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The Batman: Arkham Series Is a Serious Psychological Mindscrew

What are you afraid of, Batman?

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Claustrophobic Environments (Batman Arkham Asylum/City/Knight)

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In horror games, one of the big things that needs to be included is an environment that the protagonist can’t escape from. If our player character sees horrible grotesque looking monsters and immediately leg it to Florida, then what’s the point in it being called a horror game or the character sticking around to deal with their inner demons if they can just drive away? Claustrophobia is a fear that people have, but not everyone has it, so the trick is to make gamers feel like they’re in a claustrophobic environment.


Barring Arkham Origins, which just goes for pure open world, each of the Arkham games has had a claustrophobic tone looming around them. Arkham Asylum was the best at this, starting players off in an environment which is literally designed with the intent of keeping people in a contained location, for both their sake and the sake of the people of Gotham. After all, no one in Gotham wants to ride the metro with Killer Croc and Mr. Zsasz. The titular Arkham Asylum is its own island, and not helping things is the Joker planting bombs all around it, cutting the outside world off from helping Batman and saving lives. Despite the large, gothic buildings that make up the different parts of the asylum, it feels like Batman, and by extension the player, is being guided through the mind of a mentally unhinged human being. Even discounting the Dark Knight’s rogues and the Joker’s gun-armed henchmen, the asylum seems to be the greatest enemy of all, determined through the human villains to drag Batman down to its level of feral and deranged people.

Batman: Arkham City and Knight leave the asylum for the comfort of our hero’s hometown of Gotham City itself, though in two different contexts. In City, the asylum has been expanded into a large chunk of Gotham for the villains to have their fun and go all Lord of the Flies on each other, with their only rule being that they can’t escape unless they want a new hole to breathe from. Knight stars off with Scarecrow driving the 6.3 million people in the city out by threatening to gas everyone with his Fear Toxin and watch them tear each other apart. When flying around Arkham City and Gotham in Knight, the sense of isolation weighs heavy on our Caped Crusader as he listens in on enemy transmissions about how they want to kill him or beat on some random civilian too unfortunate to escape when the shit started to hit the fan. Batman may be in an open world, but the truth is, he’s just a rat in a slightly larger cage. He never really left the asylum, he’s just in a new area.

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