Here we go again. You know, I’m really tired of every game that I’ve enjoyed having to be interpreted in some way to make it seem like a company has a vendetta or an issue with the representation of characters in games. Don’t get me wrong, having multiple ways of interpreting things and different perspectives is important, but what I’ve seen more of lately is just negative interpretation after negative interpretation. Not stopping for a second and considering that the message that the writer was going for was different than what you took out of it. That every game can’t work off its own issues that it wants to address. That a game can’t explore deep meanings of things without it having to mean something else.
Frankly, I’m sick of having to counter these points. But once again, here I go, when I want to focus on what the games have to bring, I’m instead defending a game that’s being twisted to a point of breaking by a journalist. I’m sorry, I’m really trying to keep my emotion out of this one, but frankly, I’m at my wits end.
At this point in the editorial, if you don’t want to be spoiled about the events of Batman: Arkham Knight, please stop reading, as there are major spoilers ahead.
Evan Narcisse of Kotaku recently commented on a particular event within Batman: Arkham Knight about a certain character and how they are handled. In particular, the handling of the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon. How the way they handled her took the strength out of her character, going so far to say the following:
She became the leader of a strike team in the Birds of Prey series and regularly overcame foes who underestimated her. She wasn’t a victim anymore. Except now, here she is, being dangled as motivation/bait all over again in Arkham Knight.
I’m getting tired of the fact that complicated issues can’t be introduced into games now a days without someone making a huge deal about someone’s view on a plot being forced to represent an issue that the makers of the game or media in question obviously weren’t attempting to address. I can sit here and tell Mr. Narcisse that you really should have played through the rest of the game to find out if this article made sense to print. Or done your research as a journalist to make sure you weren’t necessarily correct on your assumption. Because guess what? That never happened. Hell you allude to it in your article that you think it may be a trick, but don’t let that stop you in your interpretation. Barbara is alive and well, and while she was kidnapped, she’s no damsel in distress. Not by a long shot.
But for the sake of the argument, let’s assume you’re correct. That Barbara is dead, and she isn’t coming back in the case of the events of Arkham Knight. Even with that said, your argument is horrible flawed even in the context of the game. Barbara proves that she’s a strong character, and quite possibly even stronger than the Batman himself, even before the events of her death in question, and perfectly capable of handling her self in several ways.
She literally is the one Batman goes to for any knowledge he needs. That’s made clear when she is taken and the knowledge doesn’t come right away, with characters always indicating that they can’t get the information without some time period to come to. She’s not only helpful: she’s vital.
When she is kidnapped, SHE LITERALLY CAUSES A CAR CRASH TO HELP HER ESCAPE. Powerless? That’s probably the least powerless a character, given her condition, could be. You see, she doesn’t need to be this super-powered character. She uses her brain, her best quality in the series, to figure out a way to attempt to escape. Even when the attempt fails due to numbers, she’s able to plant the information in a way that only her connection with Batman could determine. She reacts to the situation with strength, reacted quickly, and knows exactly what she’s doing.
But let’s consider for one brief moment why the choice was made. What is Batman’s fear established early on in the story? There are a couple actually established, but one of them is clear: that his lifestyle choice and his choice of being Batman will come to get those he loved killed. Barbara was a clear choice to work off of this. Why? Because an event already happened that it could work off of: her crippling. Hence why the scene is played once again. And it has nothing to do with the crippling itself. You may think it does, but it has everything to do with the fact that Batman, the vigilante that is always there for people, let someone down. That’s why she was chosen.
The story was designed to take that into account and plays off the player’s fears if they were to be in the role of Batman. You had failed. You had failed to protect the ones you found close. You caused this. Not because she was a cripple. Not because she was a woman. Not because she wasn’t capable on her own. From a player design aspect, what’s the most immersive situation here? You’re Batman: you’re playing Batman. The strongest way to work with the player is to work off of that: to work off your perspective and your knowledge to that point.
So why Barbara? Because she was connected to you, and she had suffered at your hand because of it at a prior point. In fact, it’s symbolic of how strong of the character Barbara Gordon is; that even when she went through this horrible tragedy, she found the strength to move on. Other characters that went through life changing events such as that, Two Face for example, showed the lack of those characters strengths in the end. Barbara went for what she thought was right. Barbara showed that, guess what, she was maybe stronger than any other character in the series. Even the determined Batman, who never ever questioned his commitment, now had real doubts with her death.
The suicide scene is powerful in particular for the fact that you need to understand where the character’s choice has come from. It establishes on several levels the importance of Batman’s mission—how the toxin can cause the panic and chaos, and why Batman’s mission is so important.
And there’s a reason why Batman’s brain chose that scenario in particular. The Dark Knight is breaking his fear down at the basic level. The hallucination of Barbara is Batman himself—realizing that the fear and the evil has overtaken the city, that there’s nothing he can do at that point now, and there’s literally only one way out of it. Barbara and Bruce Wayne are more alike in that one scene than you initially realize, and it puts them on the level of equals. Did he picture Alfred? No. Did he picture Robin, Nightwing, or Commissioner Gordon? No. He pictured Barbara. The person that in his mind was his biggest equal. Again, you interpret the choice of that as weak; I interpret that to be a strength.
On a different note, the strength of that scene and the logic regarding suicide and the hopelessness that leads a character to making that decision is handled rather well, as those I’ve talked to who have had those thoughts in the past have expressed that they thought the scene was great in its interpretation. Not only from the perspective of the one committing suicide, but from those who are caught in its blast, standing on the outside, unable to do anything to help the person while desperately wanting to.
Even the symbolism of her shooting the glass first, attempting to break it, possibly opening the way to getting rid of the horror in her mind—what is truly Batman on the other side, seeing the horror as it goes down. We know this scene is of Batman’s mind, and the fact that the figment of his imagination sees HIM as the horror may represent his own self-loathing of how he possibly may hate what he has become to his allies. Both are trapped in their fates as hopelessness and the darkness consumes them.
You know in the zombie trope how you have the sacrifice? Where one holier-than-thou character sacrifices themselves for the greater good? That’s symbolic: the person who puts the safety of humanity and the rest of the world over their own survival. I see the same with Barbara. She had every reason to leave the city. She could have helped Batman still from afar. But she didn’t. Not for some affection for Batman/Robin. Not for some reason of feeling like she’s helping. But because she wanted to save the city.
And that’s a fascinating story angle to work with. That hits so many levels of the psyche of Batman, the star of the series in this case, to understand what could possibly break the unbreakable hero. Themes of helplessness, themes of fate, themes of control—all of them coming together in one big storyline that could easy help people work through their own issues and provide a story they can relate and pull from. You want to know why I love games? Because it’s one of the best mediums to let the player fall into the world and learn from it. To take its concepts and be pulled in and immersed in it. And that despite the fact that it can’t hit every hard hitting issue in a single game, that those issues it can tackle can really get under a person’s skin and make them think about the parallels to life.
But no, that’s not allowed, because of the progression of this one character, which you failed to see as a strong character with the way she was written here. That you looked at her disability and the specific events and determined that she was written weak, even though I look at the same events and see one of the strongest characters in Batman to date. But no, it’s not good the way it was written. Because of your interpretation of it. Because you decided that the professional victim card was to be played on Barbara, which I don’t even know how you decided to come to that.
If you were really truly paying attention to the game, Batman at one point indicates to her own father that “She’s stronger than you think.” Think about all the characters in the Batman universe up to this point that Batman could easily have in his inner circle. Commisioner Gordon. Harvey Dent before his turn. But he chooses Oracle—not because of his debt to her with the events of The Killing Joke, but because she’s one of the strongest allies he could have had. That she’s not only strong on her own, but in combination with him, that she’d help bring the criminals to their knees.
She’s stronger than you think, Mr. Narcisse.