(Warning: The following article contains spoilers from Batman: The Telltale Series Season 1)
For over eighty years, the Batman franchise has been synonymous with the Byronic hero, a vigilante who has made it his life’s mission to take down evildoers in the city of Gotham. There have been many takes on the character over the decades, and different writers have different interpretations of how much Batman sees himself as Gotham’s only chance to redeemed, or as the civilian and notorious playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne. After playing and completing both seasons of Batman: The Telltale Series, I couldn’t have but be deeply impressed by the portrayal and the choices the player could make as both, with great lingering consequences.
Gotham City is rife with violence and corruption, and Bruce Wayne seeks root it out as both the heir of the prosperous Wayne family, and as the mysterious crime-fighting vigilante Batman. Throughout this first season, he has to balance both roles simultaneously and efficiently, with only his closest allies being none the wiser as to his true identity. Telltale games are built on letting the player choose their own path, with the choices not always being presented as black and white. Some choices that seem to be the least harmful, at first, may end up doing the most damage, unintended or not. I found this to be the case while playing as both Bruce Wayne and as Batman. This is clear from the very beginning of the story when Bruce Wayne is hosting a fundraising party at Wayne Manor in support of his friend Harvey Dent’s running for mayor of Gotham City. The way the player can choose to interact with potential donors, and even react to an unexpected visit from the notorious crime boss Carmine Falcone, were not as simple as I had expected them to be. My choices, for better or worse, affected everyone’s perception of Bruce and would have lasting consequences for the rest of the story.
This is an aspect that I think many of ourselves can also find in the real world. We all make choices each and every day, even if we don’t think about them, and many of the words and actions we may take may have reverberations in our futures and relationships. One dynamic of the Telltale stories I appreciate, especially in this series, is the limited amount of time you have to answer a question or make a decision. This is something I’ve struggled with myself in my own life; as someone who naturally likes to think things through, it can be difficult to make a split-second decision that may affect opportunities and other choices in the future.
Once the plot gets moving, the true conflict comes into play. Bruce Wayne finds out that his legacy is built on the very corruption he had been trying to dismantle, and that his father had been close friends and brushed shoulders with Carmine Falcone’s criminal empire, helping to silence those who would threaten tho stand against them. These findings are shared with the general public of Gotham, and naturally creates a lot of enemies and negative stigma for Bruce. Seeking revenge against Bruce and the crimes of his family, the mysterious Children of Arkham come into the foreground, one of their leaders being Bruce’s estranged childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot.
I felt the frustration that I’m sure Bruce must have felt when he found out that Wayne Enterprises was being stripped away from him and handed to Cobblepot, and his enemies as a whole. The transition of his company is played out in the public eye, and players have the option of being difficult through its entirety, or playing along and showing grace. I chose the latter, although was dismayed when that grace was not reciprocated for Bruce. It helped nourish genuine antagonistic feelings, and it became more difficult as the story went on to remain considerate towards others, especially Bruce’s enemies. Despite this personal dilemma, I stayed true to the types of choices I knew I wanted to make, even if they weren’t rewarded or received well by others.
Wisdom is defined as possessing good judgement, and it’s fair to say that for myself I don’t always make wise choices everyday. There are times where I say things I didn’t mean or make a choice I know is wrong, and I can’t take those things back. Just like Bruce experiences in the Telltale series, his answers and actions have the power to influence or antagonize another character, molding their relationship that will be fully formed by the player by the end of the season. The consequences of choices are felt throughout the story, especially as Bruce discovers how much of a role his family really had in the underworld, and how many lives they’ve ruined. Their actions tainted the perception of Bruce and his family name, even if he personally had nothing to do with them.
There are many stories in the Bible about choices and their consequences, from the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to David’s lusting after Bathsheba and role in the murder of Uriah, among many other examples. There are also a vast number of verses spread throughout Scripture that focus specifically on wisdom and decision-making. It’s sobering to think that we as individuals hold so much power as to change relationships and lives, for better or worse. We often always aren’t given the luxury of having the time to think things through of what impact we may leave with the people we meet or spend time with. I appreciate the struggles that Batman: The Telltale Series gave me when it came to making those decisions. I quickly found as I began that I was not going to be offered binary choices, as I was used to seeing in other games. I was given the chance to play a more complex and introspective Batman, more so than I’ve seen lately in various media with the character.
By the end of my playthrough, I was satisfied with my choices and the endings that resulted from them. It was fascinating seeing the data of what other players chose in their own playthroughs, and it made me also realize that not everyone will see a situation the same way as myself, and may not make the same choices as a result. I didn’t expect a Batman story to be complex from the get-go, but I’m pleasantly surprised that it was. I have to say this has probably been one of my favorite Batman stories that I’ve had the privilege of experiencing in any media. My hope is that you may get to play through the game yourself, and think about what choices you might make as both Bruce Wayne and as Batman. You may find that they may not be as clear-cut as you might think.