"Bayonetta Doesn’t Care If She’s Not Your Kink"
November 2, 2014 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Ultimately, I just don’t care what straight men think of Bayonetta. If she’s not your kink, that’s fine. Not everybody likes to be stepped on. But to dismiss her entire game as a product of “male gaze” seems like an unkind oversimplification as to who might be doing the “gazing”—let alone the identifying—and perhaps evidence that gaming desperately needs a new phrase to describe the complex interlocking of factors that occur when players identify with a character. We don’t just get invited to watch Bayonetta, we also inhabit her. When I play, Bayonetta is me, and the camera’s glances are just the “sub gaze”—the male submissive’s gaze. Bayonetta holds all the cards.
Maddy Myers on why a game like Bayonetta is about more than just the male gaze and the problematic nature of using this term in videogaming in general.
posted by MartinWisse (78 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pretty sure Cara Ellison tweeted a bit in this direction recently, but I haven't turned up anything from a quick search. Thanks for this; I'll take a bit of time to digest and come back.
posted by ominous_paws at 5:31 AM on November 2, 2014


There was a recent Jimquisition on a similar subject, which asserts (rightly, to me) that the difference between Bayonetta and other omg-boob-physics video game characters, is that she has agency - she chooses to enjoy being sexy, and having sexuality, as opposed to existing purely as a cheap appeal to a demographic.

The difference mostly being a matter of creepiness.
posted by jaymzjulian at 5:35 AM on November 2, 2014


This was an interesting piece, especially for me as a non-gamer.

I’ve become desensitized to such imagery in part because the ability to play as a woman—especially one with a dominatrix penchant—often overrides any reservations I might have about how the camera feels towards her. Regardless of how I may feel about Ivy’s ever-growing cup size and her ever-shrinking outfits, I feel some sense of kinship with her.

People so intensely want those points of identification, but most of the time it seems that they have to construct them out of such problematic source material. It means being forced to do exactly what the author describes, taking the parts you need and deliberately putting out of mind the other stuff, in order to craft the connection.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:47 AM on November 2, 2014 [16 favorites]


This is a really interesting subject! Both the article and, suprisingly, some if its comments are really interesting - I particularly like the first comment which serves as a neatly couched counterpoint to some of the arguments in the main article. It includes the following:

This is a hard subject to distill, and I understand your frustration. I respect your right to be empowered by Bayonetta, it's hard to find anything like that in games, so imperfect has to do. Just please understand the women who are criticizing it aren't ignorant or prudes. We're mostly just tired.

Well worth reading at least a few of the comments. A few.

Some other interesting articles about Bayonetta are here and here.
posted by BigYesh 2 at 5:47 AM on November 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


That was a really interesting article and I'm going to be digesting it for a while... even the first comment was interesting and gave food for thought:
As a queer woman I don't agree with most of this - and that's fine! I can see where you're coming from and respect your perspective, even though I've come to a different one.

But I wanted to note one place in particular part of the article where I stopped feeling like we were two feminists having an ideological difference. When you said "That said, if you think the “male gaze-y” shots of Bayonetta’s butt are bad, perhaps you haven’t played a fighting game in a while?" I couldn't help but think "yes, I have, and they make me feel just as small and unimportant." You've written an article for people who play video games, and to suddenly be treated as if my criticism of Bayonetta means I can't see the immense problems in other games is condescending and hurtful in an otherwise pretty evenly handled article. I'm not clutching my pearls like some kind of schoolmarm - I'm upset by portrayals I find sexist.

This is a hard subject to distill, and I understand your frustration. I respect your right to be empowered by Bayonetta, it's hard to find anything like that in games, so imperfect has to do. Just please understand the women who are criticizing it aren't ignorant or prudes. We're mostly just tired.
See, even feminists can disagree, and can do so respectfully! Of course, a dude shows up in the next comment to tell the queer woman that her problem is that she doesn't find women sexy enough, and it devolves from there, but... a lot of the comments outside of that thread actually seem pretty thoughtful, so far. That's a nice change from the norm lately.
posted by palomar at 5:47 AM on November 2, 2014 [22 favorites]


Sometimes a Bayonetta is just a Bayonetta.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:50 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


ahem: "But not all men..."
She actually used that right off the bat?
--------

More seriously, though - I have seen a few different feminist writers have complex feelings about Bayonetta as a character, and appreciating discussing such differences between her and typical "eye candy". It might have even been one of the main targets of gamergate, but I can't remember for sure.

What does this say about Ivy from Soul Calibur? I haven't played Bayonetta, but I always had a feeling of strength from Ivy as one who relished her power as a sort of "dom" type.

I still think she (Ivy) can be problematic, but I do think it's both more offensive (more skin shown than any of the other characters) but also less offensive (because of her embrace of power). I would imagine in a game like Bayonetta that's more narratively driven, that this embrace could be more explicit, open and liberating. Off to read more of the article.
posted by symbioid at 5:55 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm definitely in agreement with the idea that female sexuality combined with agency can be incredibly empowering, but the essay's rather casual dismissal of the idea that the male gaze is a thing that exists and is problematic requires ignoring an awful lot of evidence.
posted by kyrademon at 5:56 AM on November 2, 2014 [41 favorites]


This is the sort of game where if you don't dodge a certain attack correctly, Bayonetta gets raped in a little comedy scene (trigger warning).

It's not defensible.
posted by painquale at 5:56 AM on November 2, 2014 [33 favorites]


Eh. I think it's far more defensible to hold the position that its okay to sometimes like problematically depicted things than it is to try to hold that Bayonetta isn't problematic. Most of us do like some problematic things, whether they be books or movies or various TV shows. I can really, really dig the first season of True Detective without having to claim that it wasn't totally dude-centric (even if they were doing interesting things in the background with women.)

Similarly, it's okay to like Bayonetta without having to put forward the idea that no, really, it's not chock full of problematic imagery.
posted by Justinian at 6:02 AM on November 2, 2014 [23 favorites]


Similarly, it's okay to like Bayonetta without having to put forward the idea that no, really, it's not chock full of problematic imagery.

The linked essay doesn't argue that it's OK to like problematic things. It argues that the imagery itself is not problematic and that the game is sex-positive.

But lines in the essay like this one are just false: "the story doesn’t attempt to humiliate Bayonetta. She never gets tied up or restrained; she never gets “put in her place”; she never gets smacked around by a Big Bad Man in an inexplicable cut-scene."
posted by painquale at 6:22 AM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yyyyyyeah, I mean, sure, not going to argue with the ability of an individual person to enjoy Bayonetta for these reasons, but you really have to dig in and put your blinders on to find that perspective in the game, which pretty clearly expects the audience to be leering at her. ("Who is Bayonetta posing for?" is not exactly a hard question here, for all that it's presented as objectively so.)

So we come back to Anita Sarkeesian's point, that it's okay to like problematic things, but pretending that they aren't problematic while doing so isn't super helpful. I appreciate the author's perspective and am pleased that they found something empowering for them here (and am even slightly more favorably disposed toward Bayonetta as a result), but arguing that the existence of sex-positive feminism or dominant women in the real world negates the issues with Bayonetta as a piece of entertainment and that anyone who objects is "pearl-clutching" feels silly to me.

I mean, it IS interesting that Bayonetta is constantly sexualized by her own performance and by the camera's lingering, but that the player is also performing AS Bayonetta while (presumably) enjoying her sexuality, but I think it's a lot more plausible to read that as "the makers of this game fetishize dominant women, and you play as one because that's how video games work by default, since playing as a passive/submissive avatar would be difficult to manage" rather than "this game is crypto-femme-dom-positive."

(And then that bit about "Haven't you ever played a fighting game?" just seems downright willfully obtuse. Are we really denying that Bayonetta is assuming an exploitative straight male perspective by pointing out that other games also inexplicably focus the camera on their "strong" female characters' butts, boobs, and crotches? This borders on a "boys will be boys, what can you do?" argument.)
posted by Scattercat at 6:24 AM on November 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


1. Sex positivity does not mean that "sex/sexy always = good".

2. "Hot women turn on lesbians also" is a classic misogynist rebuttal to the idea of the male gaze and it's no more reasonable coming from a woman, particularly given that Bayonetta was specifically designed to appeal to her creators' fetishes.

3. Bayonetta does not choose to be sexy. She is a fictional character who cannot make choices. She is not a person defining her sexuality. Bayonetta's sexuality was defined by men for the pleasure of men.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:31 AM on November 2, 2014 [56 favorites]


I'm a little confused about the use of 'agency' around Bayonetta-- after all, she is a character, and has no agency in how she was designed. She is not a real woman able to make the choice to be sex-positive or feminist or sexy or even choose what clothes she wears.

I think the idea of "male gaze" having to be redefined/re-looked at in the contest of games is interesting, given the interactivity of gaming and larger number of 'creators', but dismissing it out of hand seems absurd given... just about any AAA title featuring an attractive female character. Male gaze isn't suddenly not a thing in film because there are female directors and female consumers.
posted by sonmi at 6:45 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Secretgamergirl takes a similar line on The Sexual Psychology of Bayonetta.

(I think this might have been linked to by Cara Ellison in a recent RPS article.)
posted by pharm at 6:58 AM on November 2, 2014


A good part of that though is about the character’s sexual nature, and I’ve seen a lot of the sentiment that it’s really not a topic you should really weigh in on too loudly if you aren’t a woman. I agree with that…

...

Bayonetta doesn’t really work as an object to be lusted after.


Again, we're still talking about a character who was specifically designed by two men to be sexually appealing to them. She was created by men to be lusted after by men. No amount of ignoring that fact is going to make her a feminist icon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:02 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um, Mari Shimazaki is a woman.
posted by zompist at 7:07 AM on November 2, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yay, more feminist critique of video games! This kind of article is all I want out of the whole horrible GamerGate fiasco. More thoughtful writing about video games, specifically about the gender issues they raise. Yay! I don't know enough about Bayonetta to agree or disagree with her argument here, but it is interesting.

I do this kind of subversion all the time playing video games as a gay guy. Very few games have content specifically catered to me, so I just invent my own stories that appeal to me more. Good games leave more room for the player's imagination.
posted by Nelson at 7:08 AM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


about a character who was specifically designed by two men

to be sexually appealing to them.

The second of these things does not necessarily follow the first, and this is addressed in the article. Not necessarily saying you're wrong but it's worth engaging with it, at least.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:09 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a story of the development of Tomb Raider that they basically slid the boob size slider all the way up on accident one day, looked at the result and decided it would make them millionaires.
posted by Artw at 7:17 AM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


The linked essay doesn't argue that it's OK to like problematic things. It argues that the imagery itself is not problematic and that the game is sex-positive.

Yeah, I was disagreeing with the essay not agreeing with it.
posted by Justinian at 7:33 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


In other news, Dom porn is not porn.
posted by benzenedream at 7:42 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


sonmi: "I'm a little confused about the use of 'agency' around Bayonetta-- after all, she is a character, and has no agency in how she was designed."

Maybe think of it as Doylist and Watsonian agency. I believe that Watsonian agency is still worth discussing. During a discussion about a Sarkeesian video, someone said it was silly for her to criticize a female character's lack of agency because none of the characters had any agency, they were just computer code, which is what solidified this distinction for me.
posted by RobotHero at 7:50 AM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


There's certainly many ways to experience a piece of art -- the entirety of The Celluloid Closet demonstrated that it is possible to reread films ostensibly made by straight men for straight men and find gay themes and characters (sometimes deliberately coded into the film; sometimes not.) And criticism of the male gaze does focus on the idea that it's something that forces women into the point of view of a heterosexual man, which ignores the varieties of interpretive possibilities of an audience member, forcing them to passively take whatever role the filmmakers ascribe them.

But I haven't read any criticism that says the male gaze doesn't exist, or that it has stopped being a problem for many other reasons. I think it is hard to deny that a lot of films are lensed with the assumption that the audience is straight and male, and filmed to satisfy the presumed needs of this audience. And even if this can be interpreted differently, it's still shitty, still limiting, and still worth pointing out.
posted by maxsparber at 7:53 AM on November 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


I thought that Hiroshi Shibata was Bayonetta's designer. Isn't Mari Shimazaki a staff artist for Platinum?
posted by boo_radley at 7:58 AM on November 2, 2014


During a discussion about a Sarkeesian video, someone said it was silly for her to criticize a female character's lack of agency because none of the characters had any agency, they were just computer code, which is what solidified this distinction for me.

In fiction - computer code or otherwise - you can choose to depict characters who have agency, or characters who do not. A discussion about fictional characters' agency is just shorthand for a discussion of the author's/coder's choice of what kind of characters to depict.

Choosing to focus on the shorthand seems to often be a handy derail for people who don't want to talk about the actual point.

(In retrospect, if I've just defined Watsonian agency vs Doylist agency, my bad for the derail. In that case, I agree with you, carry on, nothing to see here.)
posted by ProxybyMunchausen at 8:09 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


> "I'm a little confused about the use of 'agency' around Bayonetta-- after all, she is a character, and has no agency in how she was designed."

Agency in reference to fictional or game characters refers not to their "making their own decisions", which is of course impossible, but to how decision making (or the lack thereof) is simulated.

So, for example, a character who spends the entirety of a book, movie, or game a prisoner in a cell, who is then rescued by someone else, without having appeared to contribute anything useful to the endeavor, is referred to as "lacking agency".

A character who appears to be taking charge, taking action, making decisions, being in control, etc., is referred to as "having agency".

Obviously, neither character actually has any "real" agency in the sense that actual people do, as their actions and options are entirely under the control of their creator, designer, and/or in a more limited sense their player. But how characters are designed or written reflects how their authors/designers view the world and influences how their readers/players do. So when a huge number of female characters are designed in such a way that they appear to lack agency, it is highly problematic.
posted by kyrademon at 8:13 AM on November 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


Mari Shimazaki very much designed Bayonetta. She talks about the whole process on Platinum's blog and an interview from the original Bayonetta days.

I'm not sure what to think. My wife talks to me about it and she gets to look at it from a different perspective to me. A lot of the stylistic choices (i.e. the hair being the source of the power and the varying stages of provocativeness) you don't really get to notice when you're in the thick of it because, god dammit, it's a Platinum game. If you have time to be staring at Bayonetta instead of the guy about to come in and kick your ass and perfectly timing your dodge for Witch Time you're not going to get very far in the game at all. Obviously the cameraman is a giant perv but the character just oozes confidence from every pore in the cut scenes. When she's out shopping for presents in the opening scene it's pretty clear that Enzo is the token stooge. Enzo is the straight white guy damsel in distress. Bayonetta, Jeanne and Rodin are all kicking ass and taking names. The women and minorities are the heroes saving the helpless white guy! How often do you see that in a game?

Ultimately it's a difficult subject because it is a majority men dominated industry and Kamiya ultimately gets to decide what goes into the game. But I think that ultimately, like most things, it comes down to how you treat the woman rather than how she's dressed. Just like if you met a girl dressed up in a sexy halloween costume, she might be dressed to attract the male gaze because she's looking to score, she might be dressed that way because she feels empowered doing it, she might be dressed that way simply because it makes her feel good. Her motives are not to be questioned, you don't treat her like an object and you respect her for the person she is. So I apply the same thing, I try to respect the character for being this confident, kick ass woman rather than a passive object.
posted by Talez at 8:14 AM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


painquale: This is the sort of game where if you don't dodge a certain attack correctly, Bayonetta gets raped in a little comedy scene (trigger warning).

It's not defensible.


Holy SHIT, painquale! That's an understatement!

The audience's take on a piece of art (whether it's a 3yo's "Daddy", a piece of shit, or Rembrandt's "Night Watch") is not controlled by the artist, nor entirely defined by anyone else's view, but... that's a pretty clear indication of the intent of the game designers. Who are pieces of shit (at least, those involved with or with the authority to control that scene).
posted by IAmBroom at 8:19 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I found this essay to be way too dismissive of male gaze, which is more a tool for analysis than it is a cinematic technique.

However, I think there are hints of a conversation about how the player's relationship to Bayonetta affects the way they view how she is represented. Generally in games with a specific playable character, the player is either playing "as" the character, or playing "with" the character. With first-person perspective games, the player is almost always intended to be playing "as," but with third-person perspective games, developers rarely do anything to enforce one perspective over another.

(An example of a developer forcing the "with" perspective is Deadly Premonition, where the Dale Cooper-like FBI Agent hero talks to a voice in his head named Zach, who is, of course, the player. The player is playing "as" Zach, telling the agent what to do.)

People who talk about feeling empowered by Bayonetta's embrace of her body/sexuality seem to talk about her like they play her with an "as" relationship, while those who respond negatively describe a "with" relationship. The causal relationship could be going the other way, of course: getting turned off by the portrayal of the character "takes you out of them." But I could also see a player who normally takes on an "as" relationship to playable characters to empathetically mirror Bayonetta's performed enjoyment of and confidence with her body/sexuality.

As a side note, I think any discussion of the creation of Bayonetta that does not also talk about the portrayal of women/feminism in Japan is only going to be able to go so far.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 8:24 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


> "I think the idea of 'male gaze' having to be redefined/re-looked at in the contest of games is interesting, given the interactivity of gaming and larger number of 'creators' ..."

Very possibly to some extent, but I think the essay very much overstates both the effect and its importance. We already identify with characters in books and films (it's actually one of the reasons constant use of the male gaze is a problem.) And the interactivity of gaming can heighten this effect. But I really, REALLY, don't think anyone is going, "I am looking at this character's butt ... but I am playing this character! So I am admiring my own butt! HOW CAN IT BE?!!!"

The way people "identify" with characters has never been that direct and simplistic, so it is entirely possible to sexually objectify a character that you "are". It happens all the time, in a variety of media, and it's generally seen as more likely to reinforce ideas about objectification than cause a sudden enlightenment.
posted by kyrademon at 8:35 AM on November 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Did the author of this piece really believe that, when people use the term "male gaze," they always mean it's a good thing? Because that was how she seemed to be explaining it. She can say it was "debunked" by feminist theorists decades ago, but that's like saying nobody should ever use the term "patriarchy" because feminists have written a lot about how bad patriarchy is.
posted by koeselitz at 8:51 AM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


When it comes to Bayonetta, I've had to bite my tongue a lot when talking to the various people I encounter. It's difficult because the truth is this, some extremely intelligent and definitely feminist women and men have made arguments in support of Bayonetta's sexuality, and that is their right just as it is any individual's right to find empowerment in Bayonetta rather than misogyny. And more power to them! At the end of the day you have to let people find that empowerment wherever they happen to and respect their right to do so.

But booooooy do I disagree with them. And it boils down to this quote from the linked article:
However, whenever developers include cheesecake in games while also allowing the player to inhabit the body of a woman, unintentional subversions often occur, no matter what the creators’ “intentions” may have been.
... In a world where we have things like GamerGate, I find this to be... more than a little rose tinted. Because ignoring the intentions of the developer in this case is simultaneously absolving them of contributing to a culture that already objectifies women more than almost any other. And I say this as someone who works in the game industry, proudly, and has been a gamer his whole life. My industry, and pastime, is fraught with sexism, misogyny and objectification more than any other I can immediately think of. And it's resulted in things like GamerGate, where male gamers are so catered to in every product they consume that they find even the THOUGHT of respecting female developers, critics and fans so repulsive that they literally harass these people out of their homes.

How, in a culture like this, can we just ignore the intentions of the developer - and the actual product, mind you - in order to talk about what an empowering icon Bayonetta is. I mean, we're talking about someone whose powers disrobe her, who sucks on lollipops suggestively, whose moves are largely composed of sexy splits and sticking her ass out, and who imbues nearly everything she says with sexual innuendo. None of these things are, like against the rules for a feminist to like, but it's... literally everything about her is sexualized for no reason BUT fan service.

For myself, and only for myself, I can't do it. I can't say "no no no, this is EMPOWERING, because see she's confident and you get to BEEEEEE HEEERRRRRRR." because, god damn it, this IS the kind of shit that has raised a culture of violent misogynists who dox and threaten women. It just fucking is. And they don't get a pass from me, because games like this are the problem.

I think where I diverge from people like the author, though, is stems from a fundamental agreement, and that's important to note: is that for once there's a female character in a game that women want to be, sexuality and all, and that other marginalized groups like kinksters and LGBTQ find something to admire. Flawed as I may think she is, the fuckers who made her have (accidentally or not) made a sexual video game that appeals to people who literally almost never get to have someone that appeals to them to play as.

So they're saying "let us have this one." And that's why I ultimately have to take the stance that if they like her, if they find her empowering, that it's for a reason. A good reason, and that they're not, like, blinded to the problems. They just need this one because god damn it, they normally don't even get a competent powerful woman to admire at all. So ok. I stop fighting about it.

but fucking seriously, this game is sexist as hell.
[rant off]
posted by shmegegge at 8:56 AM on November 2, 2014 [39 favorites]


Re: Male Gaze.

Last month I went to Geek Girl Con in Seattle, which is about as inclusive and warm a place for all things geeky--including and almost especially video games--as you could ask for. Wonderful event all around. This year they had a panel on "sex scenes and the female gaze" (I can't remember the specific title), which was mostly geared toward writing sex scenes in prose but naturally all media was included.

I'm a writer. I'm a straight male who cares a lot about inclusion. Some of my stuff is fun, smutty urban fantasy. ("like Anita Blake with all the genders reversed, except the relationships are healthy," according to one review.) I went to the panel with my girlfriend, hoping to hear some enlightening advice or perspective.

The panel was made up of three women. There were supposed to be five people, one of whom was a man, but I guess they didn't all make it. At any rate, they kicked off by reading an example of "male gaze," which was a Letter to Penthouse entry that was...decidedly, hilariously not erotic at all. Just bad on every level. Lots of laughs, but really only worked as an example of bad writing. And while that was amusing, it kind of kicked off a tone that was not very inclusive or sex-positive at all.

Most troubling, the panelists didn't really define what they meant by "male gaze" until the Q & A phase at the end, when my girlfriend and a couple of other people pressed them on that point. Even then, the explanations weren't clear or well thought-out. But all throughout the panel, what concerned me most were the implicit messages that all men want the same things: big boobs and submissive women, just a chance to get off, no concern for a partner's pleasure, and the chance to move on to the next score. Also, the panel carried the strong implication that men just can't write erotica that will appeal to women. Nobody said it, but it was very clear in the examples given.

I walked away pretty disappointed. So did my girlfriend, who I found saw many of the same problems I did. We expected something much more inclusive and sex-positive. GGC is a fantastic event, and I don't want anyone to think that this one panel was remotely definitive--in fact, it was pretty jarring because it ran counter to the vibe of the whole show. That lack of definition of "male gaze" vs "female gaze" set the tone for the discussion, and it also devalued the fact that there's an audience for pretty much everything--even that hilariously awful Letter to Penthouse.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:00 AM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Having played the entire first game and started the second game, I think the article pinpoints why I decided Bayonetta, as a character, was alright with me:

The reason this distinction doesn’t matter to me, though, is because the story doesn’t attempt to humiliate Bayonetta. She never gets tied up or restrained; she never gets “put in her place”; she never gets smacked around by a Big Bad Man in an inexplicable cut-scene. Her dominance goes unquestioned throughout the game, which in and of itself is so unexpected and refreshing that I can forgive the fact that the camera assumes I’m very interested in her butt crack.

With all the questions about what kinds of sexuality are acceptable and what kinds aren't, or whether it's okay that it's in part driven by male desire (or, on the other hand, abhorrent to other male desires, as per comments that her proportions are weird/she's scary etc.), eventually I decided that what set Bayonetta apart is that while she is obviously sexual, no one ever uses that sexuality as a weapon against her. Her sexuality is a strength, not a vulnerability, and this even holds true if you include the audience's reaction to the character. The only way this is not true is in the way many people obliterate a woman's identity by focusing on her attractiveness or sexual appeal, but arguably this isn't a phenomenon limited to Bayonetta.

But.

This is the sort of game where if you don't dodge a certain attack correctly, Bayonetta gets raped in a little comedy scene (trigger warning).

I don't really have a good answer for that video and it would seem to directly contradict everything I and Myers said above. So, as with so many video games, I come to an impasse: do I acknowledge the contradiction but press on, saying that Bayonetta is still a pretty good character despite this problematic scene? Do I throw out the whole character because this flaw is one flaw too many, exceeding some internal outrage standard? Do I decide that ultimately I don't really care that much? But then on the other hand am I legitimizing a depiction of sexual assault because I don't want to think too hard about video games? Clearly, all this is still a work in progress.

One thing I will say, though: I'd heard Myers had decided she would no longer cover games due to harassment from GamerGate. I don't know if this was just an untrue rumour, or if she changed her mind, or what, but I'm glad she stuck around (even if only for this one piece).

Did the author of this piece really believe that, when people use the term "male gaze," they always mean it's a good thing? Because that was how she seemed to be explaining it. She can say it was "debunked" by feminist theorists decades ago, but that's like saying nobody should ever use the term "patriarchy" because feminists have written a lot about how bad patriarchy is.

I think her intent was to say that "male gaze" is itself an oversimplification. Originally it was used to talk about how male authorial intent informs everything about a work, but that a) implies "male authorial intent" is some monolithic thing, that all men somehow agree with each other about the depiction of women, even if said men are gay/bisexual/trans/etc. and b) minimalizes the recontextualization of a work through other perspectives. So for example, counter-readings of Rock Hudson movies to make his homosexuality explicit, even though all his movies have his characters as canonically heterosexual, might be ignored or dismissed in an analytic context that favours "male gaze" readings.

You could think of it more generally as an argument between those who think authorial intent is most important, and those who think reader response is most important—when deciding on the cultural significance of a work, is the author or the audience supreme? I wouldn't say that the concept of the male gaze is obsolete like Myers is suggesting, but I think the argument that the phrase is necessarily reductive is valid.
posted by chrominance at 9:23 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


One can also place a male gaze based critique on the other side of the death-of-the-author debate, where a feminist work made from a female point of view can become problematic as used and reframed in a male oriented culture.
posted by idiopath at 9:56 AM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Originally it was used to talk about how male authorial intent informs everything about a work...I wouldn't say that the concept of the male gaze is obsolete like Myers is suggesting, but I think the argument that the phrase is necessarily reductive is valid.

I think this is, itself, an assertion that relies on the same reductive and inaccurate account of the term 'male gaze' employed by Myers.

Laura Mulvey's originating use of the term (pdf) is clearly not bound to a fallacious intentionality:
Playing on the tension between film as controlling the dimension of time (editing, narrative) and film as controlling the dimension of space (changes in distance, editing), cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire. It is these cinematic codes and their relationship to formative external structures that must be broken down before mainstream film and the pleasure it provides can be challenged.

- 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', 1975
Myers' account of 'male gaze' is something of a straw man, and it rather weakens the essay, I think.
posted by howfar at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


we're still talking about a character who was specifically designed by two men
this is not true.

to be sexually appealing to them.
This is true (for certain meanings of "sexually appealing" and "them")
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:08 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hey I'm just glad the WiiU has a killer app that is exclusive. Game has been garnering 9.5's and 10's from major gaming sites who usually take big poops on the Big N. Bayonetta 1 was an absurdly fun and challenging action game and between Bayonetta 2 and the coming Zelda, etc.. it may be time to bite the bullet and come back to the Nintendo fold.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:27 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I find myself wondering if there is any commonality between whether people are pro- or anti- Bayonetta and pro- or anti- burlesque. Playing the original game felt very similar to being onstage showing off my body, on my own terms; there is a very complicated dynamic of self-control, confidence, and exposed skin going on in both cases. "Look at this hot body; you'll never have it unless I let you" is a thread that runs through a lot of burlesque performance, and I felt that Bayonetta's combination of sexy costumes and ass-kickery had a similar message when I played the game.

I can't speak to how this may have changed in Bayonetta 2 as I don't have a Wii U.
posted by egypturnash at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


It seems to me like there is some confusion here about agency of the artist, agency of the art and agency of the audience. We all make up the whole equation. That the artist and the art are kinky and sex positive is cool. But that the audience is still going to use it as jerk-off material is not as cool.

And little jokes about rape are also not cool. This is where rape culture comes from - we don't take responsibility for our own agency as the audience. We claim that the game runs us (as if we had no self control) or we say that the gamers who do have no self control are not our problem.

The world is big and wide and we make of it society. And our society is our problem. As long as we don't fix it, we will always be broken and disconnected in this way.
posted by kalessin at 10:49 AM on November 2, 2014


But that the audience is still going to use it as jerk-off material is not as cool.

Is the audience doing this, though? Seems like people are using it to play a game
posted by misha at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


And it's okay if people do use it for jerk off material too, don't get me wrong, but if it is consumed in a way that reinforces that all women are or should be like Bayonetta, then there's a problem.
posted by kalessin at 10:53 AM on November 2, 2014


I think whether folks use Bayonetta 2 for porn is unknowable unless we ask some folks. And they choose to share. There are hits when one does various relevant Google searches, though.
posted by kalessin at 10:56 AM on November 2, 2014


I think whether folks use Bayonetta 2 for porn is unknowable unless we ask some folks. And they choose to share. There are hits when one does various relevant Google searches, though.

Oh come on. By rule 34 that would mean everything is sexist.
posted by Talez at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure we don't have to wonder too hard about whether dudes are getting off to a hot video game character wearing a sexy skin tight outfit. It's a mystery all right.
posted by Justinian at 11:33 AM on November 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


I think the rape culture makes sure that everything is sexist.
posted by kalessin at 12:06 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would just prefer that we get more characters like Jade, Faith, Heather, or April Ryan. Samus would have been in that list until they did this to her. I think it's sad that, in order to find someone to identify with in a video game, women and girls are grasping at straws trying to make characters who are essentially fetish dolls "powerful." It eventually got to the point that I was embarrassed to be seen playing console games, for the most part. How do you defend Tira, Taki, Dizzy, Ashe, Rachel, or any of the dozens (hundreds?) of other female characters who exist only to titillate? It's pathetic.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Based on your examples, it seems like "is it made in Japan?" is an okay heuristic.
posted by squinty at 1:22 PM on November 2, 2014


Samus would have been in that list until they did this to her.

1986?
posted by EmGeeJay at 1:27 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


One thing I will say, though: I'd heard Myers had decided she would no longer cover games due to harassment from GamerGate.

No. She's talked about how sad she is to see other women, often her friends and acquaintances, leave the industry, but she's actually in a really solid place with her platform (at Paste Magazine, which isn't video-game centric).

She is on the same podcast as Brianna Wu (Isometric; watch it - love it) but wasn't targeted as directly as Wu was. Both she and Wu have talked about their love for Bayonetta and their respect for Sarkeesian and the work she does; they just disagree with her on this point.

Maddy has talked a few times about her movement from being a "chill girl" who disliked other women to the feminist she is today. I don't think it's an unusual evolution for women who stick it out in video games. The tropes within it encourage dislike of both women and feminine traits, and reclaiming both as a woman can be complicated and fraught. I had a similar relationship with pink (though I'll admit when all pads STOPPED being pink, it helped a lot).

I have to think about her read on the male gaze; the stereotyped "male gaze" of big boobs, blond hair, and submissive is both inaccurate (for men) and also culturally passed as an ideal for both men and women through various forms of media. It feels to me like there is a constant flux between accurately identifying that men and women are functionally the same in almost all ways almost all the time, and identifying that men and women are treated as opposites where there is no overlap, and women and woman-identified things are disparaged. I feel like both are true, but figuring out how to speak about both at the same time without things becoming muddled is daunting.

As time goes on I'm becoming more comfortable with the examination of tropes that perpetuate themselves through expectations as a more accurate way to parse how sexism (and racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc...) get transferred.

That is, you can have a male creator who isn't attracted to tall, blond, thin, submissive seeming blond women, but who creates a character with those characteristics so it will be popular, and women can identify with the character because in addition to the surface she is a complex power fantasy for women because she drives the narrative and has the agency, and the trope is still problematic even if the game somehow manages to not be, but it doesn't say anything necessarily about the male creator and female consumer except that he reflects certain tropes uncritically (or critically for a secondary gain) and she wants a power fantasy.

And you can encourage people to interrogate or subvert tropes without it becoming as personal (though it still can be made personal).
posted by Deoridhe at 1:39 PM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


There are plenty of examples of American/Canadian-sourced/developed games that have extreme sexism issues. Tomb Raider, for instance, has some oft-remarked sexism problems.

Mass Effect encourages a very typified, normative body type among men and women.

Suggesting "Is it from Japan" as a heuristic for finding sexism in video games is naive.
posted by kalessin at 1:44 PM on November 2, 2014


1986?

True, Samus does show up in a bikini on the NES; but it seems qualitatively different that her bikini (JUSTIN BAILEY ------ ------) was an easter egg and otherwise seen only briefly. The more modern "Zero Suit" is pretty much the same as all the other ridiculous womens' skin-tight jumpsuits, complete with jiggle physics.

Based on your examples, it seems like "is it made in Japan?" is an okay heuristic.

If only. While it does seem that Japan has particularly problematic female portrayals—the ones I listed aren't even among the worst, they're just a list I thought of from a variety of well-regarded games—there are plenty of problematic American/European female characters, too. If anything, they're less well-known largely because the western games seem to give them no power or identity, and use them as window-dressing...
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:45 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think I came across differently than I intended. I certainly wouldn't make any broad claim that non-japanese games are devoid of problematic elements. But based on that particular set of examples, every bad portrayal was japanese and 3/4 good portrayals were not japanese.

So even in that sample it's an okay heuristic, not a rule that works perfectly across all games.
posted by squinty at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bayonetta was a fun game. She isn't really my type though.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:05 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm told Bayonetta doesn't care if she's your type.
posted by RobotHero at 2:23 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


her intent was to say that "male gaze" is itself an oversimplification...implies...that all men somehow agree with each other about the depiction of women

I think that's a misunderstanding of the term. To say something appeals to the "male gaze" has never meant "all dudes like this," it simply means that it is framed to appeal to a particular kind of male sexual desire in a way that is off-putting/gross/exclusionary to people who don't share that kind of desire.

The problem with the male gaze in video games is that it says to certain groups of people, "This game was not made for you." (And those groups might include most women, gay men, and heterosexual men who don't find that particular fetish appealing.) And even that would be fine, if there were plenty of other games that were made for those groups.

The problem is that there are so many games that exclude the same people over and over. The fact that Bayonetta happens to appeal to a few of the people who are usually excluded is nice for them, but does nothing to help those of us who find Bayonetta just as off-putting as all the other games geared toward a particular male gaze that doesn't include us.
posted by straight at 2:30 PM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


What's interesting about Bayonetta, I think, is that it's not just her sexuality which is powerful; it's that her femininity (or femme-ness) is always presented as a part of her strength, rather than a counterpoint to it. Bayonetta and Jeanne unapologetically love shopping for shoes, throwing dinner parties, chatty friendships, and many other things gendered female. But– or rather, and– they're all of a piece with her general kickassery. She literally blasts heart-shaped holes in anything standing in her way.

This is where she really differs from a lot of the "cool girls" of video games. Jade is great, but very de-gendered; Samus is totally genderless when in combat; Lara Croft (in the latest reboot) is a tough fighter, but her gender is the gooey center that keeps her from being a killing machine. Bayonetta is both a winner and a woman, with no contradiction between those things. Which is neat.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:49 PM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I disagree about Lara Croft in the Definitive Edition. She is a killing machine, pure and simple. Sometimes she stops to care about her friends and loved ones. Sometimes.
posted by kalessin at 2:55 PM on November 2, 2014


Also, this might be my favorite piece written about the first game.
You cannot pass up this game for its visual and thematic inanity. The libretto for your average operatic masterpiece is some genuinely nonsense, and this does nothing to obscure the beauty of the music that is its rationale.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2014


I think Myers needed to do a whole lot more research before declaring the concept of the male gaze 'debunked' (for starters, hoooooooooooooooooow does something like that even get debunked Jesus Christ stop playing in humanities theory if you're not gonna give it all you've got). Which rather undermines a lot of her other points.

And I am sick to fucking death of any critique about the depiction of women being met with a wall of 'anti-sex!' accusations. Fuck off. I'm done with that shit, I am so done with this idea that we can divorce our sexual pleasure from our socio-political culture and call it empowerment if it gets us off. I'm not about to call any representation of kink okay, just because it's a representation of kink, even if it overlaps on a venn diagram with women and power. I'm not about to ignore the socio-cultural politics of being a domme in a world where male subs do come with a whole lot of entitlement. I'm not about to ignore that fighting over the fucking scraps of representation like it's a meal doesn't prove a good goddamn thing about wider depictions of women, or dommes, or sex, in anything.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:07 PM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I find myself wondering if there is any commonality between whether people are pro- or anti- Bayonetta and pro- or anti- burlesque.

Funny you should mention that. Gareth Dutton wrote a (NSFW) blog post a few days ago defending Bayonetta with a comparison to burlesque.
posted by skymt at 3:09 PM on November 2, 2014


re: the clip linked above: this looks like it might have some context. (mild spoilers, it seems) Whether that makes it any better or worse for you is up for discussion, I guess.
posted by curious nu at 3:15 PM on November 2, 2014


as per the top reply to that comment "...That and Bayonetta lying there in defeat, with her hand trying to cover her privates. Doesn't really translate as anything near consent."
posted by fullerine at 4:00 PM on November 2, 2014


And I am sick to fucking death of any critique about the depiction of women being met with a wall of 'anti-sex!' accusations. Fuck off. I'm done with that shit, I am so done with this idea that we can divorce our sexual pleasure from our socio-political culture and call it empowerment if it gets us off. I'm not about to call any representation of kink okay, just because it's a representation of kink, even if it overlaps on a venn diagram with women and power.

This is confusing to me, because I feel like you are contradicting yourself. It sounds here, in the part I am quoting, like you feel that anything that depicts a woman--even a strong, powerful, independent woman--in a sexual way is completely against your own preferences.

That's fine, that's your prerogative. But I cannot understand why you are angered by what you call "anti-sex accusations". Your position is, by your own definition, anti-sex, as far as I can tell. How is it an accusation for people to point that out?

I feel like there are two prevailing viewpoints on this issue, actually, which we are going to see dominate this thread:

The first holds that women characters should be pretty much asexual, with a correspondingly gender neutral appearance--so we have the short hair, the practical clothes that do not conform to the shape of a woman's body to accentuate her curves. The idea of a sexy character is inherently problematic to them.

Then, we have a character like Bayoneta, who depicts a powerful, dominating woman who pretty much oozes sexuality. Those with the second prevailing opinion feel that Bayoneta being a "sexy" character is fine, because she has agency, and she is in control.

What bothers me about this is that the first opinion (which I think represents your thoughts on this) does seem pretty much anti-sex, and yet proponents of that group seem loath to just come out and say, "I don't want any sexy female characters depicted in games, period."

And what bothers me about the second camp is that it only allows for certain normative variations of sexuality. Sexy submissive female character?! Not okay with this group, either. So their argument seems to be a variant on the 'My kink is okay, your kink is not' theme. But again, rather than say this, the argument is dressed up as "the male gaze" being the problem with sexy game characters.

Which is why we run into contradictions once a character like Bayoneta, who obviously does appeal to the male gaze, is also a dominant woman who controls her own sexuality, because the first group feels the second group is now being inconsistent with their message. And they're not wrong.
posted by misha at 4:03 PM on November 2, 2014


One thing I will say, though: I'd heard Myers had decided she would no longer cover games due to harassment from GamerGate.

That's Mattie Brice, who is an equally great writer about games and will be missed by many.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:32 PM on November 2, 2014


misha: "like you feel that anything that depicts a woman--even a strong, powerful, independent woman--in a sexual way is completely against your own preferences."

You misunderstand me completely. Given I didn't say anything about that particularly representation of Bayonetta, or any specific representation at all, I can't see how you got from my general commentary to me wanting women to be asexual, me being uncomfortable with sexual representations of women, or that I'm anti-sex.

I was talking about the methods of critique. I was talking, very specifically, about the way that criticism of methods of sexualisation of women characters gets mindlessly 'simplified' into 'you want all female characters to have short hair, practical concealing clothes'.

I didn't say a bloody thing about Bayonetta or any specific depiction of women! Or my personal preferences for gameplay!

It is possible to critique single instances of sexy/sexual characterisation of women on certain grounds. That's not what most critiques are about in this context though, the avoking of 'male gaze' - it's about the way most female characters are designed to be alluring and sexual, regardless of characterisation, because there is an ingrained assumption that women are set decoration. That assumption comes from a whole range of biases - gamers are straight men, all women are a little bi, women are naturally more attractive than men, whatever - but that female characters all tend to fit a very narrow 'type' that is designed to appeal sexually, in a way that male characters don't. And that's where intent sort of stops mattering - sure, I love me some bearded nerds but I don't think the design crew were trying to make Gordon appeal to Bearded Nerd Fetishists, so it's just coincidence. But the fact that some of us who aren't Straight Dude Gamers share the Spike Heeled Glasses Wearing Domme fetish doesn't make the intent to sexually appeal less intentional.

The spectre of sexual appeal applies unfairly to female character development - rarely applied to men, rarely not applied to women (even women who are depicted as unattractive are being created within a structural matrix that demands to be acknowledged).
posted by geek anachronism at 6:08 PM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


This changes everything.
posted by Artw at 6:17 PM on November 2, 2014


straight: "The problem is that there are so many games that exclude the same people over and over. "

Quoted for truth. If AAA games were constantly churning out a full spectrum of kick-ass female characters, I think there'd be much less weight on characters like Bayonetta.

There was that dumbass that wrote a Nickelodean fan book, who said essentially that characters should be white unless there's a good reason for them to not be. And the same attitude often treats male as a default and female as the one that needs a reason to exist. And a lot of the time, that reason is sex appeal. So you get this very narrow and skewed representation of women. And if Bayonetta takes a slightly different approach to sex appeal, some people will find this a breath of fresh air, and some people will find it just more of the same.
posted by RobotHero at 6:35 PM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


You misunderstand me completely. Given I didn't say anything about that particularly representation of Bayonetta, or any specific representation at all, I can't see how you got from my general commentary to me wanting women to be asexual, me being uncomfortable with sexual representations of women, or that I'm anti-sex.

Hm.I guess I did misunderstand you, then. Just to be clear, I read this part pretty literally

I'm not about to call any representation of kink okay, just because it's a representation of kink, even if it overlaps on a venn diagram with women and power.

Interpreting it as saying you weren't going to call any kink okay, even if it was kink involving a powerful woman, just because it's a representation of kink. So, basically, that reads as completely anti-kink.

But I think, re-reading it, you mean that just because something is kink, even kink with a powerful woman, that doesn't mean it is automatically okay.

Is that (the second one) what you meant? If so, yes, I did misunderstand what you were saying.

I can totally get behind the argument that kink is not a guarantee of, nor a substitute for, design quality, though.
posted by misha at 7:32 PM on November 2, 2014


I basically don't care that Bayonetta is sexy. It's not my kind of game for entirely other reasons, but people seem to like the gameplay who like that sort of game, which is great. (Aside from the rape thing, which really is awful, but I'm not holding that against the public who likes the game, just against the developer.) I'm totally fine with sexy women in games, generally. I'm totally fine with white men in games. I'm distressed, over and over again, by the lack of unsexy women in games, especially as main characters--the lack of older women, the lack of women who are just not sexualized. By the lack of black and Hispanic main characters. By the lack of LGBT characters. I think some criticism of Bayonetta is entirely warranted; I'm more troubled by the fact that this one game warrants more conversation than any ten AAA titles with white male protagonists put together.
posted by Sequence at 8:20 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


And I by the very normative, standardized, almost fetishized body types that are almost always featured in games. And ethnicity and culture. And trans folks. And disabled folks. And all the other intersections of normativity and privilege in our world.
posted by kalessin at 8:34 PM on November 2, 2014


Yes, misha, that was an errant comma (damn my fetish for commas) - I am not going to automatically praise or refrain from critiquing a representation of a woman, or a kink, just because I should be happy for a representation of a kink or a woman, or a kinky woman, or a domme. Those don't change the underlying problems of representation. To misquote someone: putting a whip in her hand doesn't make her powerful, it just gives her the trappings of power.

Particularly a domme - fetishising a domme is just another form of objectification and honestly, listening to pro-dommes and dominant women who aren't pro, it ends up with the worst of objectification and entitlement anyway. It's just demands to be spanked and walked on rather than demands for the woman to submit.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:58 PM on November 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I would really love to see more journalism regarding women otaku, women designers and women artists in Japan and their thoughts about how women are portrayed in Japanese media.

Having just been in Japan this past summer, and spoken briefly with some of the women artists at Comiket, I get the sense that most people are just....really not thinking about "feminism" and media in the way that people in the US do. Like at all. But I know only a very little amount about this, really, and would very much like to know more.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sequence I'm distressed, over and over again, by the lack of unsexy women in games, especially as main characters--the lack of older women, the lack of women who are just not sexualized. By the lack of black and Hispanic main characters.

I was part of the development testing group for a game which shall not (for legal reasons) be named. It had a character generator where the only options for female characters were young, skinny, attractive, and white. I say white because although you could choose different skin tones, you couldn't choose any non-caucasian facial features that went with those tones, so even the darkest skin tones looked like white girls with a really bad tan. The young feature was particularly bad, all the characters had the facial features of middle schoolers.

We complained en masse. Large numbers of testers wanted more body types, older women, other ethnicities. We were told on no uncertain terms that it wouldn't happen, because the developer's concept was that all characters were heroes and had to be physically ideal (I'll let you think about the "Unfortunate Implications" of that). After enough bothering, we eventually got a few faces with wrinkles, but we never got anyone who looked asian, hispanic, or african, or anyone with a belly.

This was particularly frustrating because there are developers who do implement diversity
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:20 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure I feel qualified/sure enough to make an argument on this; I can certainly sympathise/agree with the reactions against the game. But to me, it felt like an awesome representation of burlesque/kinky sexuality that managed to hold onto itself enough not to fall into the usual pitfalls of such things in mainstream culture. And I think there's absolutely a place for such things, even as I very much acknowledge the old, intractable tussle between that aesthetic and the ongoing drive to improve representations of women in an imperfect culture. Hell if I know how to resolve that; all I know is it didn't (often/much) trigger my own "ugh, god" reflex, and so I ended up enjoying it a lot.
posted by Drexen at 3:23 PM on November 3, 2014


sonic,

For the record, if you think Ashe only existed to titillate you clearly did not play Final Fantasy 12.
posted by effugas at 8:35 PM on November 3, 2014


Her character was written well. Her character was not designed well.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:05 PM on November 4, 2014


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