“It’s the representation in gaming I’ve waited for my whole life.”
Marvel’s Avengers are assembling once again, not on the big screen, but for a blockbuster video game.
It features many of the superheroes you might expect, including Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. But they are joined by a new addition: Kamala Khan.
The Muslim-American teenager of Pakistani heritage, who has shape-shifting abilities, is the latest character to adopt the Ms Marvel moniker.
When the game’s publisher Square Enix announced that Marvel Avengers would include Kamala Khan as one of its main playable characters and make her central to the plot, it garnered praise from both fans and industry insiders.
“I first heard of Ms Marvel from the comics a few years ago,” says Maria Afsar, a 25-year-old gamer.
“I immediately thought it was so cool when read her background was like mine, being Pakistani, Muslim and a girl.
“When I saw the announcement she is going to be in the game and one of the main characters, I just thought I’ve literally been waiting for something like this my whole life. I saw nothing like this when I was younger.”
Kamala Khan was co-created by Marvel editor and director Sana Amanat in 2014.
A Muslim-American herself, Sana Amanat wanted to create a character young girls of similar background could identify with and look up to.
“I think it’s absolutely insane that Kamala is in one of the biggest Marvel games that we’ve done,” she said during the promotion of the game.
“The fact that she’s the entry point character in this game makes so much sense. People from all backgrounds can relate to her.”
The multiple incarnations of Ms Marvel
The Ms Marvel moniker has been used by several white characters in Marvel comic books since 1976, including Sharon Ventura and Dr Karla Sofen.
But the very first incarnation was Carole Danvers in 1977.
Her character dropped the Ms Marvel Moniker in 2010, and went on to become known as Captain Marvel in 2012. She is played on screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Brie Larson.
This opened the door for a new character to become Ms Marvel.
In 2014, readers were introduced to Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American growing up in Jersey City. She has shape-shifting abilities and just so happens to be a fan-girl of the Avengers.
Making history along the way, she became Marvel’s first Muslim character to lead her own comic book series.
Muslim characters in video games have appeared in significant roles in recent years, so this is far from the first time you can play as a Muslim character.
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India, a spinoff of the top-selling franchise, had us playing as Arbaaz Mir, a Kashmiri assassin.
Fighting game franchise Tekken 7 recently introduced a character from Saudi Arabia called Shaheen as the latest entry to its roster.
And Street Fighter V saw the inclusion of Rashid, another character of middle-eastern heritage.
However, some character designs for Muslims can be stereotypical and not very reflective of your average young Muslim, according to Sitara Shefta, head of studio at No Brakes Games.
Sitara believes Ms Marvel is far more representative of what young Muslims are actually like, and says the Kamala Khan character reminds her of her own niece.
She says the significance of Kamala Khan’s inclusion in the game is a huge step for better representation in gaming.
“It’s very important, why shouldn’t Pakistanis and Muslims have characters and stories that inspire them?” she asks.
“They are usually depicted as terrorists or the villains we fight against in the games.
“Now we have an empowering Pakistani Muslim character, and a role model for kids from this community to be inspired by.”
The video game will feature an original storyline inspired by the comics, but it doesn’t align with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Scott Amos, studio head at the game’s developer Crystal Dynamics, said they had been overwhelmed with the response to Kamala Khan’s inclusion.
“One post that really caught us was about how this current, long-time gamer said how emotional this made him – and how important it is to have a leading hero in this game now, so that generations of new gamers can see and play as someone like them in a game that is filled with these iconic giants like Thor and Iron Man and Black Widow,” he told the BBC Asian Network.
When its trailer was first revealed at E3 2019, some vented on social media that the in-game characters didn’t look anything like the actors who were playing them in the films.
Ms Marvel is yet to be portrayed in a live-action movies, so was unaffected by this criticism, however Marvel Studios is set to centre a Disney+ TV series around the character, due to be broadcast in 2022.