Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Sexism Of Batman: Arkham City

A few years ago, I came across a site that reviewed movies from a men's rights perspective. It was called "Men's Movie Guide" and, unfortunately, it isn't there anymore. Their reviews made for pretty interesting reading, particularly their review of Knocked Up by a female member of the site. One of the interesting things about the site was that it gave two ratings; one was a rating of the overall quality and the other was for how "male-friendly" the movie was. For example, Mrs Doubtfire received a low quality rating but was considered very male-friendly because of Robin Williams' impassioned rant about how much his kids meant to him at the end of the film.

However, the weird thing is that I don't think the same rating could work for video games. I've seen other sites try it, specifically a Christian site about how faithfully games follow Christian values, but I'm not convinced. Gaming is unique in that, even if a game features content that deeply offends you, it can still be a great game that you enjoy. If a movie contains scenes you find uncomfortable to watch, it might be enough to make you dislike that movie and not want to watch it again, but it doesn't really matter if you're morally offended by a game as long as the gameplay is good.

All this is just explaining why I don't want this to be a blog for reviewing games. There are a few games I'll be devoting entire posts to though and, even though they're all sexist against guys, they're also all worth at least one play. Yes, that includes Heavenly Sword in the previous blog post.

Today, it's Batman: Arkham City.


You might notice on the right side of my blog, I have a link to TV Tropes. Well, shortly after Arkham City was released, there was a huge discussion over there about how sexist it was. If you want, you can head over there and save yourself the bother of reading the rest of this blog. Basically, it boiled down to two groups; the people who thought it was sexist against women and the people who thought it was sexist against men. And most of it revolved around Catwoman.

I'm going to skip everything that isn't about Catwoman because, to be honest, I've already tried and I don't think I was getting my point across well enough. I enjoy explaining things to people who haven't played the games but writing about the League Of Shadows felt like a bit of a hassle. So instead, this blog will solely be about the criticism of Catwoman's character.

The argument from people who believed Arkham City was misogynistic was twofold; Catwoman's outfits (obviously) and comments from the male inmates

Let's start with the stuff that wasn't; basically, for those of you who've never played the game, Arkham City is a walled-off portion of Gotham City that was built to house all of Gotham's criminals. The argument from people who believed Arkham City was misogynistic was twofold; Catwoman's outfits (obviously) and comments from the inmates about how they'd like to "get their hands on Catwoman", implying they wished to rape her. That one's easiest to get out the way first because it's exactly the same as the point about Tomb Raider from two posts ago; having people mention rape isn't misogynistic at all. Nobody is raped in Arkham City but, apparently, there are rapists. All male, naturally. So what about a game featuring awful male characters is sexist against women?

Now onto Catwoman's outfit. It's the typical objectification argument you hear whenever a female character is dressed provocatively. "Her butt wiggles too much". "She shows too much cleavage". "She's a hyper-sexualised object who only appeals to men".

Let me take a moment to point out a few things here. In Arkham City, you can unlock audio files to listen to that gives a bit of backstory for each character. They all revolve around the character, usually a villain, talking to Hugo Strange, the man who runs Arkham City. Catwoman's audio tapes feature two very specific quotes that highlight her attitudes towards men:

Strange: "I believe you would have escaped if greed had not got the better of you. [Batman] was actually in the process of rescuing you, was he not?"
Catwoman: "I didn't need his help."
Strange: "Or any man's, it appears."
Catwoman: "C'mon, you're going somewhere with this? Spit it out."
Strange: "I've been studying you."
Catwoman: "So I see. My eyes are up here, by the way."

Strange: "Your father. Did you ever meet him?"
Catwoman: "Never knew the son of a bitch."

The second quote is pretty straightforward. A "disappeared dad", just another of the plethora of bad men in Arkham City. The first is more interesting because it's about Catwoman intentionally dressing provocatively. A later exchange between the two outright states that Catwoman doesn't trust men and that Batwoman must be spoken for because how else could he "resist this":


So Catwoman uses her sexuality to her advantage. The critics will say this doesn't matter but it's part of her character, at least in this incarnation. It's also worth mentioning that Catwoman plays a pivotal role in the story. Batman saves her in the very first mission of the game, so Catwoman returns the favour later on. Saving the main character is enough to characterise her as more than just an "object" and the fact that you can play as her and defeat swathes of (male) enemies is enough to show how capable she really is.

So let's recap; she calls her father a son of a bitch. She doesn't trust men. She beats up men. And she dresses provocatively, which means one of two things; either she thinks all men are perverts or the developers of the game think all men are perverts. And either way? She's dressing that way to appeal to the men she holds in so little regard. In other words, if you're a male gamer, you're being called a pervert and the men Catwoman is beating up represents you.

Need I remind you that Catwoman is one of the good guys? We're meant to cheer for her and applaud her for attacking guys and breaking their bones (something Batman can't do with female enemies). A male gamer feeling uncomfortable about playing as a sexist apparently didn't cross the mind of the developers. Who is this character meant to appeal to? To men? Somehow, I don't think that's the case and, if it is, it shows an incredibly lack of foresight. To women? That seems the more likely option, in my opinion. It's far better than everything about the character basically saying "guys suck".

There are a couple of other sexist issues with Arkham City that I'll sum up quickly:
  • There are barely any bad women in the game. Catwoman is an anti-hero. So is Talia Al-Ghul and her all-female army of assassins. Poison Ivy keeps to herself. Harley Quinn is the closest thing to "evil" a woman gets in the game and she plays the comic relief role.
  • Even though we're told over the public address system that Arkham City is a unisex facility, female supervillains are the only criminals we see. And, as I said above, they're not exactly evil. So the people you do see and beat up? The thieves, murderers and rapists? All male.
That's Arkham City in a nutshell. A great game, ruined by the Catwoman downloadable content. Even if it wasn't sexist against guys, the fact that Catwoman is an awful character to play as and her missions break up the game's narrative would be enough to put me off downloading it. But if you don't download it? You've got an incomplete game!

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