#3. [CONT] How do you feel about the way that the Bayonetta franchise presents its female characters, especially the lead playable character, "Bayonetta"? Do you think there are problematic / sexist elements involved, or "over-sexualization" of the females? On the other hand, do you find Bayonetta, as a "strong female lead" to be an empowering character in any way?
Kimberly: When the first Bayonetta game came out, I didn't have specific resources for gaming news. I gleaned my gaming info from searches or friends. The buzz that I was exposed to about the first game focused a lot on Bayonetta's appearance. Her character, the story, or even the gameplay seemed like afterthoughts if they were mentioned at all. Her body was the primary talking point. This messaging mostly turned me off from the game, so I didn't research it much further.
After release, I heard stories about women who found it empowering to play, but these stories were mostly second hand from male friends or writers, and sounded a lot like justification: "It's not sexist because I have this one female friend that liked it." I didn't give these arguments a lot of weight at the time.
These days I have a wider range of sources for gaming news, and I follow the work of a lot of female game reviewers and developers. As discussion has picked up for Bayonetta 2, I've read thoughts directly from people with taste I already trust. There are still negative opinions, but plenty of positive thoughts with more weight and depth than what I'd heard for the first game.
I can't yet say whether Bayonetta will be personally empowering for me, but I'm becoming very eager to see this strong, sexual, unapologetic woman I keep hearing about. The game and characters sound more complicated than I originally gave them credit for, so I want to play the games and feel it out for myself. Even if I'm disappointed by some elements, it sounds like there's more here than I originally assumed there would be.
Laura: I haven't played the games so I don't feel qualified to say whether I think she's a 'strong female lead'. However, I think that her appearance and the way she is portrayed in advertising is very problematic. It feels like my choices for games are picking ones with no/little female representations (because women don't make convincing heroes right?) or ones that treat women as sexual objects or shallow plot devices. Certainly there are exceptions to this, but I feel the issue is still pretty widespread and I just want to see more powerful female protagonists that are not at any point in the game reduced to a sexual object to be ogled by the (assumed) straight male gamer. I'm a big fan of RPGs and I don't think many men notice how often games portray scenes or dialogue or camera shots with the straight male gaze. Pretending to be a straight male is really not the problem for me, it's 1) the hurt of feeling like developers just assumed I was one to begin with, that when they think 'hardcore gamer' they aren't thinking about people like me, and 2) often having to watch a scene play out with a powerless woman, sometimes in some very degrading situations.
Lily: So, this is probably going to be a bit of a long answer, but let's try to get everyone up to speed on some of the more complicated concepts.
Feminists are a really diverse bunch of people with a lot of different opinions. The most basic line of thought is, generally, an acceptance of choice and personal expression and natural variance that isn't harmful. The big sticker is the "isn't harmful" thing is hard to really unpack or examine without these differences in opinion popping up. I ascribe to many feminist points of view, I find a lot of feminist work incredibly interesting, and if anyone asks me bluntly "Are you a feminist?" I'll say "Yes." I do disagree with other feminists quite often though and think the ideas are too idealistic/cynical/whatever because it's a ridiculously diverse group.
Bayonetta is problematic. I don't think this is something that can really be denied. But I don't think its really her fault, necessarily. It's more fair to say that if games tended to be a little better to protagonists that weren't just men, Bayonetta would be less problematic. The point I'm trying to get to, although quite clumsily, is that, as is, Bayonetta reinforced some unfortunate trends within the gaming, primarily that women must be attractive and must be sexual or sexualized.
No one can look me dead in the eyes and tell me Bayonetta is not sexualized. But! Sexualization isn't inherently problematic. Sex is an interesting thing with a lot of cultural taboos and stories and myths and all sorts of things. Having a sexual character isn't a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing if it ends up being cliched and starts being aimed specifically at one group of people. (It could be far more specific than women, after all.) Things kind of doubles up with the attractive bit, too. Bayonetta is meant to be attractive and desirable. Your mileage may vary if she is to you, but the intent of her designer was to make her attractive. Like almost every other woman in a game I can think of. And I know some people are thinking "But all men are attractive too!" But let's not get into a list war, if you believe that, you probably think it's a problem. So, cool! Let's demand more variety in characters, I'd be all down for that and definitely pay extra attention to games with non-typical protagonists.
Now, if games weren't in their current state, if there were varied character designs that were beyond sexualization/attractiveness/objectification/damsels in distress/whatever, Bayonetta would probably be accepted by more of the critics. I'd argue she wouldn't be problematic. Different, very different, but here's the thing, I know women who act sort of similar to Bayonetta. Especially in the kink community. Because for as sexual as Bayonetta is, the developers did one thing that's somewhat unique within video games. They made her extremely aware of it to the point of trying to be goofy about it. They made it seem like it was her choice to be like this. She's not required to be so sexual by anything within the game, she never is forced into doing sexual things, often times when she does these sexual things they don't even particularly fit the scene and clash heavily against them.
The game offers its contrast in Jeanne. She's rather much more serious than Bayonetta and doesn't engage in dance offs or whatever, though she's pretty much identically proportioned. She also doesn't lose her clothes when she makes her attacks while she's wearing her more signature leather biker outfit. Her existence shows -- within the context of the game -- Bayonetta has chosen to be the way she is. She's confident, sexual, and self aware. There's a lot of subtle things that give the impression that she knows she's goofy and over the top. And that's great. That's a style of womanliness that, I think, is actually becoming a little more common every day as women recognize that glamour and beauty are sort of ridiculous on their heads, so they play it up a bit. This is much more common in kink communities where there's often an act being portrayed.
I can't say Jeanne is more problematic than Bayonetta -- and trying to go through spectrums of problematicness is a boring exercise when everything on the list still has some issues -- but if Jeanne had been the main character of the game, I think that it would have been a much more typical and bland game.
Bayonetta is, at least to me and my way too many word word word position, empowering of a specific aspect. Almost a power fantasy honestly. Super sexy but beholden to no one -- except debatably the audience, I guess? I can't fathom people actually getting off to Bayoneta in a voyeuristic way, but people tell me its a thing! -- powerful enough to beat around divine beings, capable of pulling off and wearing heels that would be absolute murder to anyone's feet, and being damn aware of it the entire time. That's kind of an awesome place to fantasize yourself in. At least briefly. I can't say I'd want to, realistically, be Bayonetta, but how many men would want to realistically be that-dude-from-Gears-of-War or whatever. I can admit that this sort of power fantasy is directly inspired by cultural underpinings that lean sexist -- are high heels inherently sexist, for instance, when many women feel obligated or are otherwise taught to wear them when they can cause very real problems? What about skin tight clothes? Would me being trans have anything to do with why I see high femininity as a power fantasy?
Yeah, I dig Bayonetta. Yeah, I can accept she's sort of problematic, especially within the current context of society and video games. Even bringing my own personal biases and life experiences can't negate that there's some issues. Especially in regards to the advertising campaigns and all the attempts to push the "Sex Sells" button again and again and again. The various team leads intents also matters a fair bit. I can't say for sure what their motives are, but if it was to push a sexy lady to win over men, yeah, that's an issue.
One of the important notes is that you can bring something good and positive about problematic experiences. Problematic stories or depictions can give inspiration for future developments or help you understand exactly what's problematic.
Vivian "SJ" James: I think there are issues for sure, in that it contributes to a status quo of women being sexualized in games. However, it's so rare to have an aggressively sexual (as opposed to passively sexual, aka a sexual object) protagonist woman who has more to her character than just fanservice. I think she captures a lot of elements of the kind of woman I'd really like to be. As much as she is a part of a status quo of sexualized women characters, I think she's substantially different from how those characters are often handled and I think that's important.
#4. The character designer for Bayonetta is a woman, Mari Shimazaki. How does this affect your views on the designs of the female characters, sexualization, etc.?
Alicia Andrew: I think a good Character Designer should design for the world and narrative their characters live in. I like the idea of more female Character Designers, but it didn't weigh in on my judgment of the Bayonetta design.
Emily Gitelman: Not to diminish Mari Shimazaki's work, but the fact that was the character designer was a woman doesn't really mean much to me in this context. The inherent issue here is that Bayonetta has clearly been created with the male gaze in mind-- her creators are men who have voiced strong opinions about how women should look and how they should act. They created their own personal bombshell dreamgirl though Bayonetta. A woman can still have problematic views of women, and women internalize the male gaze all the time, which can lead to designs like Bayonetta's.
Erica Hollinshead Stead: It doesn't change much for me; Bayonetta looks similar to some of the fashion figures I drew in my school sketchbooks, so I wasn't surprised that the design could come from a woman. There's also no rule that a woman can't generate something problematic - I've read many blogs on "How to Treat Your Husband" written by females that I find incredibly problematic. But it does take the wind out of some arguments I've seen that go something like "What woman would want to dress like that?" (And also.. um... probably me. But not at work.)
Kimberly: I heard this fact a few times during the first game's release, but just like the "I know a girl who liked it" argument, it usually sounded a lot like justification. "A woman designed Bayonetta so she's can't be sexist." At the time this rang hollow to me, and still does. Designers don't work in a bubble, and directors and producers still get final approval over the finished design.
However, reading through Mari Shimazaki's notes about Bayonetta's design for the second game is absolutely one of the things that made me decide to play through them. She honestly seems to love the character, and worked hard to capture Bayonetta's strength and personality.
Ultimately, Bayonetta being designed by a woman doesn't objectively prove anything about the Bayonetta games. I do find the design process and the creators' intent to be interesting though, so I'm really glad that Mari Shimazaki has been has been vocal about these elements.
Laura: That doesn't affect my opinions at all. I'm sure there are many women who disagree with me and have very different experiences and views on this matter - none of our feelings are any less valid than another.
Lily: This doesn't matter. Like at all. Mari Shimazaki is a talented woman, I love what she's done, but I didn't know that when I played the first Bayonetta, and it doesn't really change my opinion. Women are just as capable of men as being sexist toward women. There's this handy thing called internalized sexism. I don't think she has been maliciously sexist, though, and I don't think the producers particularly have been. They wanted to make a woman who could only act within tropes and styles that women can act in. I'm not sure of how their design team works. She could have contributed way more, or they could just be trotting her out as a shield, but I don't know how it is, and I think it's unfair to make negative judgments without details.
Vivian "SJ" James: Mari Shimazaki at one point said that Bayonetta's design was more along the lines of what she thinks is attractive as opposed to what the director of the first game thinks is attractive. I don't know what Shimazaki's sexuality is, but I do know that it's far too rare that women get a say in the creation of these characters, and I think it's important for the industry that more women like Shimazaki be involved in the creative process for these kinds of games. I've also heard the producer of Bayonetta 2 is a woman, which is another cool, important thing to me.
#5. Is there anything else that you think would be relevant to the discussion not covered by the questions above?
Alicia Andrew: A lot of REALLY excellent stuff has been written about the issue, and game developers are having really insanely interesting discussions about it. As a female gamer and developer, I'd just like to see MORE variety, more Bayonettas, more genuinely flirtatious characters, more femme fatale characters oozing sexuality and mystery. But I'd also like stories about women that explore other aspects of their characters. If you include a female character in your story or game, and can replace her with a sexy chair without disrupting the player's experience, then you've created a crappy part for a chair.
(Ed. Note: I could not get the 1Up link working and I could not find the original article in question due in part to some sections of the 1Up appearing to be broken at the moment. If anyone manages to find it, please link us below.)
Erica Hollinshead Stead: This is probably a blog in and of itself.. but I appreciated that Bayonetta (the game) didn't treat seduction as a sort of consolation prize/trump card for women. She did employ a seductive aesthetic, but she wasn't trying to use it to avoid combat or render anyone unwilling to attack her. No one fell at her feet because she was sooo sexy. Having lived as a woman, and even worked as a lingerie model at one point, I know enough to know that seduction/appearance is not, in fact, a weapon that men are powerless against that is like putting a cheat code in for life. Its not. Its just one thing, that you can't always rely on. Seeing it treated in media as a never fail easy button irks me because the implication seems to be "Well women didn't get to be strong or fast or smart - but hey girls, you've got this consolation prize and its GREAT!"
Kimberly: I want to talk a little more about the first game's news coverage. I clearly remember hearing about an interview with the lead 3d modeler, who talked about spending a lot of time modeling Bayonetta's butt. More than one website posted this tidbit as exciting news. This, possibly more than anything else, really turned me off to trying the game.
At the time, the interview and the coverage felt very sexist and objectifying, bypassing Bayonetta as a character (as a person), and reducing the discussion to whether the pixels were arranged in the sexiest way. For years, whenever the game was mentioned in conversation, this was one of the first things I would think of. It very negatively affected my thoughts on the game for a long time.
However, I wouldn't react the exact same way today. During the time, I was still developing my identity as a feminist (and still am to be honest - it's an ongoing process), and probably lumped together a few different things that today I would try to consider in a more nuanced way.
I want to be clear and state that modelers and game journalists are allowed to like butts. There's nothing wrong with liking butts. However, it can be problematic when things like this become the most talked about topic of a game, overshadowing other important factors. Up until a few months ago, I had no idea that the first game is considered to have fantastic gameplay mechanics; all I saw were articles about butts.
To be fair, there is plenty of coverage of Bayonetta that isn't entirely about her appearance. I just happened to not see most of that, so I failed to get very excited about the first game. As I mentioned, my gaming news network has changed a lot since then, and is a lot more specifically tailored to my interests. Building that network has made finding games I'm interested in a lot easier.
I guess the bottom line is that I bypassed Bayonetta for a lot of different reasons, but I'm really excited to play through the games and re-evalutate them based on their own merits. Who designed her, who modeled her, and who talked about her aren't as important as my personal reaction to the character during gameplay. I'm looking forward playing through the games and evaluating Bayonetta for myself.
Laura: Nope. :)
Lily: I can be really hard on League of Legends and superhero comic books for their very cheesecake designs. I think the prime difference for why these bug me more than Bayonetta, is that League of Legends and comic books tend to be incidentally cheesecake-y. By which I mean, the characters personalities aren't sexual at all. They're only sexual looking, but otherwise those sorts of details are passed up. These are presented as, character-wise, serious women with serious things to do like being heroes, but then they dress like, well, it's stuff I'd feel nervous to go to the beach in sometimes.
The developers of Bayonetta at least have the decency to make Bayonetta's sexuality a distinct part of her character and then dress it up as more than just "Oh, she really really likes sex and likes looking super sexy!" and instead going with that utterly ridiculous sexy-and-knows-it-and-is-goofy-about-it. Which is also way better than the sexy-and-knows-it-and-flaunts-it cliche. Take the goofiness and self-awareness of that goofiness out of the picture and Bayonetta loses all meaning, honestly!
There is always the possibility that the goofiness is incidental, but I'm not sure that's the case given a few of the cutscenes in the first game.
Vivian "SJ" James: I think another valuable thing Bayonetta brings to video games is a portrayal of BDSM imagery that is light-hearted and fun. All too often BDSM themes are meant to make women look villainous or are meant to make players uncomfortable, but Bayonetta puts monsters in all sorts of torture devices and makes it silly and fun. As a woman who loves BDSM, it really brings a smile to my face.
Ed.: A special thanks to all of the women who participated in this! We really appreciate you lending your voice.
Members, please comment on this feature below! Non-members, take 30 seconds and join up and then comment on the feature below! And let's all remember to be respectful to all in our responses.
As someone with practically no experience with Bayonetta, I found this interesting to read. I appreciate being able to read several viewpoints about the series, both from people who like and dislike it, for various reasons. I don't have a Wii U yet, but I may search out a copy of the first game on the 360 at some point, to be able to check out the series for myself
PS. I was informed about something that I probably already knew and forgot about, which is that 1UP.Com shut down awhile back. This explains why many of their links are not working, including the one referenced above. We may never find the article in question now!
I appreciate the efforts you went through to gather these varied thoughts. I agree with some, don't agree with others, but certainly don't judge or hate based on any content provided. What I wish that both sides would see most is that you'll never have either side fully.
This idea that we can achieve a fully 100% unsexist video game market, or the idea that the market is flooded with nothing but 100% sexist tropes is ridiculous. Luckily most people don't believe either of these to be true and I think that's a good thing. I wish the conversation was not complaining or pointing out all the horrible examples from the past, but considering ways to make the future way better and much more appropriate.
I loved reading about some women in this article found Bayonetta to be in full control of her sexuality and enjoyed how the character was portrayed throughout the first game and into this second one here. To me, I pretty much only see the sexy visuals because I don't really dive into the media surrounding this game and I haven't been convinced the gameplay is up my alley either. However I have detected more depth than just tits and ass. Thing is, I'm all about her sexuality from a visually pleasing perspective. I'm a heterosexual male so it does appeal to that and I'm a 'Boob Guy' if I had to label myself so it's literally encoded in me to find cleavage and other representations appealing. However I also find myself just as pleased to read deeper into the fact that Bayonetta is embracing her sexuality and choosing to be who she is. I find that to be a turn on in real life because confidence is sexy and so is ownership of thy self and actions. I think it's all too easy for people to see her visual sexiness, apply the past drudgery we've had in this realm, before even discovering the deeper connotations and reality.
The concept of a woman owning herself or not owning herself from a video game character standpoint was also pretty interesting. I haven't really put it in that light before nor considered which characters from my own gaming experiences fell into which category. I've begun to evaluate the games I own for this fact regarding their female characters. I can't believe how disgusted I am in one particular title... Super Monkey Ball... Meemee is trapped in that ball! (okay, simply a joke there)
All in all, a good read. A unique idea and a well executed one. I hope everyone else is enjoying Bayonetta along with Koovaps. This is the kind of game I hope does really well for the developers and Nintendo. I hope those who don't want to play it, for whichever reasons they deem, are able to find fulfilling experiences elsewhere starring the genders/characters/creatures/etc they would most like to see in the gaming medium.
Excellent feature, Andrew! And thanks to the women who participated. It really was a good read. I really have nothing to add other than I agree with everybody involved, and am currently enjoying the first Bayonetta on my Wii U.
That was a really fun read. What I liked is that even if some of the women interviewed were opposed to the game, they were at least open to experience it for themselves instead of simply shutting it down based on interviews or game previews. I'd be curious to see how their opinions change after having played it and see Bayonetta's character in more detail. Unfortunately, much like what the game does at time with focusing on Bayonetta as a sex symbol, the interviews and/or previews will do the same for easy hits and attention. But it's only until looking beyond that that you really see how deep and rewarding it can be.
@VofEscaflowne I think this does bring up an interesting question though which is... if the advertising all points in a certain direction, isn't it sort of a logical position to think that is what the game is about and, if you have no interest in that, avoid playing the game? I keep hearing how the crotch and butt shots and nudity and stuff are a small part of the game, but even hearing that from people I trust I still remain a bit skeptical. Like, define "small", right? Because most images and videos I see make it seem like it's at the core of the animations and camera work and such.
I'm just a bit concerned that people might look at the opinions of some who haven't played through the whole game as less valid, when in this context it is like... it seems totally valid to me to only put a small amount of time into or even completely avoid a game that goes out of its way to look like it has all of these things in it that will turn you off to the experience.
I still don't know if I'm going to play the game. Interested, but I'm interested in way more games than I actually have time to play.
I still can't speak for the game as a whole but I've put several hours into it and there is definitely not that much sexuality shoved in there. The intro did have some and I thought it was quite funny. Bayonetta just dives through enemy weapons and conveniently uses the blades to slice off her dress that she was wearing to reveal her battle outfit. A few crotch shots here and there too but the rest, if there was anything that bad, was seriously overshadowed by the intense action shots that I really had not much time to pay attention to anything else.
So that almost makes me think that reviews, Polygon especially, just nitpicked at that intro and complained how it takes away from the game when it's such a small portion of it. But whatever, I'm also one where it takes a lot to bother me in games and focus more on if I'm having fun or not which Bayonetta delivers in huge amounts.
The amount of screen time doesn't necessarily affect people's attitude towards how objectionable the content is or isn't, just how often they would be reminded of it. Personally I don't think a game should be treated with more leniency just because its portions of objectionable content are concentrated into a shorter time span.
Well no, I wouldn't say it should lessen the effect of what is there but there definitely is not a lot. I was expecting it to be shoved into your face at every possible cutscene, breaking the action with a crotch shot here and a breast shot there but none of that is to be found. But anyway, it's all a matter of opinion. Obviously some people will find the content in the intro disgusting but I thought it was done very humorously how she can just treat her enemies as if they are a simple joke to her. It lightens the mood and gives me laughs which is always great in a game like this I think