This June, we will see the end of something great. For six years Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Rocksteady Studios have been taking the world of video games and comic books by storm with their award winning Batman: Arkham series. A series that has won acclaim by marrying immersive gameplay, a striking visual style, a story by Batman heavyweight Paul Dini, and haunting musical score into what some consider to be the ultimate Batman experience. Above all else, they are fun.
After years of sub-par video game properties from DC Comics, the Arkham series has been a breath of fresh air by keeping faithful to the style and tone of Batman’s comic book roots while also being accessible to a large audience with the Teen Rating. So, it was a surprise to read that the Arkham Knight, the last game in the series, has gotten a Mature Rating from the ESRB. The rating may not be the most surprising news connected to the game. After all, in this article from Kotaku, even The ESRB admits that Arkham City pushed the bounds of a T-rated game, and Batman has been a darker and more mature comics property for years. So, some will ask what Arkham Knight has that finally got the M stamped on the box? Did Rocksteady decide to jump off the deep end? Well, it does not seem that is the case. In a recent interview with IGN, Rocksteady’s creative director, Sefton Hill, spoke a bit about the rating.
“It’s unavoidable that some bad stuff is going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we changed our approach. We’re not including gratuitous blood or swearing. We want to deliver a true end with no compromises, and it takes us to some dark places.”
So, Rocksteady hasn’t done anything all that different from what they have before, but the game has finally crossed the line. It is not hard to imagine the Arkham games being Mature, which is a surprise for those that remember just how much of a stigma the M-Rating carried not too long ago. It seems we have reached a point where video games are starting to see acceptance as a legitimate medium for storytelling. After the long trek that comic books had to be accepted as a true storytelling agency, who better to stand as a signifier of gaming’s transition than Batman?
Ten years ago, America was in the wake of controversy over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and its infamous Hot Coffee mod. While not the only game that came under fire for being too extreme in mature content, it became a rallying cry for those that wanted to see a much stricter form of regulation in video games. After wide-spread media coverage and outcry from various organizations and activists, such as former Florida attorney Jack Thompson, it seemed like video games in general were being given a terrible reputation and should be nothing more than cute distractions for children.
This fear of corruption was not unlike what the public attitude toward comic books was back in the mid-to-late 1950s. Assumed as a form of entertainment strictly meant for children, the Comics Code Authority was created as a measure to assure children were not being exposed to what was considered unsuitable stories or material in comic books. Subsequently, the Batman comics were a major target for what many feared was a homosexual relationship between Bruce Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson.
Unlike the ESRB rating system, the Comics Code was a pass or fail system that all comics companies voluntarily agreed had to pass in order to be published and distributed. Of course, as time went on, what was or was not acceptable by the comics code changed and gave way to more mature and dark story elements. The 1970s saw a return to some elements from the Golden Age of Comics, such as deadly villains and more socially relevant issues. It was this period of time that saw the “kid gloves” come off in the world of comic books. They were starting to see the medium as an avenue for deeper storytelling instead of as a way to make quick money from children at the grocery store. This transition, and the universal popularity of comics, led to the emergence of specialty comic shops, collectors, the Modern Era and the comic books culture we know now.
Arkham Knight is predicted to be a huge success as one of the most anticipated games of the year, but is far from the first M-Rated game to spark such expectations. The most awarded game of all time, The Last Of Us, was considered one of the most engaging and emotional stories ever told in gaming. Half of the top ten games of 2014 were rated M, and Grand Theft Auto V was number three on the list, despite all of the controversy the series faced a decade ago. Despite how far comic books and their characters have come, some will always consider them meant for a younger audience. It will be a long time, if ever, that Batman sees an R-rated movie released, but to see a Mature video game led by The Caped Crusader released without a public outcry shows a legitimacy in games as an art form that has been long over due.