Bayonetta: Female Devs and Gamers Share Their Opinion

The Bayonetta franchise is getting a lot a buzz recently because of the release of the second game. The series has been that has spurred a lot of debate among gamers for being controversial in regards to how the franchise depicts sexuality and its female characters. Many contend that the character of Bayonetta is a sexualized  male fantasy that poorly reflects on female characters in games, while others argue her sexualization and character design is empowering and purposefully over the top. Having not played the games until this current release, my opinion is purely speculative, but the good people over at Negative World have put together a great article in which they interviewed female gamers and developers to share their insight about the character and the franchise.

One specific question that gets to the heart of the debate:

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#3. 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?

Alicia Andrew: As a developer, sexualization of characters is a topic that’s come up in some great discussions. I use Bayonetta as an example of “sexy” done right. A lot of the discussion about female representation seems to get stuck at whether its appropriate for a character to be “sexy”. Some people see the discussion around the dislike for the “chain-mail bikini” as a form of censorship or a push towards characters they see as potentially boring or downright prudish. I see the discussion as more nuanced than just an issue of cleavage. In my opinion, it’s an issue of ownership.

Its complicated, but I think desperately important, that while we understand that sexuality is healthy and has a place in our media, a lot of the backlash around the proverbial “chain-mail bikini” is because often, the female character is made to be sexualized not sexy. She has little to no perceived ownership of how her body is displayed, dressed, or presented. This mindset leads to sometimes ridiculous character designs, such as Mythril Bikinis for the epic journey to the gates of hell, and breasts on alien rock creatures.

To me, Bayonetta owns her sexuality. It seems, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that the tight pants, the flirty quips, the languid posing, are all that character’s choice. Bayonetta, the character, enjoys her sexuality. She is choosing to display it in this manner, and is inviting you in on the fun. It’s wonderfully refreshing to have a character that seems in control of her sexy bits. She’s not a inanimate object with breasts heaving in the wind, but a woman flirting. To me that’s sexy done right.

To clarify, I’m not saying that we should take away titillating armor mods in Skyrim, or anything of that nature. But if you want to have a female character be more than just decoration, AND you want her sexuality to be part of that character, then creating that sense of ownership is important.

In this I think Bayonetta has done something great, and a lot of female players have responded to it. Initially I had no interest in the game, filing it into the “another game with heaving breasts” category. A friend of mine talked my ear off about how much she loved it, and why. I gave it a shot, and loved all of it. If I had the height, I’d cosplay the hell out of Bayonetta or Jeanne.

Emily Gitelman: I think the female characters in Bayonetta are presented incredibly poorly, and certainly over sexualized. They’re a male fantasy, completely. I’m going to focus on Bayonetta herself. To start with her physical appearance, Bayonetta is built like a super model, has a sexy English accent, and walks around in a skin-tight catsuit that disappears and basically gives her censor bars when she casts spells. It’s practically a reward for the player: use a powerful attack; see a naked woman. As soon as Bayonetta displays power, she is stripped of her clothing and her dignity. When her health runs too low, her catsuit also disappears. The symbolism (lip marks, flowers, butterflies) used in her attacks is very stereotypically feminine in a way that box female sexuality into a narrow category. These are calculated ways of making her seem like a Strong Female Character, but they actually undercut her agency and power as the lead character of a franchise.

It’s insulting to think that Bayonetta could be viewed as a positive, empowering character because she is plainly a sex object. When Hideki Kamiya, the director of Bayonetta, and Yusuke Hashimoto, one of the producers on the project, were making the interview rounds, they said really sexist things about women. In an interview with 1UP, Hashimoto said that Bayonetta couldn’t be over sexualized because she didn’t have large breasts (which is obviously not the only facet of over sexualization). In the same article, he said that Bayonetta isn’t “all about showing skin,” but she’s constantly on display as a sex object because of her tight outfit, posture, and husky voice.

Basically, the men in charge of how Bayonetta is portrayed have made their opinions about how women should look and dress and be visually appealing to themselves and other men make it entirely obvious that Bayonetta is treated as a sex object. Because of that, I definitely don’t find Bayonetta to be empowering. In fact, she is the opposite.

Erica Hollinshead Stead: I somewhat ventured into this question’s territory above. I don’t think that something can be “certified” non-sexist, to use a phrase I read somewhere and can’t remember where. I also don’t know if I necessarily go in for the “strong female lead” thing. Certainly, I want a world where most female characters aren’t the embodiment of weakness. But I’m not sure that “strong” makes top of my list of adjectives I want to use to describe more female characters. If I were to throw out some words that might top my list, it would likely be something like “individual”, “unique”, “complex”, “well defined”, maybe even “multi-faceted”. I feel like Bayonetta meets a few of these.

Tangent aside, after having played the game, I do not find Bayonetta’s character problematic. Its a complex set of factors that lead me to that conclusion, one being that Bayonetta has, in my opinion, unique aspects to her aside from sexuality/sexualization. Even just appearance wise, Bayonetta has a specific aesthetic aside from “sexy” – I feel as if I could choose clothing that she would like at a mall – not just any old sexy thing from Victoria’s Secret is going to be her taste; just grabbing a garment because it is revealing wouldn’t be her taste. I also think the humor and tongue-in-cheek aspect of the dialog is context that matters. Bayonetta feels very “in on the joke” if you can say that about a fictional character; it felt to me as if when she utilized sexy stylization, she was making a choice to style herself that way. Its certainly subjective, but to me, Bayonetta felt like a full character who was self-styling herself as a cavalier vampy goth badass, rather than a shell of male fantasies.

I think that its the environment that Bayonetta the game exists in that causes the perception of Bayonetta as sexist more than Bayonetta the character in the game. It is a world in which developing a full female character IS often sacrificed for sex appeal and stereotypes, and a realistic gender ratio is often traded for a single token girl that only provides a single vision of women. But I do think its important to leave room for the possibility that sexy doesn’t always equal bad. For me, many of the things cited as “bad” about Bayonetta could be charges leveled at me. If Bayonetta’s hip pop and tight outfit are bad, then how can I not be “part of the problem” if I gravitate towards tight (or god forbid revealing) clothing, and tend to stand with my hip popped, AND want to create and see characters that are similar to me in that aesthetic? I want to see more female characters who aren’t sexy in that way too, but it doesn’t mean I never want to see a character who fancies herself a pin up.

I have seen some marketing pieces for Bayonetta that I do think lack the full picture of Bayonetta’s character, and so I understand how one could see them and be concerned. Its hard to contain all of the nuance in a still image for example. But, having played the game I do not find the game itself problematic.

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It’s a great piece and one well worth reading, so please go check it out. You can also go purchase Bayonetta 2 (which includes the original) and formulate your own opinion. Controversy aside, it seems to be a thrilling game to play. As always, please share your opinions and perspective.

Part 1

Part 2

A Threat Against Sarkeesian Should Be Seen as A Threat To The Entire Gaming Community

This week Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a speech at Utah College after the school received a threat of a mass shooting if Sarkeesian was allowed to speak. The school decided to go ahead with the speech after consulting law enforcement officials, but Sarkeesian decided to cancel the speech after learning that students with a valid concealed arms permit would be allowed to openly carry concealed weapons during the presentation, as is allowed by law.

Let’s glance over the fact that the school had to legally allow people with weapons to attend the speech after threats claimed that the proposed shooting would be the “deadliest school shooting in American history” because open carry laws are  horrendously backwards and ridiculous. The treatment that Sarkeesian is receiving is the issue I wish to focus on in this post.  Of course the person making these threats against Sarkeesian doesn’t represent the gaming community nor those who disagree with Sarkeesian’s videos and opinions, but it does represent an greater issue in the community as a whole.  Sarkeesian, whose videos have focused on reoccurring themes in video games that dehumanize and trivialize women, is an academic, proponent, and a member of the video game community. Threats, violence, and dismissal are no ways to respond to those with opinions and perspectives that we don’t share. The amount of backlash and vile given from people in the gaming community towards Sarkeesian and other video game academics who seek to challenge the norm has been absolutely unsettling and unwarranted.  Death threats aside, we as a gaming community should not stand for name calling, dismissals of opinions without proper argument, or anything of the sort. We need to show to the community and the world that these types of threats and acts are NOT OKAY. A great portion of the world still sees the gaming community as one that is  uneducated, and childish; we need to show them that we are not.. We need to stand up for those who are attacked, regardless of if we agree with their perspective or not. An attack on Sarkeesian should be seen as an attack on the gaming community. If free speech and the conversing on differing ideas and perspectives can’t be allowed in our community then we all suffer. The gaming community needs to come together on this issue or face losing the blossoming diversity we have cultivated in recent years.

Sarkeesian’s Website

University Recognizes Video Games as a Varsity Sports

Robert Morris University has become the first University to recognize  competitive video games as a varsity sports. Does this mean we’ll soon see stadiums full of crowds cheering on a game of “Blades of Steel”?

FINISH HIM!

Probably not. Robert Morris University, a non-profit university in Chicago, is offering a scholarship under their athletic division for competitive “League of Legends” players. The scholarship, which cover roughly half the cost of tuition and board, is being offered to potential students.  The team will play other competitive teams from around the country in hopes of making it to the North American Collegiate Championship, where participants can earn up to 30,000 in scholarships. This isn’t the first team we’ve seen come out of a University, as many big name university have teams, but it’s the first time we’re seeing scholarship money and athletic recognition given to a competitive gaming team. While the scholarship is currently only for competitive League of Legends players, it’s not unreasonable that one day we’ll see that expanded out to other games and genres. Although don’t hold your breath, competitive “Diddy Kong Racing” players.

The competitive gaming scene has been widely developing in the past years, and it’s no longer just introverted gamers watching on Twitch at home. Competitive gaming even has its own structured league with  Major League Gaming (MLG). Competitive video game sports athletes have made entire living off their game playing, including by getting sponsorships from companies. It’s big stuff, and if this recognition of gaming as an athletic sport is any indication of the scene’s trajectory it’s likely to keep on growing. Of course the scene also has its naysayers, including ESPN’s president John Skipper who said video games weren’t a sport.

It’s a competition, right? I mean, chess is a competition, and checkers is a competition. … I’m mostly interested in doing real sports.

Thanks for your insight, Skipper!

He went onto say that he didn’t think a hoagie was a sandwich, frozen yogurt isn’t ice cream, and margarine isn’t butter.

Who knows where we’ll see competitive gaming go from here. Unlike traditional sports, it’s not a singular activity; with so many types of games out there that range in how you play who knows how video games will fall into the ranks of competitive gaming. Nevertheless,  video games are developing as a social activity in new ways and becoming a bigger part of our society.

New Study Suggests Violent Video Game Releases Coincide with Low Crime Rates

Quick one today folks! Another week, another article claiming that violent video games have X effect on society. There seems to be a pendulum with these types of studies; one article will claim to have found a link between violent video games and violence and the following week another new study will claim that there is no effect. This study is..a little different.

Coming out of Villanova, a psychology researcher and professor claims that violent video games actually lessen the amount of violent crimes during launch periods of bigger violent video games (Halo, GTA, etc). Are the villains of the world really too busy ranking up gamerscores to go and commit crimes? That’s pretty much what it sounds like the piece is claiming. Essentially, violent crime offenders are among the target audience who plays violent video games and when a new title comes out the amount of violent crimes seems to decrease.

There can be other explanations as to why this is occurring that we can ponder off the top of our heads. Big titles like GTA and Halo typically come out at towards the end of the year, as that’s many company’s biggest earning season. Certainly something else may be going on during these times that have little to do with video games (More people are in their houses earlier in the night, police enforcement is typically more alert for crimes during holiday seasons, etc). The article itself tries to think through what potential reasons could be effecting this outcome, so it’s certainly not a definitive statement on the researcher’s part.

The research goes onto claim that people with specific personality types playing violent video games are more likely to increase their aggression, but that people without those personality types will not be effected These are claims that were based on research that was conducted years ago by the same researcher. These proposed claims seem almost obvious; if you claim yourself to be an “angry person” then you committing a violent crime is more likely, regardless of if you play video games or not.

Which of Pixar characters are most likely to commit a violent crime after playing Halo?

I wish I could go more into the article, but unfortunately I’m not able to get the entire piece because I’m a poor individual, but you can certainly purchase the entire research paper here!