On "Bayonetta" and Women in Gaming


Nintendo kicked serious arse at E3 2014, for a number of reasons. But the one I want to focus on most, as hinted at by the title, is the upcoming release of Bayonetta 2 in October. Now, the first entry in the series is, without a doubt, one of my absolute favorite games that has been released. It's still as fresh, outrageous, and amazing as it was when it was released a few years back, and seeing a new one coming to a personal favorite system is like a dream come true. The fact that an enhanced version of the original comes with it is just an added bonus.

But just as when the original came out, I feel like we're going to see a few prominent voices speak out against this game on the pretense of it being sexist, or degrading to women. And while those people are certainly entitled to their opinions, I figured I'd get a head-start. Throwing my special spice into the overflowing pot of opinions, I want to get some thoughts out as to why I think the character of Bayonetta is a good thing for women in gaming when supplemented by other, less sexual characters.
One of the primary arguments against the character and the game is the overt, blatant sexuality. Anita Sarkeesian is especially infamous for voicing her opinion on the matter, having argued that Bayonetta is nothing more than male wish fulfillment. Certainly, I understand where she is coming from, but while I don't have the vitriolic hatred for her that so many people do, I respectful disagree with her on this front. Her argument seems to be based upon the premise that Bayonetta, as a whole, is bad for women because of the constant near nudity and playing up to gender stereotypes. And I will defend this much like I defend some older Lara Croft costume designs: sexuality does not equal inherent sexism.

Now, I identify as a feminist (big shock,) but I'm not from the anti-sex branch that Sarkeesian and other detractors of this game seem to practice. I am of the belief that women, men, and non-binary genders are all human fucking beings, and deserve to be treated and represented with respect. And I find Bayonetta to be incredibly respectful, not in spite of her sexuality and appearance, but because of them. See, while she does adhere to the male gaze, there are two important things to keep in mind when we use that argument. Firstly, we could say that any woman in any outfit that reveals skin adheres to the male gaze, whether it is in real life or in entertainment. Men should not dictate what women wear, but neither should other women. That is a form of slut-shaming, in my mind, and it's simply not fair. Only a woman is in charge of what she ought to wear, and if she wants to wear something that's perceived as sexual, that's her right, and she should not be shamed for it.

Even if it is made of her own hair.
Now, you might argue that since men designed this game, that argument does not apply. And that's where my second point comes in: the characters in Bayonetta were actually designed by Mari Shimazaki, a woman who's also responsible for the wonderful game that I really need to fucking finish already, Okami. Furthermore, Hideki Kamiya, the director, has publicly stated that he dislikes the idea of Bayonetta being the subject of pornographic fan art. In fact, he's said that people who produce such things don't "hold any love for the game." Ouch. Now, Kamiya and Shimazaki both collaborated on Okami, which is a game where you control a matriarchal canine goddess and try to save ancient Japan. Then, Shimazaki designed all of the characters in Bayonetta, and Kamiya publicly shamed anybody who draws the titular character in sex scenes.

While I'll admit, Kamiya has said some questionable things about women and femininity in the past (which can be chalked up to outdated gender norms which still permeate Japan,) this doesn't seem like a man who's interested in creating a female character solely for sexual kicks. His work on Okami, Viewtiful Joe 2, and Resident Evil Zero shows, to me, that he is a developer very interested in crafting cool female leads. For example, in Viewtiful Joe, Sylvia is a damsel in distress; but once beating the game, she becomes more than Joe's girlfriend. She gains super powers after insisting that she wants to fight the bad guys, and the game can be played through again with her; in the aforementioned sequel, she's actually playable from the get-go. To me, Kamiya's inclusion of strong female roles in his games actually puts him head-and-shoulder above his contemporaries.

How many games give you a playable female Power Rangers equivalent?
And yes, I count Bayonetta as a strong female role. Here we have a woman exerting her own sexuality, undefined by a man, and unwilling to settle down or have actual intercourse. She routinely toys with or undoes all of the male characters, always having some type of control over most situations. Yes, a young male reporter helps her out, but generally speaking, he's a joke character, portrayed as kind of weak and reliant on trickery. Now, let's turn this on its head for a minute. Imagine a game where a man is not tied down by a woman, undoes female characters, and is aided by a weak but resourceful female character. Sound familiar? Well, it should, because I've described a lot of games on the marketplace today. See, Bayonetta is a tit-for-tat subversion of male power fantasies, which utilize the idea of hyper-masculinity used as a weapon. Here, we see femininity and female sexuality used not as a crutch, but as an advantage.

Bayonetta is sexual, but because she wants to be. She strolls around in high heels, kicking ass while pop music blasts, and does so while outright mocking all of the men in the game. Flower petals fly out of many of her attacks, and she uses brightly colored candy as regenerative items. Here is a character that takes what is considered stereotypically feminine and weaponizes it, much like the way Duke Nukem is a humorous hyperinflation of male hedonism and machismo. While Duke blasts apart enemies accompanied by "masculine" guitar squall and guzzles beer, Bayonetta hacks them to bits with music that lyrically encourages her and chows down on candy. It's, essentially, the very embodiment of "grrl power" blown up to an entire game and thrown onto the market. The whole world is Bayonetta's oyster, and I would even go so far as to call it a female empowerment fantasy.

But there's one caveat to all this, and I think it's an important one. Not all games with female leads should be like Bayonetta. If we had an industry where all the women were eye-candy and sexual, where would female gamers who didn't really care for those traits look to? That's why it's important that we embrace Bayonetta for what it is, but encourage diversity. For every Bayonetta, we need a Mirror's Edge, a Metroid Prime, a Tomb Raider, a Walking Dead, a Wet, a Lollipop Chainsaw. Just like every male character shouldn't be a Dante or a Duke Nukem, if we really want to approach good female representation in this industry, we need to celebrate a wide variety of female characters. Strong ones and physically weak ones, murderous ones and pacifist ones. At the same time, we shouldn't damn female characters just because they're sexualized.

Was I the only one who loved this game?
So yeah. This was a long-winded way of saying that I don't think Bayonetta is a sexist character, nor do I think her game is even remotely sexist. Yes, this is the subjective opinion of a young white male, but a young white male who identifies as a feminist, and would love to see a game industry where women and men are treated with equal credibility and respect. Furthermore, I think that women like Bayonetta should be encouraged, so long as we have a healthy dose of radically different female characters to back them up. If we didn't, and all other female characters were heavily-sexualized eye candy, I truly believe Anita Sarkeesian would start having some very valid concerns, more so than she already does. Yes, I do agree with her on some fronts; here's your pitchfork, go nuts.

I, for one, look forward to Kamiya and company's further adventures of Bayonetta and her Bechdel Test-passing companions. Because if a woman wants to pick up a game and feel like she can flagrantly wield her sexuality as a weapon and not be reprimanded for it, then she should be able to, and be able to feel empowered by doing so.

Comments

  1. god i hate the Bechdel test... do people realize that the whole "test" was a joke not meant to be taken seriously?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was, but Bechdel herself later said she thought it was an important thing to take into consideration. While I don't think it should be the end-all, be-all standard (because movies like "Gravity" would fail it,) it's something that I think writers should keep in mind.

      Delete
  2. But, if you played this game, you know how much time and effort you have to give to earn stars! And how many stars you need to buy item you want! Kim kardashian hack

    ReplyDelete

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