Here’s a video game female character that won’t fall under the usual typecast
Sometimes, it feels like women in video games might as well be oil and water. No matter how much you stir and stir, you’ll always see them ever-so-slightly separate. If it’s done right, it doesn’t sell; and there’s seemingly no consequences if it’s not.
Recently, a game with a female lead has been gaining a lot of attention, for all the wrong reasons. Bayonetta 2, the highly-anticipated sequel to the action game Bayonetta, stars the titular witch Bayonetta as she fights off demons and angels alike to save her fellow witch comrade Jeanne from the depths of hell. We have a female protagonist literally fighting heaven and hell, and kicking ass while doing it. So, what’s the problem?
Bayonetta is—to put it mildly—a sexual character.
Her clothes are tight. She licks her lips. The items that give her boosts are lollipops. And perhaps most damning is that Bayonetta’s power comes from her hair, and all of her powers are centred around it, including her clothing. The more powerful the attacks, the less clothes Bayonetta will have.
And as I write it, I realize that to an outside observer Bayonetta probably seems like a disgusting male fantasy. Let me tell you why you’re wrong.
First of all, let’s look at the problem with women and video games: sexuality is often forced upon the characters. We have characters that are clearly not outwardly sexual in their actions—warriors and princesses, average women and superheroes—who are boiled down to nothing but their sexuality. Chainmail bikinis are standard, and often women are introduced with a long shot on their chest or their behinds. Even their pain is sexualized: when they are hurt they don’t scream, they moan—sensually. I’ve seen more than one game where a woman is hurt or in a fight, and comes out of it with far less clothing than they went in with.
Contrast that to Bayonetta. Bayonetta doesn’t have anything thrust upon her; she owns her sexuality, and she chooses to show it off. The game very rarely resorts to unsavoury camera shots, and when it does, you can tell Bayonetta is almost aware of it, usually with a small smile or a wink in the direction of the viewer. For perhaps the first time, a female character has been made sexual without being a sexual object.
In any other game, even if there was a sexual character, she would not be the hero. Bayonetta even has a stubbled, white male adventurer character named Luka—and they make fun of him constantly. He’s shown to be a dork living out the male fantasy, more than once swooping in to “save” Bayonetta, only to fall flat on his face. Bayonetta, simply put, is never in a position where she is to be saved.
Bayonetta owns her sexuality, and even better, she has weaponized it. She’s placed guns on her high heels, and when Bayonetta loses her clothing—which is never a focus, through the camera or otherwise—you know you’re about to be in for a world of pain. She actively fights men who represent heavenly ideals (known as Lumen Sages). As if this weren’t enough, there’s plenty of evidence that Bayonetta lies somewhere on the queer spectrum, especially where Jeanne is concerned—and did I mention that two people of colour are her comrades-in-arms in Bayonetta 2? Or that the character was designed by a queer woman? The entire game is a subversion of the traditional video game dynamic of the male power fantasy.
I am firmly of the opinion that if there were more female protagonists, Bayonetta wouldn’t be a problem. It’s admittedly unfortunate that one of the first popular female protagonists is sexual, but this does not make Bayonetta sexist. If you want strong female protagonists that don’t need to be sexy to kick ass, then support games like Beyond Good and Evil, Remember Me, Mirror’s Edge and Hyrule Warriors (which, out of a playable cast of 16 characters, has a female majority of nine women).
If you want more women in video games, great! But that responsibility doesn’t lie with Bayonetta’s creators: it’s on you, and your wallet. You need to put your money where your mouth is.