‘Bayonetta 2’ And Its Hyper-Sexual Protagonist Are Nothing To Be FearedFiled inside: Editorial
I often find myself shying away from the issue of gender and sexuality in games.
There are a lot of reasons for this, and some would say that it is a detriment to the business that I try to involve myself in—after all, gender issues are prevalent in our world, and they exist in games as well. What often bothers me is the way that these issues are so readily rendered infantile by those that want to talk about them the most: most often they’re upset by the lack of “strong” female protagonists, and the only ones that are only seem to be in the sense that they’re somehow ridiculously sexy or attractive, and a game’s narrative is less focused on her personality or abilities.
I also avoid them because yes, it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, and I feel as though I rarely acknowledge the presence of these abuses on the female gender in gaming (or in the real world) simply because I do my very best not to be a source of them, and would hope that by making it a non-issue, I’d be doing my part to spread that message at large (I also understand that this isn’t the most proactive or even effective way to achieve the equality many of us so desire).
But what concerns me today is something that I almost feel strange being so affected by: Polygon’s review of Bayonetta 2.
Let me preface by saying that I haven’t played the game yet. I loved the first game—in my mind it was the best of Platinum’s offerings to date, purely from an action perspective. No, it didn’t have the most well-written protagonist I’ve ever seen, but the gameplay was unbelievably solid, and I still revisit it from time to time—the feeling of a well-trigger Witch Time moment is hard to beat.
The original suffered from the same stigma that the second is now enduring: many feel as though the game is somehow coasting on Bayonetta’s assets somehow, and that by featuring a sexually empowered woman at the lead—with the sultry one-liners and gratuitous camera angles to boot—the game suffers. But looking at the reviews, you’ll find that many critics don’t find this to be the case. Metacritic’s aggregate rating for the game is sitting at 91 (it was 92 when I decided to begin) at the time of this writing—a rare breaking point for many games. Gamespot, Edge, Joystiq, and Destructoid all gave the game perfect scores. Most other scores sit at the 4.5/5 or 9/10 range, but there’s one “bad” egg among the bunch—and it’s not even that bad of a score: a 7.5/10 from Polygon that’s suddenly stirring a large amount of discussion among gamers.
It’s mostly due to the unusual reasoning behind the score. The crux of reviewer Arthur Gies arguments against Bayonetta 2 is that the game features exactly what everyone knew it was going to contain: a sexually powerful female protagonist and a striking focus on her frequent bouts of near-nudity and the camera’s clear intent to spend the majority of its cutscene time including her chest.
There are discussions flying around that pretty much land solely in Bayonetta’s camp: people think this reviewer (and because this is the internet—all of Polygon) is firmly wrong about their assessment of the game, and that the game deserves so much more. I disagree, but maybe not for the reasons you think.
It is a review, after all. It’s the thoughts of one person that someone (or some people) somewhere thought had sufficient insight into games to comment on them, and a good enough ability to communicate those insights on the internet. It’s easy to find out why he thought the game’s presentation of Bayonetta was a detriment—he summarizes it in his opening:
“On one side of the knife is a character action game that refines the incredible combat foundations of the original Bayonetta and avoids the lack of variety that dragged it down in the last third. On the other, the deliberate sexualization and objectification on display serves as a jarring distraction from the creativity and design smarts elsewhere.” (Source)
As I said earlier, Bayonetta 2 and its protagonist are nothing we should be afraid of, and by the same token, we shouldn’t be so upset about the opinion of a reviewer on a site for a game that most of us know is going to be awesome.
In fact, the discussion has shifted considerably in recent times to the validity of gaming journalism as a whole and the implication that these websites are pushing some kind of Social Justice Warrior agenda—especially in the wake of the Zoe Quinn scandals and Gamergate and all that. Now, I don’t read Polygon regularly. In fact, I’ve found myself put off by the pieces I have read by them when they come up, and how I feel about and respect their journalism is my own opinion. I do feel like it’s a bit of a stretch to assume that the site is somehow extra-misogynist, even if it did pull a similar trick with Dragon’s Crown (but curiously, not with Grand Theft Auto V).
My views do not reflect the views of Thumb Throne or its parent company, they are my own alone. I disagree with Arthur’s score for Bayonetta 2 because I don’t think that when a game sticks with its theme and has a presentation consistent with its lead character—even if that character is a powerfully sexual woman—that’s actually a fairly good narrative practice. Alas, I haven’t played the game (yet), so to say that she’s a well-written or completely valid character is technically impossible.