Thursday, July 2, 2015

Regressive Progressivism: Arkham Knight

I am vengeance. I am The Night. I am Spoilers.

I love the Batman: Arkham series. I have since I first played Arkham Asylum, the beginning of the series. I was wary of them at first, as licensed games have a long and storied history of being completely shit. Super-hero based titles in particular. One of my favourite super-hero films is Iron Man, and I was psyched when I found a clearance copy of Iron Man: The Game. Sadly, it was one of the worst games I've ever played.
Seriously how do you mess this up?
Not since Goldeneye 007 on the N64 had there been a good licensed game, and Asylum sparked the return of good licensed games, followed up with High Moon's Transformers: Cybertron titles and Deadpool. Even now, the genre hasn't recovered from the damage done, but at least there are good licensed games out there, and we owe it mainly to Arkham Asylum.

Arkham City, the sequel, may have been lacking the tightly focused narrative of the original, but it made up for it in scale of playable area and the mountains of sidequests, expanded roster of villains, and innovations in gameplay. The prequel game Arkham Origins (while not made by Rocksteady) is easily the worst of the series, but still an outstanding game. It innovated very little (expanding mainly on the Detective Mode in such a way that Rocksteady recognized and used in Arkham Knight), but it told a great story with mainly b-team villains. A mobile game, Arkham Origins: Blackgate wasn't necessarily a great game, but it wasn't terrible either, and was ported to PC and consoles later. 

It's previously been fashionable to bash the Arkham games for their treatment of women, primarily Catwoman. Despite being a playable character (both free-roam and story) and given her own motivations, agency, and the chance to rescue Batman, the game was still branded sexist because common street thugs called her 'bitch.' I'm honestly not sure how people who are locked up in a city-sized prison can be expected to treat one of the two women publicly making their residence known in said city-prison respectfully, but apparently the words of minor villains are the lesson the developers wanted us to take away from the game. Not that Catwoman is a badass capable going toe-to-toe with dozens of hardened criminals and Two-Face himself, but that she's a bitch. You've got me there.

For the most recent outrage, Arkham Knight is coming under fire for its treatment of Poison Ivy, mainly that she's a scantily clad damsel in distress. I'll grant you exactly one thing, she is scantily clad. But Ivy's so far mutated from baseline-human that her brain doesn't process human modesty the way the rest of us do. Is that an excuse? Maybe, but it's one that works in the context of the story. But that's as much leeway as I'll give those claims. 

My only assumption can be that the people writing these articles haven't played the game, but only seen a few short, selected clips. The claim is that she's kidnapped with a gun held to her head by a goon that she should be able to take out herself, Batman rescues her only to take her again and throw her in a cell, and use her when she's useful again, as a 'power-up.'

Let me tell you what really happens: Ivy is involved, as a party with agency, in a meeting of villains called to pool their resources to take out the Bat. Exercising that agency, she refuses, and is somehow rendered unconscious. It's not explained how, but she wakes up in a chamber with a gun to her head, at which point Batman enters the picture, beats up a dozen guys outside of said cell. Scarecrow gasses her and goon, but it only affects goon due to her natural immunity to toxins. She proceeds to smash his head into the glass of the chamber, and then walk out under her own power. She explains the situation to Batman before casually tossing him off of a building with her vines. Naturally, being Batman, he's waiting for her when she exits the elevator. Deciding the fight isn't worth the trouble, she allows herself to be arrested and taken to the GCPD. Batman later realizes he needs a way to purge Scarecrow's toxin and releases her from custody. She then takes control of a giant root system underneath Gotham and wreaks havoc on the Arkham Knight's tank division while Batman provides a modicum of covering fire. The game's mission objectives even reflect this by instructing you to "work with" Ivy, not "protect" Ivy. Finally, she sacrifices herself to purge Scarecrow's toxin from Gotham in a heroic redemption.

Reducing Ivy's role in the story of Arkham Knight to 'damsel in distress' is downright insulting. Insulting to the character, to her creators, the developers of the game, and her fans. She plays a major part, and Gotham would have been lost halfway through the game if it weren't for her.

Catwoman's part is being criticized as well, but that one's only partially valid. It's true, Riddler has her. She's got a bomb collar on, and Batman must complete challenges for keys to the bomb collar.. only some of those challenges involve taking direct control of Catwoman. And she's in this situation in the first place because of a character trait that's been present in Catwoman from day one: She's greedy. Riddler paid her to do a job, and double-crossed her by fitting the collar on her in the process. She even straight-up tells Batman that she doesn't want her situation to act as a motivation for him.

I'm only going to say this about Harley Quinn: She's wearing more clothes in every game and still you consider her sexualized.

Don't you go there, Kotaku.. don't you... you went there.
As for my favourite character in all of Batdom, Barbara Gordon... Kotaku, you go back and finish the goddamned game. And when you get to the part where Barbara Gordon looks Scarecrow in the eye and says “You don't scare me”, you come back and you apologize. And you replay those parts where you track her movement, where you hear about the soldiers that were taken out by a 'cripple in a wheelchair with ninja sticks.' Where you find the scene of the humvee she managed to crash by macing the driver, and how she crawled away until someone put a warning shot in the pavement a foot from her head, only to leave Batman a way of tracking her location without a trained and highly skilled villain noticing. And don't you ever call Barbara Gordon a 'professional victim' again. A professional victim is someone that milks a tragedy (real or imagined) for sympathy. Barbara Gordon took that tragedy and turned it into a legacy, becoming one of the most important characters not only in the Bat-titles, but in all of DC. 

The Ivy criticism made me sigh. The insult to Barbara Gordon made me genuinely angry. 

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