Batman: Arkham Asylum is a mature game. I know it’s rated “T for Teen”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for grown-ups — it features some really dark content. Torture, serial murder of innocent people, gleefully sadistic violence, lots of sexual and rape innuendo and some surprisingly salty language. Arkham Asylum went to some dark places, but Arkham City is an order of magnitude darker.
It’s bracing, and at times very bold — bad stuff happens in Arkham City, and Batman is caught up in the middle of it. But of all the spicy stuff in the game, one thing has really stuck out to me: the male villains’ fixation on referring to the female characters as “bitch.”
It starts at the very beginning of the game, when players (who have downloaded the Catwoman content) assume the role of Catwoman. I noticed that characters almost universally referred to her as “bitch.” I went back through the Catwoman missions and recorded some lines.
“That’ll teach the bitch to screw with Two-Face.”
“Bitch deserves it. You saw what she did to him in the court. It was only a matter of time before he got a little payback.”
“”I’ll make you meow, bitch,”
“He sent Paulie B over to blow that bitch’s secret hideout sky-high.”
“She’ll come straight back here… And when she does, I want you guys to blow that bitch apart!
“He had her just where he wanted her and that bitch broke free.”
“Ha, I only took half. The rest I gave away. I win, bitch!”
“Help us decide if we should kill the bitch who tried to steal from us, or let her go to do it again.”
“Two guns, bitch!”
And that’s just a sampling from the Catwoman content. As you make your way around Arkham, you’ll overhear goons from the various factions talking about current events, and every time they talk about Harley Quinn, the B-word gets dropped at least once. Often more than once. “That bitch”, “That crazy bitch”, etc.
To those playing the game: it’s weird, right? I know it’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill on things like this, but it really sticks out to me. And that’s even while acknowledging, as has been pointed out elsewhere already, that Arkham City is, frankly, a fairly sexist game.
But something about the constant “Bitch” yelling turns me off more than Sexy Catwoman or Sexy Talia Al-Ghul. It’s said with such anger, and often screamed as an impotent threat just before Catwoman knocks a dude out. It comes off like the writers are either misjudging their audience, or possibly aren’t comfortable portraying fearsome female characters without having the male characters attempt to belittle them with the world’s most famous gendered insult.
When Batman gets in fights, he doesn’t have to put up with the same kind of treatment — he gets called a “freak” sometimes, but that’s as far as it goes. Granted, there’s no real male equivalent to “bitch”, though at one point near the beginning of the game, a character tells Batman he’s going to “make [him]my bitch”. Which, if we’re going to give that line a thorough reading, actually implies that Batman can become a bitch, but Catwoman apparently already is one.
I like the game. A lot. But there’s a fine line between edgy dialogue and forced, angry overkill.