Violence in Video Games: Batman: Arkham

Holy good ideas!  In September of 2019, Roger started a series looking at the “rights and wrongs” of Fanservice in anime.  Today, we continue that tradition with Violence in Video Games.  Today’s focus… Batman: Arkham Collection.

What’s the Deal?

Holy sneaky synopsis, Batman!  From 2009 until 2015, four Batman games were released by developer Rocksteady Games.  These 3rd person games offered a chance to explore Gotham while fighting some of the city’s most well known villains.  Third person games give you the opportunity to “look over the shoulder” of your character giving you a chance to see the Batman in action.  Whether leaping from a height and gliding through the city, hurling his batarang or just beating villains down, the game series is tremendous fun.  Add to that, all the mayhem caused by those wonderful villains, this is a game that doesn’t get old!  And look, of all the superheroes in both Marvel and DC (while I might want Wolverine’s power of healing….) Batman is always my #1.  He’s just a dude who commits his life to fighting crime, not a superpowered god like most DC heroes.  He was originally based on one of my favorite literary characters too: Sherlock Holmes.  But last week I commented that sometimes playing the villain could be a good thing.  Why?  Because a villain is expected to do some dark things…

Why it’s not ok

The big thing to remember is that Batman is supposed to be our hero.  He’s the guy we want to look up to, to aspire towards.  I grew up on heroes like the Doctor, Mr. Spock, and Sherlock Holmes; brainy types!  Running around a city beating people into unconsciousness is not the action of a good guy; I’m sorry.  Yes, I love it!  By no means am I saying I’m above that!  But it’s not what I’d want my child to aspire towards.  Solutions are best when they can come through negotiation and mutual cooperation.  Sure, sometimes fisticuffs might be needed, but the Arkham games don’t present an option – it’s always through violent conflict!  When you’re beating an enemy, it’s with a fist or a batarang to the face.  Fun: yes.  Wholesome: not even slightly.  Holy Contributing to the Delinquency of Minors!  (Yes, this is a real one from a season 1 episode!)

Why it’s ok

Well, if you’re going to play a game about fighting, at least this sets the stage that you are against criminals.  I was never entirely clear why I fought characters in Mortal Kombat, for instance; were they all good guys just fighting to the death?  Batman lives in a tried and tested world: you know who the bad guys are.  They work for the Joker, or Two-Face or The Penguin.  They are not good people.  (Mind you, one wonders how many applied for the job just to make ends meet…!)  But the violence is somewhat cartoonish with no blood to gross out those young players.  More than that, the series did an incredible thing in the latter games, offering a very Sherlock Holmes-like mode of reconstructing a crime scene.  Sadly, this seemed to peak around game three and, although it featured in game 4, it was to a far lesser extent but it was an excellent, thought-provoking element of the game.  The sequence forces the player to string evidence together, and then play it through to see if the pattern makes sense.  It was one of my favorite elements of the game and sadly underutilized.

Verdict

It’s tough to make a call on this one without feeling like I’m doing someone a disservice.  I’m both a Batman fan and I love these games.  Like the Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed franchises, these offer a winning formula with plenty of game time, lots of challenges and a chance to explore a world so many of us love.  Those are big wins.  Alas, like those two aforementioned game franchises, if you’re trying to bring your child up to think through how to solve a problem, these games might not be for them.

I think it’s important to communicate with children when they start getting into video games.  I genuinely believe there’s a value in these things because storytelling has evolved and audiences need to acknowledge that change.  Once upon a time, a good story was found in the pages of a book.  As television and movies started to rise to the needs of a more thoughtful audience, good stories could be captured on screen.  Now, video games offer us an interactive way to experience a story.  We can each play the same story and have different feelings about them at the end because we each may have solved a puzzle slightly differently. The mere fact that the games are released out of order (with the third game being the prequel) tells us there’s a degree of thought involved to piece it all together, much like those crime scene reconstructions.

If a child wants a good Batman story where you’ll be able to see all the villains we love, I think it has to be explained that these games don’t represent how we should handle problems in the real world, and then (depending on the child) let them have at it.  Chances are, if they know Batman, they already know how he deals with things already anyway.

Maybe the real test is this: if they try to beat their sibling down with a batarang at the dinner table, uninstall the game and wait until they’re older.  But I find it difficult to deny someone the fun of being Batman.  As the old saying goes: Always be yourself.  Unless you can be Batman… then be Batman!  These games give you the chance to be just that.  Holy alter ego!   ML

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1 Response to Violence in Video Games: Batman: Arkham

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Heath Ledger’s Joker would be prompt to say to the powers that be: “You’ve changed things.” The Dark Knight trilogy proved how making the Batman franchise darker and somewhat more brutal for today’s superhero-genre generation was timely, as opposed to the fantasy/comedy format that made Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumaker’s Batman films so popular for their time. The continuing question of “How far is too far?”, which has been controversial in the endurance of Dr. Who, Star Trek and Star Wars, makes us re-evaluate our viewer-expectations of violent action scenes. So in Batman’s case, given the humanistic realism of this particular superhero, it should be taken more seriously than ever. Thanks, ML.

    Liked by 1 person

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