Nuns, Guns and Massive Buns: Bayonetta is a must-play for feminist gamers everywhere

June 12, 2018

 I mentioned briefly in my last post that my Masters degree in creative media and technology allowed me the freedom to base all of my assignments on video games. This meant that my writing ranged from socio-political essays about international censorship laws, to creating basic storyboards for my own interactive multi-strand narrative game. The climax of all of this came when it was finally time to write my dissertation; I had a whole 15,000 words to myself to write about (essentially) whatever I wanted to, so I decided to write about something that was very close to my heart - character design. Characters are the main selling point to me in any medium of entertainment and media, particularly games and animation and PARTICULARLY female characters. I love to see complex female characters that are neither defined by looks or brains, but defined as a whole package. I love to see girls who can fight and talk back but still know when to be serious and feel emotion. I love to see diverse women who relish in their own flaws and imperfections. Without realising it, the kind character I was looking for already existed in her own game, and I knew I had to write about her. 

 

I was first introduced to Bayonetta as a DLC character in Super Smash Bros., and I was hooked on her design from the get go. At the time of writing my dissertation I knew it would be a long way off before I would ever get my hands on a copy of the game so I just watched and read as much as I possibly could to understand it. All I really got was that the character of Bayonetta herself was this super sexy, super badass umbra witch that wielded 4 guns and had her outfit fashioned out of her own hair. In the context of my assignment I was writing about how she is a definite 'do' example of how to write a female character, mainly because of the way she owns her sexuality. It's incredibly rare for a female character to be self aware of her own body and its capabilities (both physical and sexual) and so I wrote about how this creates a whole different gaming experience from something on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, such as Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball III (trust me, if you have any sense of integrity or respect for the female gender you won't research this game.)  After the dissertation was complete I'd forgotten about Bayonetta for a while, at least until Reece and I purchased a switch together. Once again it sat patiently in my to-buy list, until one day a very generous games journalist by the name of Chris Scullion (@scully1888) presented me with the game after I told him about my dissertation. I was gobsmacked! If anything for the fact that anything from my Masters had become useful. 

 

Within the day of getting the download code I sat down and began my adventure into the wonderfully twisted world of Bayonetta. 

 Via CroftManor HUN

 

So, lets talk about what I thought about game itself. The first thing that drew me in was when I learned it was a 'hack and slash' style of play. I'd never played something of this type before, but for someone like me who is the absolute worst at anything stealth-based I felt this was perfect. The 'infinite combo' engine means that, if you want to, you can simply button mash and still perform incredibly intricate moves and attacks. If you're looking for something more technical however, the game definitely rewards you for watching what you press as you can get some awesome finishing moves ranging from throwing enemies into an iron maiden, or unleashing hell-bound beasts through the power of your hair. If you're already turned off by thinking this game sounds too gruesome, we haven't even gotten onto talking about the heavenly angels. Usually you wouldn't associate the two together but the art style in this game is something to be revered; it follows somewhat of a medieval fashion, depicting the heavenly beings as strange bird/man hybrids, or terrifying beasts with the smooth, porcelain faces of cherubs. As you're playing as an umbra witch, a follower of the dark, it fares well that these enemies from above look as scary as they do as it makes you want to kill them even more. They've got some really inventive designs though, ranging from angel cars to giant tentacle beasts. 

 

At times I found the cutscenes in this game could be a little long and interrupting of the action; you find yourself jumping in and out of high octane battles a bit quick, which meant for me I often messed up the quick-time events and kept dying. On the other hand though the game is very well written and the other characters you come across are pretty cool and fun to watch, so in the end you don't really mind this. There's a good balance of narrative and action and the two do intertwine with each other. Any game that knows how to work both its humour and emotional moments is a winner in my books; of course, nothing is ever THAT serious in Bayonetta games, but it knew when to strike when the iron was hot so you'd put down your guns for a second and listen. I really did enjoy the story itself, but in all honesty I had much more fun running around shooting up creepy-looking angel things. This game also has incredible re-play value; at the end of each 'chapter' you are graded on your performance with trophies that range from stone (lowest) to pure platinum (highest.) Naturally I chose to play the game on an easier mode and received a varied spread of trophies throughout. There are two more difficulty modes as well, very easy and standard, so I'm excited to go back and see how my grading will compare with each difficulty. You're easily able to skip the cutscenes so you can try and beat your own score in record timing, plus if you've watched through the story once already you may want to give it a rest for a while to save getting bored with it.

 

My perspective of Bayonetta as a character completely changed when I actually played the game itself rather than just read about her. As I said previously, from face value she is the epitome of female sexualisation: long hair, curvaceous body, pale skin and ruby red lips. She flaunts herself all over the game exuding nothing but confidence. To me, this is itself is a feat - A female character in a game taking control of her own sexuality? HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD!? I thought it was bloody genius. Any time she did a flip, or the splits, and flashed a little cheeky wink or kiss to the camera I did a mini fist-pump inside my brain. Too often female game characters of this caliber are subject to being submissive to their looks; it also appears that some game designers struggle to challenge the typical gaming beauty standards and just result to the same model over and over again. Bayonetta also challenges idea of the by the fact that she has glasses. Specs are usually reserved for nerdy girls as a symbol that automatically makes us go 'yes, she is the smart one here,' but Bayonetta was given glasses to give her a modern feel, as well as serving her a purpose within the game. It properly fucks with our perspective of what sexiness should be. 

 

You also know straight away that Bayonetta is in always charge. She needs no backup with the things she is good at such as fighting, both verbally and with weapons, which prevents her ever being undermined, unless by a character of equal prowess e.g. Jeanne, a fellow umbra witch. But she's also reasonable and deals with situations she doesn't necessarily want to be involved in with level headedness and attention, if not with a sly comment or flourish on the side just to keep reminding everyone who's the boss. Bayonetta has a great arch throughout the game as well, mainly to do with caring about other things but herself. There's no big revelation moment, kneeling on the ground and screaming to the sky as a newly-discovered loved one dies in her arms, but there are small hints throughout the game that she begins to open her heart to some of the other characters she meets along the way. Developing her relationship with the child Cereza, allowing Luka to accompany her on her quest (and to babysit when she's busy fighting angels,) her relationship with Cereza has to be the most interesting as she goes from being completely anti-maternal and not giving her a second thought, to someone who is still not totally sold on children but is willing to protect her at all costs. On the outside she always holds her composure no matter what, but there are definitely times when we can tell she is rattled as her emotional barriers begin to waver. But this never stops her from kicking the most ass and sassing you the house down.

Let's be real for a moment here though. In the grand scheme of things, a brash gun-toting woman is nothing new. I'm by no means saying that Bayonetta is, and always will be, the only example of the only good female character, I'm simply saying how much of a successful one she is in her own right. I very much consider myself a feminist and, as I said previously, something that I am particularly concerned with is female/female character representation in media and entertainment. I'm usually the first person to roll my eyes when I see a clearly haphazardly made character that seemed to have been created either to fulfil a 'strong female character' quota, or to appease the male gaze of the player. There are many, many, MANY examples of poorly written/designed female characters in gaming but also many, many examples of excellent ones; I just happen to think that Bayonetta is one at the top.

 

Looking back at her initial creation, creator and designer Hideki Kamiya admitted to modelling her after his idea of the ideal woman. “I really wanted to get Bayonetta’s backside perfect. I guess I am in to that sort of thing.” (Wikipedia) What I love here in the nonchalantness of this quote and also the implications that stuff like her backside are not her defining feature, just something that was nice to throw in. The same with her having glasses, which I mentioned earlier. There is no denying that the character of Bayonetta is risqué, it's what makes her fun to look at, fun to play as and fun to interact with. But what's refreshing is having a character that is so much more than what her design sets her up to be. She twists her own self on its head and plays with our ideas of female sexuality and how that can benefit the individual themselves rather than others. She uses her body as another ability but whatever she does it always seems to be backed up with something a little deeper. Personality and a nice arse shouldn't have to be two things that are mutually exclusive. (I'm looking at you Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball III)

 

I fell in love with Bayonetta from the moment I saw her design and it's been great playing the game and getting to know the character behind the catsuit. I can't speak for all everyone, but the odd sense of pride and strength I got from this character and this game is something I've never experienced before. I implore any gamer to take an adventure with this hyper-feminine, dominant badass. You may surprise yourself how much you actually like it. 

 

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