On Bayonetta and bullshit

In the March issue of Game Informer, there’s a one-page interview with director Hideki Kamiya about Platinum Games’ recently released Bayonetta. I haven’t yet played Bayonetta, and hadn’t planned to because I’m usually not attracted to games featuring sexed-up Sarah Palin lookalikes whose clothing is made of their own hair.

I often ignore tarted-up female game characters, because my blood pressure can only take so much, ya know? But I’m having trouble ignoring the firehose of piss Kamiya’s blasting down my leg in this interview.

Image courtesy the first row of Google image search "Bayonetta."

The article opens with the line, “In a medium dominated by Y chromosomes, it’s easy for a strong female lead like Bayonetta to stand out.” This is true. Outside of the Metroid series and roleplaying games that allow me to choose the main character’s sex, I’m having trouble instantly thinking of titles that feature a female lead. However, assuming a game will appeal to female players just because it features a woman is akin to McCain’s mistake of assuming female voters would flock to his ticket based on its inclusion of Bayonetta’s doppelgänger.

When asked if he had any concerns about alienating potential female buyers with Bayonetta’s “overt sexuality,” Kamiya responded:

Bayonetta the character was designed by a female designer.

Whoa, whoa, hold it right there, buddy. Are you really going to hit me with the “but I have black/gay/[insert member of marginalized group here] friends” defense? That one never holds up, but I’ll address it nonetheless. I’ll let bioethics and aesthetics specialist Mary Devereaux explain the male gaze to you:

“[…] to say that the gaze is male refers to a way of seeing which takes women as its object. In this broad sense, the gaze is male whenever it directs itself at, and takes pleasure in, women, where women function as erotic objects.

It’s not only men who see the world through a male-privileged lens. We all live in a world dominated by the male gaze, where women are socialized to view ourselves in a strangely externalized way—as objects to be looked upon and judged aesthetically. To imply that Bayonetta’s appearance cannot possibly be degrading to women because she was designed by an individual woman in a male-privileged culture is ignorant, reductive, and lazy. Kamiya goes on to prop up his idea that we should all be A-OK with the male gaze, adding:

There shouldn’t be anyone, male or female, that dislikes beautiful things.

As long as those beautiful things are women with Victoria’s Secret model proportions and skintight “clothing.” His this-character-isn’t-designed-to-pander-to-men argument loses even more ground in his response to the next question (about Bayonetta’s clothing), in which he states:

I realized that if she was using her hair to summon these demon attacks then her hair had to disappear off her body when she did this. Then what would happen!? Needless to say, the guys on the team were incredibly happy with the idea.

So, Bayonetta was designed by a woman to appeal to women and is “high-class and fashionable,” but she loses her clothing as she fights? And what logic dictates that a witch can form body-covering clothing out of her own hair but somehow can’t keep herself covered when she uses her hair for other things? If we’re leaping into the territory of mutable hair clothing here, can’t she at least keep it on? Barf.

I think it all comes together here:

[…] what we created was born of advocating a design that didn’t pander to the desires of men, but instead was both high-class and fashionable. Bayonetta may be sexy, but she is absolutely not vulgar, and we stressed making her beautiful above all else in the design.

Heh. I never knew men didn’t desire tall, thin, leggy fashion models with huge tits. Now I know they’re supposed to appeal to ME! Fashion is for girls, and tall, thin, boob-tastic women are fashion. It all fits together now, no? And Bayonetta (again like Sarah Palin!) shoots guns and kills things. That means she’s powerful. But the most important thing about the design process was making her beautiful, because that’s the most important quality about a female character.

Le sigh.

As Mary Devereaux once again eloquently explains, “[…] it is easy to see that male characters, like their female counterparts, may be objectified or even […] aestheticized (or eroticized). And they, like women, may also be portrayed in degraded or less than fully human ways. It is with respect to actual degradation that the asymmetry between men and women reappears. For in the case of women, unlike that of men, real life degradation often runs parallel to portrayals of degradation. Because women frequently lack power off screen, they are more likely to be degraded by their portrayals on screen. Even if men are portrayed in degrading ways, their real life power shields them from actual degradation.”

Devereaux’s words resonate powerfully with me as a female gamer. My body is not an object to be stared at, commented on, or touched by others, and I resent game design which serves to fuel a culture that dictates my female body be available for male consumption. This woman, for one, has been alienated less by Bayonetta’s highly eroticized appearance than Hideki Kamiya’s insulting and tired defense thereof.

Catch you never, Bayonetta.


“Bayonetta.” Game Informer. Mar. 2010: 26. Print.

Devereaux, Mary. “Oppressive Texts, Resisting Readers, and the Gendered Spectator: The “New” Aesthetics.”Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology. Ed. Steven M. Cahn and Aaron Meskin. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 651-663. Print.


11 Responses to “On Bayonetta and bullshit”

  1. February 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Real quick: The dude in Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts totally gives this chick a gun so that she can defend herself. I thought that was nice.

    My next comment will be more serious, I promise.

  2. February 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    It’s always nice when the ladies are armed. Just don’t try to tell me Bikini Samurai are empowering to women, you know? http://tiny.cc/gXsln

    I just realized I left Portal off my teeny list of games headlined by females, but I’ll forgive myself since Chell doesn’t talk and it’s hard to see her in-game. That game kicks SO. MUCH. ASS.

  3. 3 cate3710
    February 16, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    I’m staring at the second picture and wondering – does she have weird holsters attached to her ankles? So that the barrels of the guns are like another pair of heels behind the heels of the shoes? WTF? And she really does look like Sarah Palin. That’s disturbing.

    I typically play puzzle type games and DDR, but I spent a lot of my senior year of high school playing Soul Calibur 2 in the arcade. The most scantily clad AND most covered woman in that game is Ivy. One of her outfits is a fancy Louis XIV style suit; the other is a thong-tastic leather teddy thing. In each and every successive version of the game, the sexxxy outfit has somehow gotten skimpier. I stopped with SCIII, because I only have a PS2, but according to google image, her outfit in SCIV is like half a bra, a thong, and leather straps around her legs. It’s fucking ridiculous. Taki has a skintight catsuit that shows the outline of her nipples and navel, but at least she’s covered in a half-assed acknowledgement of the fact that she’s a damn assassin.

    I do take a small degree of solace in the fact that the male character Voldo has some wack-tastic outfits as well, including a thong/codpiece type deal. But Voldo is also a creepy crazy blind man who is possibly undead. And has blades on his hands and can scuttle around like a spider. So yeah, it’s a very very small amount of comfort.

  4. February 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    well i mean, she wears GLASSES so obviously she will appeal to women and stuff.

  5. February 17, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    @cate Yes, she shoots with her feet, which I think is pretty fucking cool. I was jealous of Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg in Planet Terror, and this would be much more functional. I don’t think I’d pair my gun-shoes with fugly skintight hair outfits, however.
    Isn’t it a bummer when your favorite games hooch up the female characters in sequels? I love Mass Effect 2 to the bottom of my soul, but some of the latex outfits on the women in it are sticking in my craw. I’m gonna have to write an open letter to Bioware about that.

    @laia I know, right? But how’s she going to see if they fall off?!

  6. 6 Amy
    May 19, 2010 at 3:50 am

    Very nicely written. 🙂

  7. May 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I’m sorry but I can’t fully agree with your opinion here. Male characters in similar roles are just as twisted just in a different direction. The ideal man is very athletic and physically capable. To be anything less would not be acceptable. Look at Kratos(recent incarnation) or maybe go back to the days of Solid Snake(much less recent but he hasn’t changes much.

    I don’t think the real villain here is men turning women into objects but rather action games turning their main characters into what sells. And what sells is the “Black Widow” (the sexy and capable woman that is just as deadly as she is hot) and the “Macho Man” (the tough guy that doesn’t take **** from anyone because he doesn’t have to).

    Rather than getting on a soap box about women’s plight as portrayed in video games perhaps you should highlight how the media as a whole provides a vision of what we as people are supposed to be that is entirely unrealistic. And it isn’t just video games either it’s all forms of media from news and reality shows to movies and video games. Then you’ll have my whole-hearted support and agreement but until then you just sound like another person trying to segregate society into the victimized and the victimizer.

    I guess what I’m saying is don’t be exclusive but rather inclusive. You’ll gain more support and prove a stronger point that will hopefully really fix the issue someday.

    • June 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      Oh, I agree that the way women are portrayed is a huge societal problem that involves all forms of media. Here I focused specifically on an article written about a specific game, because it’s a little much to tackle thousands of years and billions of images that negatively portray women every time I address one portrayal of a female character that I find problematic. There are certainly unrealistic and harmful portrayals of men out there, too, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

  8. June 2, 2010 at 1:20 am

    I just couldn’t resist chiming in on this one.. I like Bayonetta. i like the look of her, I like her over the top outfit, I like the over the top-ness of the game. Maybe if i thought the game sucked, I’d judge her more harshly, but as i played the game, even when she dropped cheesy sexy lines, I always felt like it was a little tongue-in-cheek, like she knows all about the wisecracks going to be made about her outfit and she’s joking about it too. And she does look pretty busty in some of the promotional art and such, but in game she’s kind of a tall thin small boobed woman. Which I must admit, appealed to the part of me that too clearly remembers my b’s being constantly compared to my sister’s d’s in high school. I still think that a sexy female video game character without three miles of cleavage between her flotation devices represents an expanded ideal of beauty in video games.

    I think the most offensive thing in female character design is when they are generic love interests or generic eye candy. I don’t really have a problem with them being eye candy or love interests as long as they are not generic. Bayonetta is sexy, yeah, she’s eye candy. But she’s not interchangeable, and she’s not a “pleaser” character. After having spent the game with her, my idea of the character was that she chose her look to suit her own personal tastes. Now of course all video game characters are dressed by whole studios full of people, but some female characters really give you the idea that they wore whatever someone told them would make them popular. Bayonetta’s look is also not generic- there are several things done with the look that are not staples of the “How to make a Sexy Character” books. Like she’s got glasses, but not a librarian look. And her hair is.. I don’t even know what that is, but its not typical sex-kitten hair. And her face, in close up cut screens, has a sweet look to it instead of a hard look, which may be a small detail to some people but it struck me every time.

    As far as the character being designed by a woman, I am not going to say that that certifies that no women will be offended by it. But I don’t buy the idea that Bayonetta is an affront to all women. Because I could have designed that character. I’ve always had some goth leanings, and I’ve got sketchbooks full of more ridiculous costumes than hers. I understand that a big part of your point is about the climate overall and that there aren’t many examples of diversity in female characters on say, the dressed-like-a-tom-boy or modest and nerdy end of the spectrum. But I think that “liberation” is the presence of choices and options and multiple paths. So we shouldn’t lump all sexily dressed characters in together without further consideration.

    The one thing the game industry really needs to get about women is that WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME. We don’t all like the same things. You can’t answer the “what do girls want?” question because we don’t all want the same thing. But if other people are going to understand that and judge us as individuals and not generic members of a group, we are going to have to show some openness amongst ourselves. I’m not saying everybody’s got to like Bayonetta. I’m just saying that we are not going to have freedom to be who we want to be (in game) if we try to crucify indiscriminately all things that are not what we want to be.

    This is way long. And probably alot of people are going to dislike everything I said. but I feel like I owe it to myself to stand up, and raise my hand and own up to my own opinion. I’m a girl, and I like Bayonetta. And I can take the heat for it. 😉

    (ps.. i liked it so much I reviewed it twice.. if anyone wants to see it out of morbid curiosity..
    http://www.busygamer.com/blog1/?p=6498 )

    • June 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks for your input! I’ll check out your review. And A-MEN to this: “The one thing the game industry really needs to get about women is that WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME.” I wanted to stand up and applaud after reading that paragraph.

  9. June 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I kept hearing from people that Bayonetta was a good game so I decided to check out the intro video on YouTube to see what it was about. I literally was in shock while watching it. The quantity of crotch shots and such just turned me off to the game. I just couldn’t get past the video direction. At least for the cut scenes, it is clearly a game designed for male appeal. I feel like they missed the boat on a large audience by directing solely for the appeal of half the population. If there were about half the crotch shots and such, it would come across as “yes, they’re trying to get the attention of male gamers, but man she kicks butt!”

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