New Milestone For Sign Language in Video Games: Spider-Man Miles Morales

The Spider-Man Miles Morales video game surprised fans by showing that Spider-Man knows Sign Language. Although it is not the first time that Sign Language appears in a video game, this marks a milestone for sign language, since Spider-Man is a superhero with millions of fans around the world. We tell you here who are the Deaf people behind the video game and how they did it.

Spider-Man communicating in Sign Language with Hailey Cooper
Spider-Man communicates in American Sign Language with Hailey Cooper's character (photo: Sony)


Previous Video Games

Moss is a virtual reality video game released in February 2018 that represented an important milestone in the video game industry: the main character was a little mouse that communicates in Sign Language (you can read an article about the release here). The video game was a critical and community success, but its popularity was limited to those who had the virtual reality device PlayStation VR, which does not reach even 5% of the people who have this video game console.

Shortly thereafter, in November 2018, the video game The Quiet Man was released. When it was presented at E3 2018, the most important video game industry convention in the world, its graphics and spectacularity raised high expectations for a video game starring a deaf person communicating in sign language. In addition, the game was being developed by Square Enix, one of the largest corportation in video game development, responsible for massive hits such as Final Fantasy. However, the disappointment of the public and critics was big, as it lacked gameplay and it was said that 70% of the game was video sequences.

Moss (left) and The Quiet Man (right) video games


The Video Game Reveals That Spider-Man Is Trilingual

Miles Morales is the person behind the Spider-Man character in the Marvel comic book. He first appeared in 2011 after the death of Peter Parker, he is of African-American father and Puerto Rican mother, so he was fluent in two languages (English and Spanish), something that fans discovered with the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in 2018.

With the new Spider-Man: Miles Morales video game, initially released for PlayStation in November 2020, we now know that Miles Morales is also fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), that is, he is trilingual. This information went viral on social media and there were thousands of positive reactions, as in this tweet with almost 100k likes.

Spider-Man communicates in Sign Language with a new character, Hailey Cooper, a young Deaf street artist and community activist. The team behind the game did extensive research on Sign Language and the Deaf community appreciated it. For example, when Spider-Man first approaches Hailey, he asks her name with the fingerspelling, as he does not yet know her sign name. This can be seen in the following video (English subtitles, starting at minute 0:42):


Who Is Behind Hailey Cooper?

The character of Hailey Cooper is performed by a Deaf actress in real life, Natasha Ofili, which is another good decision by the video game's development team to provide more credibility.

One of Natasha's main roles was in the TV series The Politician, which can be viewed on Netflix, and for which she received very good reviews in developing a strong and independent character. However, Natasha made history by being one of the first black actresses in an animated series, Undone, which can be seen on Prime Video.

Actress Natasha Ofili, Deaf in real life, in the series The Politician (left), available on Netflix, and in the series Undone (right), available on Prime Video


How Did They Work With Sign Language?

The video game was developed by Insomniac Games, a company founded in 1994 in the United States. The Insomniac team worked closely with experts in Sign Language and the Deaf community, including Deaf actor Joshua Castille, as well as Natasha herself. Joshua has worked primarily as a stage actor, most notably his roles in the Deaf West Theatre Company, which performs plays on the famous Broadway.

Insomniac heard the opinions of the experts and made changes to the script when they were informed by the experts on how to make the conversations authentic and genuine in Sign Language, such as the example above when Spider-Man meets Hailey Cooper.

Another expert consulted was Morgan L. Baker, also deaf, a video game designer and video game accessibility consultant. Morgan knows Sign Language and uses cochlear implants, so her professional and personal perspective enriches the gaming experience, not only for deaf gamers, but for any gamer in general.

Natasha's performance is shot with a real-time motion capture system, so there was no set and the actress had to imagine her environment in the game according to the script. In addition, the development team had never done Sign Language motion capture before, so they had to make new developments in their technology so that Sign Language would be faithfully represented in the video game.

The only problem they have not been able to solve is Spider-Man's facial expression: since Sign Language facial expression is extremely important, the fact that Miles Morales expresses himself in Sign Language behind his Spider-Man suit, this blocks his facial expression from being seen and makes full immersion difficult.


Sign Language Enhances Creativity

As has already happened in other video games, movies and TV series, the inclusion of sign language expands creativity. Not only does it bring greater visibility to sign languages and deaf people, but it facilitates the staging of new experiences and situations, it always gets the full support of the fan community and, in the end, the result is always enriching when you have deaf people who are experts in these fields.

As a final curiosity, the son of Insomniac Games' creative director, Brian Horton, learned American Sign Language in school.



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