Batman: Arkham Knight Suffers from Its Terrible Treatment of Female Characters

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Warning, this article contains spoilers for Arkham Knight. So stop reading now if you don’t want to know the plot!

Making a multi-platform triple-A title is hard, it’s complex and involves a lot of people. I’m wondering though why more of those people weren’t women? According to the wiki all of the writers on this game were men. I can’t say I was surprised by this as it goes some way to explaining how women are treated throughout this game.

Yesterday Batman: Arkham Knight was released for the XBox One, PS4 and PC. It garnered a lot of praise before its release but now that it’s out, speedy completers are discussing some major story problems. The unlucky ones don’t even get much story, they get more of a slideshow. PC players are reporting that on some configurations Arkham Knight is barely playable.

I’m not one of the people who completed this game so early; I just don’t have the time for that, so I’m discussing this based on other people’s discoveries. This means that errors are possible of course. Even if you are not a big gamer it’s likely you’ve heard of the Batman game franchise; they have sold by the bucketload. I have the older Bat-games on Steam and suffered through the disaster of ‘Games For Windows Live’ *shudder*. They are technically solid and visually strong but they were not without problems (Ivy has never had clothes and sexist dialogue can be frequent).

Over time the quality of the series has deteriorated, and that leads us to Arkham Knght, as the spine of the official guide misspells it, and who are we to argue with the official guide? Arkham Knght suffers due to its treatment of women; one of the big problems is damseling, as it happens multiple times.

Poison Ivy needs rescuing by Bats, damsel offence one. Catwoman needs rescuing by Bats, damel offence two. This in itself is bad enough, it’s like an 80s action movie. Wait, or is that 90s. Or 2000s. Well, OK, it’s like a lot of really bad action movies where the woman is the prize, the object to be saved. It’s lazy, pathetic and I hoped we’d moved past that. We are slowly *cough*Fury Road*cough*, but Rocksteady’s male writers didn’t get the memo.

The worst treatment is handed out to Oracle and Poison Ivy. Players were wondering why Arkham Knght was rated M for Mongoose Mature and the reason is mostly the sickeningly disturbing scene involving Oracle. The videos are on YouTube, go search for them if you’d like but I won’t link to them here as I’m not kidding when I say they are disturbing.

Firstly, Arkham Knght goes back to the well of disgust that is The Killing Joke and you get to listen to a shot Barbara suffer for about 30 seconds. After that it gets even worse; the player doesn’t know that Bats has been gassed by the Scarecrow, and is forced to watch Oracle get gassed to the point where she puts a pistol to her head and fires. It turns out she’s not dead and the game celebrates this by having her wheelchair pushed off a high building.

Bats saves her, damsel three. Finally we reach Poison Ivy, who throughout the game seems to be wearing a shawl and moss panties. Yes really, that’s it. She gets pulled from Arkham to do Bat’s bidding against her will and her reward is fridging. OK, she saves Gotham, but she dies in the process. Women can die in games or movies, really, it’s all about how.

You need multiple women in either the movie or game to provide balance and representation. Women with story arcs, agency and enough lines that they really matter. In Arkham Knght the women don’t matter. They are plot pieces, eye candy or prizes, usually all three at once. The woman in Arkham Knght have been nerfed, none of them have a good story arc or character building, they are merely puppets.

This is the last Batman game by Rocksteady in this style and it has been damaged by lazy storytelling, having no women writers on the team, and ingrained misogyny. We can have better games than this; ones that work on launch, and have women in real roles. A game without fridging and where women are not prizes for the player to collect. This won’t break gaming; we’ll have better games because they’ll be written better, and isn’t that what we want? Better games?

Marcy (@marcyjcook) is an immigrant trans woman and writer. This includes, a website dedicated to informing and helping trans Canadians. She also has a nerd job, too many cats, is a part time volunteer sex educator and has an ongoing sordid love affair with Lego. Those last two are not related… probably.

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