that more restrictive consoles don’t allow — major releases are often accompanied by a wellspring of mods. “Spider-Man” is no different. Already, modders have swapped Spider-Man’s appearance with those of Stan Lee, Uncle Ben’s tombstone and other people both real and fictional. You can also turn pigeons into pizza, if that, for some extremely specific reason, floats your boat. But the hundreds of already available options have been overshadowed by a battle over flags.

Within “Spider-Man’s” sprawling re-creation of Manhattan, one district contains a few pieces of Pride iconography including flags and a mural. These proved popular when the game first came out on PS4, with LGBTQ players praising their inclusion at the time.

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Shortly after the game’s PC release, a modder going by the handle Mike Hawk (probably don’t try saying it out loud) released a mod called “Non-Newtownian New York.” According to its creator, the mod replaced “Newton’s Prism’s artifacts with the stars and stripes.” This was a roundabout way of saying it turned Pride flags into United States flags. As many have pointed out, “Spider-Man” already includes a plethora of U.S. flags even without mods, and Spider-Man — given his habit of standing up for the oppressed — has frequently been associated with progressive causes.

The original mod was only around for a day, but it amassed hundreds of downloads and numerous comments, many of them homophobic. Nexus Mods, the biggest mod repository on the internet, banned it and the user behind it, but imitators and copies surfaced on Nexus Mods and similar sites like Mod DB, as well as the Internet Archive. Others, meanwhile, uploaded retaliatory mods like “The Amazingly Valid Spider-Man,” which changes Spider-Man’s costume colors to match those of the trans flag and includes a link to support The Trevor Project, a support group for LGBTQ youths.

In reaction to this, Nexus Mods director Robin “Dark0ne” Scott announced that mods which appear “deliberately” against diversity and inclusivity are banned in all games. Same goes for mods “attempting to troll other users with mods deliberately to cause a rise.”

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“In regards to the replacement of Pride flags in this game, or any game, our policy is thus: we are for inclusivity, we are for diversity,” wrote Scott in a lengthy post on the matter. “For our part, we will endeavor to do a better job of moderating our website to this ethos ourselves.”

Mod DB said on Twitter that it also removed anti-Pride mods and banned offending users, but added that its moderation is “largely automated,” meaning users often need to report mods like these before it will take action. Anti-Pride flag mods also remain available on the Internet Archive and other, similar online repositories.

In the aftermath, users have taken to Nexus Mods to upload mods that include additional progressive flags, as well as ones that, bringing things full circle, swap out the U.S. flag with a Pride flag. The discussion sections for these pages have played host to numerous comments suggesting that removing U.S. flags should now also be a bannable offense, even as a historically oppressed group of people continues to have its rights threatened by new laws within the U.S.

For his part, Scott stands resolute in his decision.

“We don’t want to and won’t argue this with you,” he wrote. “We’ve now explained our stance and we won’t be providing a platform for you to distort our position in order to feed an irrational and paranoid narrative. If this policy upsets you, if we’ve broken some moral code of conduct as a business that you can’t accept, then please, delete your account and move on, as we will.”