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January 12, 2010

Comments

Brinstar

I have not played Bayonetta, but I'm inclined to agree with your analysis rather than Alexander's. You've laid out the sexist exploitation and objectification in a really clear way. I don't think it's empowering. At all.

twitter.com/SnakeLinkSonic

If I were pushed to come down on one side or the other, I suppose it'd be the one that favors the exploitation schematic. HOWEVER, my suggestion of totally stripping the character of her clothes (or hair?) in some instances (rather than having them tear across the screen in order to tease but not cross 'that line') flies in the face of that --- somewhat.

I don't think they'll commit to what they've created to be as harsh and blunt as I can. I can respect the campy and silly sexism of course, but where will this game's legacy be in say --- two years? I'm willing to bet it still won't be on the map with its progenitor brother (DMC), which is sad all in itself.

Leigh

No no, you are right -- I just don't feel your assessment is mutually exclusive to mine. I'll answer you on the blog like tomorrow, but I should probably get back to work also.

(.tiff's one of the few people I like enough to have a debate with <3)

.tiff

It's definitely not. I read your post and others' before I started playing, and tried to approach the game as light-hearted-ly as I could, but this was really the best conclusion I could reach. Am looking forward to your response (<3)

jane

i appreciated Leigh's take but my reaction was much more like yours. i'm not offended by it (and it doesn't seem like you are either) but i don't find it empowering in the least. i do find it campy and kind of hilarious in the way that bad porn is kind of hilarious.

Albedo12

I'm conflicted over whether or not to buy Bayonetta. I've played the demo and love the craziness, the music, the campiness, but I know that at the end of the day I'll be buying a game with a lot of sexiness and skin in it. Not that I disapprove of sexiness and skin, I'm a guy after all, but I would have bought the game without them - the other elements would have been enough.

Why does the sexy content bother me? Becuase this game is getting a reputation as something to play 'one-handed', and that creeps me out. I don't want to be labelled a pervert by association, but my friends are already looking askance at my enthusuaism for the game.

Gavin

I completely understand your assessment that "Bayonetta is pure camp". It seems to me that Bayonetta's sexuality is exaggerated to a point beyond that of a sex object. I doubt that the character inspires much sexual desire in the average male viewer; Luka's reaction to her mock-advances seems nearer the mark. She's no sex toy; rather, she's bloody terrifying.

I can not however, deny that the sexual imagery has a certain effect on me; an effect that is being utilised, rather effectively I feel, to contribute to the rollercoaster of sensory shock tactics of the game as a whole. I should be clear that this feels like something that is being done to me rather than than something that I can feel any ownership of - not "one-handed" gaming material at all.

As to whether this portrayal can be perceived by a female to be empowering, I am, of course, not qualified to say, but she certainly, in the context of the unreal reality that she inhabits, seems pretty empowered to me. I await Leigh's response with great interest.

Gygaxis

I've been trying to reconsider my initial dismissal of the game after Leigh Alexander's post on gamepro that you quoted at the top and I'm finding that my views are much more in line with your own. My initial intro to Bayonetta was the over the top marketing stuff as it was nearing release, and things like the designer's blog, then I stopped really thinking about it due to the fact that I really dislike the character design (I am about a year from finishing my degree and going into work as a concept artist.) I've tried to dig up at least some videos of gameplay (as I lack a current gen console to give the game a rent on) and I found the idea of it not being explotative hard to agree with. Several 30 or so year old male friends of mine who do like the aesthetic have shown in conversation just how adroitly the game hits a male gaze and were I interested in the visual style of the game I suspect I'd easily fall into the same targeted demographic for that. Some of the points like how kick ass the Umbra Witches are I will concede are pretty impressive, and female protagonist, yes please! But then shots of the dance contest boss fight do feel very focused on selling the game to male gamers and I don't know to what extent I feel like there's a valid overlap between sex to sell a product and empowering decisions. I am glad for the discussion about it, pushing the issue to a broader audience and I am quite happy to see women feeling empowered by the game whether I agree or not with empowerment being the intent is in the larger picture irrelevant to other peoples enjoyment.

Jeffrey Matulef

I'll echo what I said in Leigh's comment thread, because I'm lazy:

"I don't agree with Leigh's stance that Bayonetta is a good female role model. She's basically Dante with tits. I don't find it offensive as it's clearly a parody of over-sexualized female stereotypes, but she's hardly an innovative or three-dimensional character and really brings nothing new to the table in that regard.

I guess I'd say she's empowering the way Duke Nuk'em was empowering i.e. she's not because no one, male or female, is going to relate to her on any level as she's not even remotely realistic as a character. That's fine given the kind of game that it is, but lets not kid ourselves that she's leading any kind of revolution."

Chris

I actually read Leigh's article as I was playing through the game and found it hard to agree with her after the initial three chapters, especially given the opening scene in the graveyard that features a fair share of the game's objectifying close-ups and the infamous lollipop moment.

However as I kept playing the game I noticed that the frequency of those moments greatly decreased and as the scope of the threat Bayonetta was facing increased I started to feel that Bayonetta's attitude was actually very important.

Without her irreverence Bayonetta would risk becoming a much more serious game than it should be. It's a combination of the scope of the enemies, the music and the fact that Bayonetta (the character) isn't taking anything seriously that gives the game it's celebratory tone and makes the game feel so refreshingly different to, say, God of War.

God of War uses the brutal strength of Kratos to make players feel empowered, Bayonetta uses Bayonetta's silliness in the face of great danger to do the same. She just happens to express that silliness by dancing and posing.

All that said I agree with you, Tiff, that some of the shots in the game are PURE objectification. There's no sense of feminine empowerment in a close up of Bayonetta's ass. So I could do with far less of thiose. But I agree with Leigh that zero sexuality is NOT the answer and that Bayonetta DOES have a personality that involves dancing and posing and generally laughing off the threats she faces. And that's a lovely thing that I don't want to see disappear from potential sequels.


One more thing, maybe I'm in an extreme minority as a guy but I don't find cartoon characters sexy. The extreme exagerration of Bayonetta's figure and movement doesn't impress me, she's a freakish caricature in the same way Marcus Fenix doesn't actually look like a man. I've only ever rolled my eyes when Platinum Games move in for the objectifying close-up.

So I'm just wondering if it's selling the average male a little short to assume they're enjoying Bayonetta's sexuality in a lascivious way. That sounds kinda pathetic to me.

masayume

I agree with you (and Leigh too, if possible).
The game is fun to play and extremely choreographic. She's more dancing than fighting and the character is strong enough to be featured in an anime.

I appreciated the analogy with Duke Nuk'em.
Let's hope the sequel won't be titled "Bayonetta Forever".

mrmarkrobson

I'm currently on my second play, and loving this game's action, though the cutscenes do tend to drag.

I have to agree that shes no role model, but I think shes hardly offensive. I can see how people LOOKING to be offended could be though.

Her sexuality, along with all the violence and spectacle in this game are turned up to 11. I think she has more in common with Michael Jai White in Black Dynamite or the previously mentioned Duke Nukem. I think alot of people are on the fence about Bayonetta, in that general audiences accept this archtype as a traditionally male stereotype, ; but anything this extreme featuring a female pushes buttons and people are all of a sudden not sure how they feel, or more importantly in some circles, maybe how they SHOULD feel.

Many of the perspectives on her as a sex object almost seem to come across as people covering their asses and trying their best to seem like they are saying, "hey I'm on your side ladies!" (I'd like to listen to it again, but this notion came across while hearing Arthur Geis on a recent episode of Rebel FM)

In the grand scheme of female video game characters, shes a far cry from Jade in Beyond Good & Evil, but I think Kamiya is a lot more thoughtful and aware in his handling of Bayonetta than the tackiness of XBlades or the pandering Oneechanbara Zombie Vortex (whatever its title really is...)

BONUS: for some of those confused by her awkward proportions, shes 10 heads tall, like a fashion sketch, and shes not the only one in the game with those strained dimensions. Luka/Cheshire and another spoilerific male also share similar proportions.

mrmarkrobson

just another quick aside...

i think shes more overpowering than empowering.

(everytime is say power, i have the juggernauts voice from the capcom fighting games in my head, "power...UP!!!!"

Maurice Fleury

Read - The Supergirls by Mike Madrid. Lots of good turning points about the 60's sexual revolution!

It seems to me that the argument concerning the mid 60 women's revolution still hot on the hit parades. Mike Madrid puts a (dot) in the question. Also the great women Superheroes by Trina Robbins.

To separate issues. 1. The women’s movement concerning civil rights and equality. 2. Sexual revolution. Think about it.

.tiff

Thanks everyone for your commentary. For the record, my post wasn't intended to suggest that I'm necessarily offended by the game, nor do I think that sexuality in games is a taboo matter. The whole world and style of Bayonetta is absolutely bananas, so I'm entertained by it on the same level as say, watching Showgirls. That being said, Bayonetta as a woman is so over the top and so unrealistic that it's just impossible for me to correlate a feeling of pride in her demonstrative acts of 'femininity'. If Leigh and others feel empowered by her character, power to them, but I don't feel that was the intention nor do I feel she has that effect on me personally for the reasons outlined in the post.

Brinstar

I think that one of the big concepts that many gamers miss when they see another gamer critique a game is that yes, you can be critical of a game and still enjoy it. One can enjoy a game while being critical of problematic issues within the game, and yet not necessarily be offended by it. This concept is missed so often when people discuss social and cultural issues related to games, whether it is about sexism in games or whatever issue.

ScottyG

Brilliant read Tiff. Going to just echo some things other people have already said, in that I don't agree with Leigh's article at all.

Bayonetta is a very interesting and entertaining character, but is in no way a role model. She blatantly conforms to negative gender stereotypes for her own advantage, and from what I can tell has a very "cool" but completely unlikable personality (just like any comparable male character). It's fine to like the character, but I cringe at the suggestion that she should be pointed to as an example of an empowering female.

William Huber

Thanks for the link to my post. I've followed up in my own comments with a realization that videogames are only secondarily about character at all, and that videogame characters at their best are less compelling and provocative than characters (with inner lives and subtle motivations) depicted in novels or films. [Novels more than films, too, but this gets us off track...]

What games do is create spaces, including, though not limited to, narrative spaces; and the relationship between spaces, play, and gender was pretty well covered by Henry Jenkins in his Complete Freedom of Movement article. He doesn't solve any problems, mind you, and his final note is one of caution, but I see the character-as-role-model approach as dated and somewhat unpromising. (And personally, I would like a ten-year embargo on the word "empowering." I think I called for that embargo 6 years ago, so we have at least 4 years left.)

Tim

Well put.

Although I have to admit that I have neither played Bayonetta, nor really followed much of the debate (if there even is one) surrounding the depiction of her feminity, the whole issue really reminds me of the discussion about AVATAR that is going on currently, and it's supposed political undercurrents.
Apart from the fact that nothing exists in an ideological vacuum, and thus politics/gender issues are bound to be reflected in some way or another, I don't see how Bayonetta (or Avatar, for that matter) go beyond the realm of escapist entertainment (which is alright by me, and brilliant entertainment is brilliant by it's own right).

From what I saw, I don't see in what way the character of Bayonetta is any different from Lara Croft, or any other female character that fits in the "girls that kick ass" archetype.

Michael

I think your absolutely right.

Twyst

Totally agree with you. Well written, clear, and for me, totally on the money. I cant play this game, it makes me embarrassed for the character.

SF Sex Toy

Bayonetta would make a hot sex doll. ;)

Viagra

yes a real shame that a good game like Bayonetta are a sexual symbol, and I have to accept it I'm a man and I like to look the excellent design of the character but it's a real shame to watch how is denigrated the women shape.

Arden K

I've gotta disagree with you here, and agree with Leigh on this. But I would like to point out a factual error that I don't think you realized when you wrote your article - you said Bayonetta is a "game made by men, from the male perspective, for the male perspective", and part of this is just not true. Bayonetta's character designer was a woman - Mari Shimazaki. You could have easily learned this from glancing over Wikipedia once but in any case, I thought I should link you to an article Mari Shimazaki wrote about her thought process while designing Bayonetta.

http://platinumgames.com/2009/04/17/designing-bayonetta/

.tiff

Hey Arden, thanks for sharing that link, I should have included it in the article. I still stand by my original post that the game was predominantly made by men, as most games these days tend to be, for a male audience. Although the character designer was Mari Shimazaki, factors like the camera angles, dialogue, and gameplay all colored Bayonetta's overall presence and the way I felt about the portrayal of sexuality.

If you're interested however, I did end up finishing the game and wrote about how much I really loved the way Bayonetta stood out as a strong female lead in a game.

Thanks again for your link!

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