Batman: Arkham Asylum was released in August of 2009 and quickly shot to the top of the charts. Written by Paul Dini, the game has garnered the attention and respect of the video game entertainment community the world over. Arkham Asylum was even awarded a Guinness World Record for being the “Most Critically Acclaimed Super Hero Game Ever.” Yet aside from all the accolades and acclaim, Batman has been and forever will be fundamentally noir (or an odd version of crime fiction or detective novel). Some may argue that a video game (let alone a Batman game) is not a noir compatible medium, but we may see the day when it is the very best medium for the genre.
I recently played through Arkham Asylum (my second or third time through) and I was shocked by the heavy-handed use of noir in the game! Sure, there are sexy femme fatales throughout the story (think Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy) which shout noir genre, but I am talking particularly about the themes of redemption and the illusions of order. Your job in this game is to return the asylum to its original state, that of order and control, while the joker’s role is to act as a catalyst of chaos. In this way you are attempting to redeem the island of Arkham through placing villains back in custody and eluding the traps that they have set. Everything in this game is geared towards inciting the player to retake control and order; from the Riddler’s hidden clues that the player must collect and solve, to the rescuing of various helpless hostages, and the upgrading of weapons, armor, and abilities that Batman earns. Dean DeFino calls this “illusions of order” and “intellectual control.” He says that “the story redeems that sense of order and control by (fictionally) exposing its logic, its cause-and-effect chain, how one thing leads to another.” I cover this in more detail in my noir definition: redemption post.
The most genius aspect of the inception of video game noir is the fact that it causes the player to be drawn into participation. No longer do we watch the detective struggle to redeem the crime scene, but WE are the ones daunted by the task. We feel the violation of order intimately, and we instinctively thirst for “intellectual control.” In this way, players of Batman: Arkham Asylum experience noir in way completely unique to the genre. I’m SO excited to see the next iteration of the game, Batman: Arkham City, who knows what the development team has in store for us…
I bought my copy from Walmart!