I finally got back to playing some games this week, after a busy few weeks preparing to launch TGEN. With no real desire to jump into an MMO, I fired up a game that’s been sitting in my Steam library for several months: Arkham Asylum. I haven’t played any of the Arkham games before, and I must say, being Batman is really fun. It reminds me a little of Assassins Creed, except with cooler gadgets. My favorite part of the experience is grappling around a huge room, from gargoyle to gargoyle, waiting for a thug to wander down a dark hallway alone – and then BAM! Silent takedown and back to the rafters to watch the other thugs panic when they discover his unconscious body. That type of stealth and fear action really brings out the “Batman experience”, in my opinion.
One thing does bother me a little bit about the game. While the setting of a decrepit old mental hospital being run by the inmates does create a sufficiently dark and creepy environment for the game, there’s something else that makes me uneasy about this aspect of it. Perhaps I’ve become overly sensitive, but in this age of heightened awareness of the problems facing those with mental health issues, I am surprised by the number of references and inferences to the “crazy” or “insane” state of the antagonists within the game. Likewise, the patients you encounter resemble the inmates from the final scene of Amadeus: slobbering, wailing and flailing. I just completed a level last night where I had to walk through a large room full of these poor souls, and the voice acting was quite disturbing. Worse yet, mental instability is typically associated with the super villain while the most stable tend to fall on the side of good. Of course, Batman is the notable exception to this rule, with his childhood trauma being constantly revisited.
So, to that end, I suppose the internal struggle (and, I’m assuming victory) of the caped crusader to maintain his strength and even draw from his past experiences despite being surrounded by those with similar struggles makes for an interesting sub-plot. But the overwhelming feeling that this entire setting was pulled from a place in the past, where sensitivities and understanding of mental health issues were much lower than today, seems to permeate the entire game. Joker is “an insanely homicidal supervillain”. Zsasz (above) is a sociopath. Clayface “goes mad” and goes on a killing spree. Harley Quinn becomes “obsessively fixated” on Joker. The Riddler has “an obsessive-compulsive need for attention”. Even more disturbing are the “tape reel” interviews with various patients of the facility that you discover as you work your way through the game. They allow the player to “listen in” as one of the asylum psychologists tries to get into the head of the villain being interviewed. In essence, it puts a real voice to the illness.
Even the word “Asylum” conjures up a certain feeling of division between those unstable enough to be placed on the inside and the normal people allowed to stay on the outside. The Dark Knight Returns seems to recognize this, as the name of the institution has been changed to The Arkham Home for the Emotionally Troubled. Which, I’m not sure is much better considering the clientele, but at least they recognize the problems with sticking with “Asylum”.
I’m not usually one to nit-pick the political correctness of each and every leisure activity. Truthfully, I probably would have never noticed this had the game designers not decided to use the sights and sounds of the asylum inmates to create such an environment of uneasiness. But once I noticed, I realized it was everywhere. It permeates the entire story line to the point that it cannot be ignored.
I’ll play through the rest of the title, but I do hope that Batman’s victorious struggle with his own mental health issues is able to overcome any negative feeling left by the somewhat whimsical and careless treatment of these issues that I’ve witnessed so far.
#Arkham #Batman #MentalHealth