Last Updated on May 14, 2020
Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PS4 is a game I’ve sunk countless hours into. It’s possibly my favorite game of all time. Pretending to be a wall-crawling, web-slinging superhero, while sitting at home in underwear is awesome. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Which is why Spider-Man goes to great lengths to avoid killing the villains he beats into unconsciousness.
Or does he?
Some of the moves you can perform on normal, average, non-superpowered criminals seem a little overkill. Especially if he’s just trying to knock them out. I mean, throwing a manhole cover at someone’s head? How is that not considered lethal?
Maybe these things just cause a bad concussion and minor permanent brain damage. I can suspend my disbelief to enjoy a great game I have lots of fun with.
But what if I didn’t suspend my disbelief? What if using hard scientific calculations and one of those fancy graphing calculators proved once and for all that Spider-Man is straight-up murdering people? Wouldn’t that be fun too?
Part 1: Setting up some constants
If we’re going to do physics calculations, we have to set up some constants first. Like gravity. Gravity is very important.
Other people have probably calculated the force of gravity in this game before. But to keep some consistency (and make sure that if any of this is wrong, it’s my own fault), I’m going to be doing my own calculations for everything.
Measuring the Empire State Building seemed like a good place to start. In the game, your distance to any given way point is displayed over it at all times. So I climbed all the way to the top of the ESB, put a way point in a nearby park, noted the distance to said way point from both the top and bottom. I popped those numbers into the good old Pythagorean Theorem. I got a height of 444.47 meters. This was actually so close to the real height of 443.17 meters that I just figured my math was a little off and decided to use the real height for my calculations instead.
Next, I jumped off the Empire State, and timed how long it took me to hit the ground. Using a very precise technique I like to call “Importing A Video Into Adobe Premiere and Counting The Frames,” I discovered the time it took to reach the bottom was about 6.73 seconds, so I divided the height of the building by the time it took to fall and got 65.84 m/s.
At first, I thought I had miscalculated. 65 is a much, much bigger number than the 9.81 standard measurement we’re all used to. But it turns out I missed the final step. Divide the speed by the time and you’ve got 9.78 m/s2. This is well within the range of normal Earth gravity, so I take my hat off to Insomniac for including such a realistic detail most people would never notice.
As for some other numbers that will be useful later: Spider-Man’s official height, according to dimensions.guide, is 5’10” (or 1.28 meters) in the comics. The average ideal weight for a man in his 20s and 5’10” is between 149 and 183 lbs. Pete’s a pretty fit guy, and muscle tends to weigh more than fat. So we’ll assume he’s around 180.
Part 2: Air Launch
Let’s start with the most basic of Spider-Man’s moves: The Air Launcher. Hold the square button and Spider-Man delivers an uppercut to the jaw that sends his foe flying straight up into the air. So let’s ignore the physical impossibility of hitting someone in the jaw and sending them straight up and not backward at all. What would that do to a human body?
First, we need to measure height and speed. So we can get the force that this punch is delivering straight to the jaw. Using a very precise and not at all haphazard measuring method, I determined that Spider-Man launches people about two Spider-Men into the air. That’s about 2.56 meters. They reach that distance in less than half a second, which means they’re traveling at a speed of 5.5 m/s. But they accelerate up to that speed (assuming the acceleration happens during the time their face is making contact with Spider-Man’s fist) in only 0.16 seconds, which gives us an acceleration of 34.37 m/s2, or about 3 and a half Gs. This is about the same as the average county fair roller coaster – not bad.
To get the force acting on the mook’s jaw, we need a little equation known as F=ma, or force equals mass times acceleration. We already know the acceleration, (12.09 m/s2,) so we just need the mass.
All of the normal enemies in the game seem to be the same height. That height is roughly the same as Spidey’s. We’ll use the same average weight scale, but assume they’re not quite as beefy; around 170 lbs, or 77.11 kg.
If we were calculating the force it took in a vacuum, we would just enter 77.11*34.37 into our handy calculator and get a (rather underwhelming) force of 2,650 newtons. For reference, it takes about 4,000 newtons to break a human femur. But we still need to account for the force of gravity that Spidey has to act against to launch this poor man into the air.
Multiply the mass of the mook by our gravitational acceleration, and get 754 newtons trying desperately to keep him on the ground. Now we just add that to our original force calculation and get 3,404 newtons. This isn’t quite enough force to break the jaw.
And directed horizontally, the neck muscles would be able to counteract this force and prevent a spinal fracture. But did you know that the maximum failure load of human spinal ligaments is only 436 newtons? Because I had a hell of a time trying to look it up.
Accounting for muscle resistance, the pulling force of Spider-Man’s air launch – capable of knocking a man almost 12 feet in the air – would still shred the spinal ligaments in his neck. This would result in permanent, even fatal, spinal cord damage. Best case scenario, the guy needs years of physical therapy. Worst case? He’s not going to prison, but to the morgue.
Part 3: The Gadgets
That’s Spider-Man’s punches. But how about his gadgets? There are two in particular I want to talk about: The Impact Web and the Concussive Blast. While their in-game uses are very different, their basic function is the same: send people flying.
I did some measurements with way points and found that the fully upgraded Impact Web launches enemies about 30m horizontally. The fully upgraded Concussive Blast sends people flying around 45m. An Impact Webbed enemy takes about 0.69 (nice) seconds to reach his destination, whereas a Concussive Blasted enemy only takes about 0.66 seconds. This means we’re dealing with speeds of 43.47 m/s and 68.18 m/s respectively. That’s pretty fast! And judging from the footage I took, they reach that speed almost immediately, and only slow down as they skid along the ground.
Let’s be generous and say acceleration from the Concussive Blast takes about 1/10th of a second. That would mean anyone hit with Spider-Man’s Concussive Blast gadget would be accelerated at a rate of 681.81 m/s2! That’s over 69 Gs (not nice!). For reference, the most Gs a human being has ever been documented to have survived with no ill effect is a little over 46. If we use our equation from earlier to turn that into force, it comes out at over 52,000 newtons. Any mook caught in this blast will be turned into a messy paste, especially if they hit a wall, because they’ll experience even more force with the rapid deceleration of hitting a solid object. Peter Parker is casually walking around with a weapon of mass destruction attached to his wrist.
Those hit with an Impact Web don’t fare much better. A force of 33,000 newtons straight to the chest can and will completely shatter ribs and rupture important organs like the heart and lungs, not to mention spinal injuries, since they often hit a wall shortly after. The fact that these people can be seen still struggling to break free after being hit with an Impact Web and stuck to a wall is an absolute miracle.
Part 4: Thrown objects
Now we get to the part I thought was going to be the most lethal when I started planning this: Throwing stuff. Whether it’s a cardboard box or a whole motorcycle, all thrown objects seem to travel at the same velocity. This was actually really easy to test with way points, as I could just measure the time it took for any given object to go from Spidey’s location to the way point.
I measured this several times and got an average of about 45m/s. This time, we don’t need to calculate acceleration. Instead, we need to calculate deceleration upon hitting a goon. The time it takes for an object to decelerate upon hitting a face seems to be around two tenths of a second in this game, or about 6 frames. That puts our deceleration at about 225m/s2.
How does that measure up in newtons? It depends on the mass of the object, of course. Using F=ma, we can calculate that a cardboard box hitting an enemy at this speed would result in a measly 22.5N of force, although this isn’t taking into account the stuff that appears to be in it in the game.
Let’s take a manhole cover as an example. The average manhole cover, according to Google, weighs approximately 113kg, which means it would be striking an enemy’s skull at over 25,000N, no doubt shattering it in the process.
A 2019 Harley Davidson Touring motorcycle has a dry weight (meaning without gas) of about 798 lbs, but the motorcycles in the game explode in a small fireball when they hit an enemy, meaning they obviously have some gas in them. With a full tank, the same motorcycle weighs about 836 lbs. But nobody rides around on a full tank for very long, so we’ll assume an average of a half tank, so 817 lbs or 370.5kg.
This may come as a shock, but being struck in the head by a flying motocycle at 45m/s is fatal in any circumstance. According to the Wikipedia article on hanging, a pulling force of 5,600N can be enough to cause decapitation for some subjects. A motorcycle hitting your skull at 45 m/s and stopping in 0.2 seconds would deliver a force of over 83,000N.
Your head would come off if it wasn’t obliterated in the process. Even if we give it a very generous stopping time of 1 second, we still get a deceleration force of 16,000N, which is more than enough to break the average spine, even taking into account muscle resistance. In the very best case scenario, anyone this happened to would be a vegetable.
All of this isn’t even taking into account the fact that these motorcycles explode on impact. I’m not even going to talk about the horrific injuries that would be caused by a fireball and resulting shrapnel right in front of the face. It’s not pretty.
Part 5: Conclusion
I’m almost starting to agree with J. Jonah Jameson here:Spider-Man is a menace. We’ve discovered that he walks around with WMDs in his pockets and he’s also capable of casually decapitating people with thrown objects.
Peter, I’m begging you, at least stop throwing vehicles at people’s heads. Please? For me?
Alyssa Katze is a fiction author and journalist, born and raised in Seattle, WA. Their hobbies include eating, sleeping, and getting tilted at MOBAs.