Sexism in Batman: Arkham City

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Heads up! Due to the adult nature of this discussion, this article includes adult language.

Recently, a blogger named Film Critic Hulk wrote an article discussing his experiences playing Batman: Arkham City. He noticed several of the bad guys calling Catwoman a bitch. Several characters, both good and bad, even call Harley Quinn a bitch. He noted the frequency at which the word was used throughout the game and that combined with several thugs verbally fantasizing about Catwoman and Poison Ivy led him to believe that the game had a level of sexism in it. When he published this very well-written, very thoughtful and interesting article on his site, gamers showed up in a fashion similar to an angry mob, wielding pitchforks, torches and whatever was closest as they ran out the door to defend Arkham Asylum. This incident has ultimately spawned two separate debates that each warrant discussion. The first is the charge of sexism in Arkham City and the second is the reaction of gamers to the charge. Therefore, I am addressing both issues in individual sections.

Batman: Arkham City is not sexist, but it’s not far off

Pandering

I love this game. In fact (since I’ve been playing it whenever I can stop playing Modern Warfare 3), I’ve finally completed all the side quests, picked up all the Riddler trophies and have moved on to completing all the challenge maps. Now that I’ve been playing for this long, I’ve actually reconsidered several of the issues I had in my original review. No, I do not think this game is sexist. There is some obvious pandering to male gamers with Catwoman images that are only focused on her anatomy, but it’s not sexism. This game’s Catwoman is a very good version of the character. She is easily as good as Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, and she is far better than Halle Berry in that awful Catwoman movie and easily better than that game the movie spawned. Catwoman has always been a hypersexualized villain in the D.C. Universe, and anyone who has ever seen any version of her, easily recognizes that aspect of her existence. But what Film Critic Hulk is picking up on is the frequent use of the word bitch.

Rocksteady Games set out to make a gritty Batman series that is more akin to the graphic novels and recent movies rather than Lego Batman or Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I would like to emphasize that grittiness is not the same as realistic, but let’s not digress. To make the characters seem more gritty, they decided to include some profanity. According to Eliot Mizrachi, ESRB Director of Communications, their Teen rating allowed them to include some profanity and that Rocksteady had the option of including other forms of profanity as long as it stayed within the limitations of “mild languange.” Ultimately, what would have made sense, would to have one of the thugs call Batman a bastard at one point. The worst thing he is called is a chicken for hiding from enemies.

More pandering

Rocksteady Games could have added grittiness to its game without adding profanity. They tried to add a certain touch of realness to that grit. Would these characters actually use profanity? Yes, I think they would. Why it comes across as strange is that this was the only piece of profanity in the game, so it stuck out. If the thugs had been more profane toward Batman, then it would’ve seemed less out of place. Film Critic Hulk pointed out that The Dark Knight only used “bitch” once during the movie yet it retained its grittiness. The movie was only 152 minutes long and didn’t feature Catwoman. It also gave almost no speaking time to random thugs on the street. Batman: Arkham City is a game that I’m sure I’ve spent more than 40 hours playing. Christopher Nolan arguably made one of the best Batman-related forms of entertainment with that movie and every Batman thing to come out for the next 10 years will be compared with it. As excellent a game this is, it’s not The Dark Knight.

The only good guy to use “bitch” was Aaron Cash. Cash is a veteran security guard who Batman has respect for. He was in charge of security at Arkham Asylum, and in Arkham City he is in charge of handling security at a church that has been operating as a clinic to give first-aid to the inmates. Harley Quinn breaks into the church, takes everyone hostage and kidnaps one of the doctors. She leaves some goons behind to deal with Batman. After Batman takes out the thugs and frees Cash and his team, Cash calls Quinn a crazy bitch. In my opinion, the scene went by practically unnoticed, because it fit within the context. From what we’ve seen of Cash, he would say that.

sneaking and pandering

Yes, the word is used more than it should be, but when it’s used, it makes sense. It fits within the context of the situation, and since there is no larger theme or any other larger exploration of the topic, it is not sexism. The word isn’t used to the point where it becomes an issue, and at worst, Rocksteady is just repetitive by not using any other profane language. Here is the real issue then, this was the only expletive used throughout in the entire game. As I mentioned, if Rockeady had incorporated a thug that called Batman a bastard, this would almost be a non-issue. To make it completely fair, they should have used “bastard” exactly as many times as they used “bitch,” but here is where it gets a little dicey. If they had used “bitch” one more time than they used bastard it could be construed as sexist. What makes much more sense is to take each instance of the word and look at it within context of the situation and how it plays into the overall themes in the game, which is exactly how the ESRB does it. Mizrachi stated, “There’s a contextual element in dialogue that matters in terms of assigning ratings.” So, it’s easy to see how this could be misconstrued as sexism, there is some weight to the argument and there is no right or wrong answer. This is the best kind of discussion to have.

Another thing Film Critic Hulk says is that Batman enjoyed manhandling Harley, which I disagree with. Batman is the definition of stoic and in this scene he treats Quinn as an annoyance. Later, he amends his argument to mean that the scene came across as the developers enjoying watching Batman manhandle Harley Quinn. I’ve watched the scene a few times to try and figure this one out, but I can’t. It looks fine. It makes sense. He even points out that Batman saves Catwoman from Two-Face early in the game, so that could be construed as sexist. Batman is the hero. He saves people. Catwoman returns the favor by saving Batman late in the game (at least my Catwoman did), so that works out, but I don’t think Film Critic Hulk had played that far when he wrote his article.

Gamers overreacted

Harley Quinn pandering

Film Critic Hulk took a very serious look at one potentially troubling aspect of a very popular game. He did exactly what I and other game journalists strive to do. The great majority of us gamers are interested in seeing this medium progress. We want to have these discussions, because they make us look at games in the same manner as we look at films, literature or other forms of entertainment and art. Giving the medium an in-depth analysis advances the discussion about games as art and also gives our medium credibility as a form of entertainment alongside established media. These discussions are good to have and we need to have them, but by overreacting to the issues, it makes the gaming culture look immature and the medium unworthy of legitimate analysis.

In case you missed the entire first part of this article, I’m not saying that we can’t disagree. Disagreement is part of the discussion. It’s how we express our objections that hurts the medium. If you have not played Batman: Arkham City, you can have an opinion on the subject, but you should not fly into a fit of rage when someone who has much more experience with the subject disagrees. I would think this would go without saying, but many of the comments that Film Critic Hulk’s post received were just that.

You get the point

The good news is that while many gamers are immature and are essentially internet trolls, many are not. No one can force them to grow up. Nobody is going to stop all the internet trolls and our headsets are going to be filled with the profanity of the unwashed masses for years to come. What we can do is continue the discussion without them. They are just background noise and until they learn to behave, that’s all they are going to amount to. A great majority of game journalists and game critics are doing exactly what we are suppose to do. We give our honest opinions and we continue to analyze and think about our games in ways that do advance the medium and add depth to the discussion. These things are hard and one day we could all benefit from having mainstream culture recognize games as a legitimate art form. Unfortunately, those immature gamers frequently seem willing to write this step off.

The bottom line is that those immature gamers who piled onto Film Critic Hulk don’t represent me, my friends or this site or many other sites and individuals that I relate to. They don’t represent a lot of us and we don’t need them in the discussion. Acknowledging them as a portion of the community, but dismissing their rants, is the correct course of action. They don’t represent me and I hope they don’t represent you. We’ll all sit at the adult’s table this year and leave the kid’s table for those who belong there.

One Comment

  1. An excellent article – I agree whole-heartedly.

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