A Marvel’s Spider-Man clip purportedly showing an eerie reflection of the Twin Towers has garnered more than 5.1 million views on Imgur, but it’s not what it appears to be. The towers seem to be reflected on the side of a building as Spider-Man climbs it. Yet spinning the camera around reveals that there are no buildings there — they’re ghosts.
The theory was that the reflection of the World Trade Center was a tribute to 9/11. It was bolstered by the fact that when Spider-Man reached the top of the building, the view revealed was the game’s stand-in for the Freedom Tower. (The actual Freedom Tower was not used.)
Voilà: Spider-Man climbs a reflection of the past, and sees a vision of the future.
I thought it was compelling, but not everyone at Polygon agreed. Specifically, my co-worker Pat Gill called me a dumbass, and set out to prove that the reflection had nothing to do with 9/11. He was right — the nonexistent towers’ reflection was a result of the way the game generates reflections. It’s neither a mistake nor a tribute.
As discussed at length by Digital Foundry in its graphics breakdown of Spider-Man, the game generates reflections through a technique called cube mapping. Essentially, the developers at Insomniac Games created a library of still images representing the game world. Reflective surfaces pull from this library, and what they pull is generally not a true-to-life reflection of what’s around them; it’s an approximation.
This explains why the buildings shown in the reflection aren’t actually there.
So where are they?
Oddly enough, the left tower in the reflection is the one that Spider-Man is climbing. Yes, a building is “reflected” onto its own surface. The other tower is directly to the right. It clearly has the same distinctive paneling, and both towers are terraced on their lower levels, which the Twin Towers were not.
The view of the Freedom Tower stand-in is just a beautiful coincidence. Humans don’t like coincidences — we try to find meaning and patterns in just about everything we look at. Sometimes that leads to seeing constellations in the stars ... and sometimes it leads to believing Avril Lavigne has been replaced by a doppelgänger.
While the Twin Towers don’t appear in Spider-Man, and neither does the modern-day memorial and museum, 9/11 is a canonical event in the game. Near its rendition of Battery Park, you can encounter tour guides talking about citizen boats evacuating Manhattan after the events of 9/11.
We’ve reached out to Insomniac for comment, and will update this article with any information we receive. For more on our urge to create sinister stories from coincidences, check out this great New York Times documentary on the Umbrella Man and JFK’s assassination.