Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gotham vs Metropolis

I’ve been playing a lot of DC Universe Online since it became free (when I can get onto the server). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an MMORPG set in the world of Superman, Batman and the Justice League etc. It’s a world populated by aliens, witches, geniuses, psychopaths and heroes. You get to design a superhero (or villain), go on missions and earn experience in the standard MMORPG way.

This game makes the differences between Gotham and Metropolis very clear. One city is dirty and decaying, bathed in both eternal night and heavy rain. In the other, everything is clean glass and shiny steel, and it’s always a bright sunny day. I’ll let you guess which one is which.

Hint: nobody can see the bat-signal in daylight

Where would you rather live? Based on the above summaries, you’d think everyone would immediately choose Metropolis. But the opposite is true – most internet surveys turn up Gotham as the city of choice. Why is this?

Let's find out after the click!


Gotham is obviously an awful place. Insane thugs lurk in every alleyway, waiting to kill your parents. The police are bitter, incompetent and corrupt. The local insane asylum seems to have walls made of paper for all the good they do – that is when they’re not expanding the asylum into the centre of the city. Crazed supervillains regularly go on killing/kidnapping sprees, robbing banks or holding the city hostage. Even if you’re not a victim of some permanently-disfiguring Joker prank, the insurance rates are going to be sky-high. Urban decay is on display everywhere; the baroque old buildings with outdated, poisoned plumbing; the extensive brick-walled sewers with lurking crocodile-men; the rickety old monorails and subways. Gotham is the only city in the world with nightly patrols of police blimps.

On the plus side the costume parties are always awesome

Metropolis is a utopia. The buildings are modern and shiny; it’s a centre of industry and scientific research; the police are kindly and helpful; the economy is thriving. Best of all the local superhero is both a living god and a really nice guy. But like so many utopias once you scratch the surface you discover the sinister underbelly. For example, a lot of those tall shining towers wear a big green L on the top.

Don’t get me wrong, Lex Luthor is one of my favourite villains. But I’ll also be the first to admit that he’s terrifying. The film versions (that is, the man who steals missiles and uses alien technology to spontaneously generate a new continent) aren't fulfilling his full potential. In the comics at various points, LexCorp has had dozens of subsidiaries. This includes huge selections of research laboratories, factories, and businesses of all kinds from restaurants to farms, from delivery services to breweries. Sometimes it controls most of the utilities in Metropolis including power, water and sewage treatment. It has owned two international airlines, had controlling interest in three banks, television networks, shipping companies, newspapers and its own satellite network. At his most prolific, Lex Luthor directly controlled up to 70% of Metropolis with major holdings in dozens of countries around the world. At one point, Lex Luthor was the damn President of the United States. Superman is god-like, Lex Luthor is Big Brother, and it is their world – you’re just renting a space in it. From Luthor.

So much for the two-party system

Gotham is known for its chaos, it’s true, and it can be a hard life if you live there. But at least you’re involved in what’s happening. A thug might break into your squalid bedsit and shoot you in the spine, paralysing your legs for the rest of your life, but at least that’s personal. In Metropolis, whole skyscrapers are wiped out by alien witches before anyone knows what’s going on – you may still be paralysed, but the reasons for it happening are over your head, and also over your pay grade. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

When it comes right down to it there’s also the matter of how people spend their free time. In Metropolis people visit museums, libraries, trade expos, scientific lectures and press conferences. It’s all very intellectually stimulating. Meanwhile, what happens in Gotham stays in Gotham. I think you know what I mean, eh? I’m talking about getting wasted on cheap beer in some clown-punk rock bar, making out with a skank on the dance floor, doing tequila shots with the band out of someone’s belly button, buying a bag of drugs, trying to take a pair of hookers home before getting into a fight with the pimp and being saved by the god damn Batman. Crazy times, man – but no, I’m sure Metropolis is fun too.

Fear and Loathing in Gotham City - "We can't stop here! This is bat country!"

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