Get Real (or Don’t)

It’s starting to cheese me off (excuse my language) that so many writers and creators will resort to the Realism Defense when it suits their purposes and ignore it when it doesn’t.  Maybe that’s just Terran nature.  And most of the time, it’s harmless.  But when it comes to important things, it’s generally a cop out.

The new Batman video game, for example, has swearing and harsh language in it.  In particular, many people have raised concerns that when playing as Catwoman, you are subject to constant unpleasant language and mild threats of rape by the thugs she runs across.

The hardcore gamers dismiss these concerns as silly because having thugs and henchmen be obnoxious and threatening is “realistic”.  There might be something to that, too.  If this wasn’t a game built upon pretending to be a billionaire dressed as a bat who spends his nights fighting criminals dressed as clowns and Alice in Wonderland characters.  If the Batman’s universe was realistic, then he’d either be shot in the back one random night or be so beat up and burnt out from his double life that he’d be a broken wreck.

Superheroes have always struggled with the fantastic and the realistic.  Batman has struggled the most.  Probably because so many of his fans seem to think he’s more “realistic” than other heroes.  I’m not going to get into that fallacy here.  I’ve wasted too many precious hours on that debate.  Regardless of where you stand on that debate, few people would want to read the Batman story where he trips on his cape and plummets to his death while on patrol, realistic as that possibility might be.

Realistically, Bruce Wayne could choke to death on a piece of pie.

I’m not interested in reading the story (or playing the video game) where ensuring Bruce Wayne chews his food properly is the key plot point.  But if you’re going to pull out the “realism” argument, then you can’t just stop where it suits your needs.

Given his status as Gotham’s wealthiest citizen and the obvious fact that Batman needs to have major funding to do what he does, it seems strange that no one has ever connected Wayne and his alter ego.  Or that a man with a prominent face can hide it behind half a mask and not still be recognized.  Or that a single man could have the time and ability to master every esoteric field of study, ranging from acrobatics to chemistry to art history.

And let’s not even get into his bad guys.  A guy with white skin and a hideous grimace who dresses in purple tuxedos.  A man with half his face burnt off.  A pulp style immortal evil mastermind who wants to wipe out the human race.  A crocodile man.  A shapeshifter.  A plant woman.

Realism and Batman are not friends.

This is not to say that a writer needs to throw realism completely out the window.  But when an unnecessary element of realism is introduced for no good reason, realism is not a defense.  It’s the same sort of half-logic that causes some folks to complain that children NPCs can’t die in Skyrim and that this fact “ruins the immersion”.

Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize that in the game where you pretend to be a dragonslaying badass who can throw fireballs and slay giants that NOT having roasting children would break the illusion.

OR

Dopey me.  I kind of assumed that if you were going to play Catwoman in a video game, you might get tired of being called a bitch a thousand and one times.  But, no, that’s REALISM.  Thanks for clearing that up.

To be perfectly clear, I don’t care if a Batman video game has (justified or not) hostility towards women.  And I don’t care if Catwoman slinks around in a sexy costume and uses kisses to disarm her opponents.  Okay, that’s a lie.  I do care.  I’ll go on record as saying a Batman game shouldn’t have these things in it.  Certainly shouldn’t have them casually strewn about.  But that’s just one guy’s opinion, and if I don’t like the game, I don’t have to play it.

But on the other end, you can’t just say “It’s realistic” and not expect me to roll my eyes a bit.  If your best justification for something unpleasant in a Batman story or video game is that it serves realism then I feel like you’ve already lost the debate.

Did I mention he fights a guy who has a freeze ray?

Realism in this context always seems to mean something other than realism.  It means a pocket of realism in an otherwise unrealistic realm.  And more often than not, that realism is aimed at shock value and “mature” content for its own sake.  So let’s just call it what it so often is.

Pandering.

I’ll stick with Skylanders myself.  Not only is it apologetically unrealistic, it’s also a game where its female characters (though too few) are not subject to dopey fetishism or “justified” sexism.  Stealth Elf is Catwoman without the baggage (and with the ability to vanish, leaving razor scarecrows in her place).  And Hex doesn’t slink around in a catsuit with a whip and wrap her legs around her foes like some softcore pornstar.  She fires shadowbolts and rains screaming skulls from the sky.  And she does it with style.

And really, I’m just glad to have female characters who are treated with respect.  Though apparently they have to hang out with dragons and boomerang throwing dinosaurs to get it.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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3 Comments

  1. Posted December 1, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    i can’t understand why anyone would want that in a batman video game…

  2. Posted December 2, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Astro Al, it’s simply, really, the game is intended for an older gamer audience that finds random profanities and a fetishized Catwoman cool and sexy.
    I’m starting to agree that using the realism defense for peppering (or inundating) a work with more mature (or immature) language and scenes is bogus. In some cases, the extremity can make it just as unrealistic.
    I don’t know if I agree that it is pandering or if it is a rejection of the former unrealism.

  3. David
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Agree so much it’s f@#$ing crazy. How many stories or movies would I enjoy discussing with my kids after watching sharing with them but I can’t because the authors cum perpetrators insist on ‘realism’. As you point out we never see Batman lay a deuce…yet, anyhow. It is marketing and vanity and convenience.

    How about this: our media generators (that’s you…and others, I guess) all commit to improved standards. So, even if we don’t have the deepest plots, the finest characterization, the most timeless of themes, we reduce the inflation of trivialities and aggrandizement of the banal.

    As a friend of mine opined, much of human ‘art’ or ‘media’ is polemical in nature. I believe we are the last vestiges of the ’60s counterculture, egged on by marketing and other opportunists. Let’s swing the pendulum back to thoughtfulness, responsibility and growth; Contract a bit from the past half-century of manic expansion.

    I’m sure we’ll still find some time for the occasional [excellent] zombie, werewolf, vampire tale.

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