Comments on

Intensive Treatment

Original entry posted: Tue Sep 8 21:35:39 2009

1252533550 @ EST

Wed Sep 9 17:59:10 2009“In its universe, disorders aren't a continuum of mental function, but a strict sane/insane dichotomy. This isn't necessarily Arkham Asylum's fault--it's derived directly from the comics themselves, which have always treated insanity as a shortcut directly to wearing tights and planning crimes centered on random concepts. ("Calendar Man?" Really?)”

First of all, Calendar Man does have a few shining moments, albeit mostly for odd jokes. But anyway, that gets pretty close to my argument on the subject. I think at this point the comics squarely exist in an alternate universe where the very nature of insanity is different from our own. However, I don't see the way insanity works in Batman's universe so much as a dichotomy. Like most of the other modern comics, it gets its sometimes silly views on insanity from the pulp horror works that preceded comics on store shelves. Unlike most of the others, which is something I greatly respect, Batman's writers managed to directly homage this influence when naming Arkham Asylum after major stories from H. P. Lovecraft. I think insanity in Batman's universe (and many other comics, for that matter) really isn't that far removed from any other usage of the sort of cthulian/lovecraftian insanity that is measurable, contagious, and ultimately an ineffable part of the fabric of an insane universe. It makes for lots of interesting Batman stories; it also makes it easy to see the disconnect between the realm Batman lives in and our universe.

I love the idea of using the differences between Batman's reality and our own scientific reality to comment on the (mis-)treatment of the mentally maladjusted in our own world. But I also appreciate when the Batman universe is just crazy and lovecraftian. (Plus, I've recently realized how much I want to build/play a variation on something like the Call of Cthulu game mechanics using the Batman canon... I'm not sure how that would work just yet, but I do think that sanity checks in a Batman game might be used to interesting storytelling results.)

“This is where Batman sends people, remember, after he's caught them.”

Arkham isn't the only place that Batman sends people. There is also the real prison, for non-insane criminals, Blackgate Penitentiary. (Supposedly there would be an asylum somewhere in Gotham for the insane non-criminals and that we do not know of its existence may just mean that it is run very well in Gotham and produces no bad elements.) Plus, Batman never sends someone directly to Arkham (or Blackgate), he presents them to the police and expects due process to be followed. (Well, I guess "never" is a bit strong: Batman sometimes plays parole officer or bounty hunter for escapees. But both of those tasks are a part of due process, too.)

Travis Megill @ Wed Sep 9 13:01:58 2009 EST

Hey Thomas,

It's great to see someone with a little more knowledge about the Batman canon comment on this issue.

I think my reactions to the "lunatic" and the asylum as a whole are pretty indicative of my reaction to the entire game after finishing it. I wish they had taken it further. After being initially excited by the concept of having Batman in Arkham with all of his enemies, and the suggestion that he belonged inside just as much as they did, I realized that the developers used it as a setting, but never really delivered on the narrative potential.

I think this will be a problem more and more, as game creators push toward material with more depth but ignore the responsibilities that come with that material.

Thomas @ Wed Sep 9 13:50:27 2009 EST

Thanks! I don't know that much about the canon, to be honest. I mainly watched a lot of the cartoon as a kid.

In this case, not that it's an excuse, I wonder if the heavy writing/voice influence of The Animated Series is to blame for the lack of narrative follow-through. It definitely hewed more to a traditional, "great detective" view of Batman, and as far as I remember it usually played down the character's psychological damage.

And no doubt it is played down here, but it's at least more on display than it would be in most comics-based spinoffs, which entirely ignore the fascist, authoritarian leanings of the superhero genre in general.

Thomas @ Thu Sep 10 11:16:59 2009 EST

Isn't Lovecraft's insanity also pretty much a cut and dried binary? I'm thinking of the narrator of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, who pretty much snaps from normal straight to crazed gibbering. All he needed was a cape and a dream.

True, Batman doesn't directly send people to Arkham. But let's not forget that he's also Bruce Wayne, Professional Billionaire Playboy and Industrialist. It's not like he doesn't have the clout or the resources to make change happen if he wanted to. Dude needs to buy himself a council member or two.

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