Batman, mercy and 'Arkham City'

Drew Dixon

I am not Batman.

As I play "Batman: Arkham City," this becomes more and more apparent. The world of "Arkham City" is morally vacuous and I can’t help but feel that theDark Knight’s brand of justice doesn’t go far enough. Batman is the Christ of "Arkham City," yet I find his salvation plan naive.

Arkham City is an old portion of Gotham that has been converted into a massive prison. The game opens with Bruce Wayne being unjustly incarcerated along with political prisoners, iconic villains and psychopaths. The city’s many super villains quickly take over and violent gang wars erupt. Batman alone remains to stymie the anarchy that ensues. However, as Batman explores Arkham, he learns of a plan to kill all its inmates known as Protocol 10. He must decide whether he will be the savior of criminals he once brought to justice.

Video-game characters are often deeply destructive people and their violence is rarely restrained. To be fair, most games present us with worlds ruled by violence and characters poised to return it. In other words, video-game worlds tend to be rare places where lethal violence is justified and solves problems. Batman’s violence, however, stands above the common game character. It’s always restrained. In contrast, the many thugs of "Arkham City" are vile - heartless murderers, psychopathic killers and misogynistic creeps. As I overhear a group of criminals talk about having killed undercover cops and brag about degrading things they plan to do to Catwoman, I cannot help but plot a course of deadly action. If there were ever a game that justified killing, it would be this one. Batman, however, will not let me.

Restraint drives the action of "Arkham City" as Batman only possesses non-lethal means of fighting his enemies. In a medium where player choice is constantly touted, some of the game’s most emotionally resonant moments come when agency is taken away from me. I do all the planning, maneuvering and brawling needed to take assailants down, but ending their lives is something Batman will not allow. Instead, Batman spares the lives of his enemies and when he does they murder his friends, blackmail him and take the lives of innocent people. In these moments, I can’t help but wonder what the world of "Arkham City" would be like if he would unfetter his violent power rather than restrain it.

As an outside observer, I question Batman’s choices. He has taught me to approach battles with villains in a precise, calculated fashion. And yet I doubt whether he has applied such foresight to his refusal to kill. Joker will continue killing and terrorizing the citizens of Gotham using Batman’s own principles to undue him. Batman, however, remains firm in his convictions despite the personal harm they cause him. He doesn’t waiver in his convictions and isn’t afraid to suffer for them. He is a man of sorrows and I did not esteem him.

As I look back on my experience with him in "Arkham City," I realize that if I could have changed Batman, I would have learned little from him. I wanted "Arkham City"to empower me with the false fantasy that deadly violence can bring justice. Superhero though he may be, Batman refused to let me live in that fantasy world. Like Jesus setting his gaze firmly toward Jerusalem, when faced with the opportunity to save the many criminals who have terrorized Gotham and caused his suffering, Batman doesn’t waiver.

In this moment I realize that Batman is not naive. I am not Batman, but I want to be.

(Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment.)

Topics: Games, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment