Rocksteady's 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum begins with a prototypical ending: when the game begins, the player is shown a cinematic cutscene (in which the player is a passive viewer) that begins in Gotham City while the static-y voice of the police dispatcher says, "The Joker has been apprehended; Batman is now en route to Arkham Island."1 The scene cuts to a sign pointing the way to Arkham Asylum as the Batmobile speeds past. We see Batman-driving-for only a few seconds before the "camera" shifts to focus on the Joker, bound and semiconscious in the back seat. Batman drives through the gates of Arkham Asylum, and the title, Batman: Arkham Asylum, appears before the scene goes black. Already the player's expectations have been challenged; instead of beginning with a crime, the game shows us resolution, "playing" with narrative convention and establishing a sense of confusion and disruption that continues throughout the game. From the very beginning, the player confronts and is confronted by violations of social and institutional order that he must accept in order to progress.2 Throughout Arkham Asylum, the player is compelled to accept directives from the Joker, the one character he assumes he should not obey. In the game, the Joker orchestrates the primary narrative, forcing the player (and Batman} to either "play along" or quit the game entirely. Without the Joker's guidance, the player cannot progress; indeed, were it not for the Joker, there would be no game to begin with, no experience of the ludic ("fun"), and no recognition of the need for play in the "real" world beyond the asylum walls.
Copyright © 2015 University of Mississippi Press. This chapter first appeared in The Joker: A Serious Case Study of the Clown Prince of Crime
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Bezio, Kristin M.S. "Playing (with) the Villain: Critical Play and the Joker-as-Guide in Batman: Arkham Asylum." The Joker: A Serious Study of The Clown Prince of Crime. Ed. Robert Moses Peaslee and Robert G. Weiner. Jackson, MS: U of Mississippi, 2015. 129-45. Print.