From numerous development Hells to the currently ongoing drama involving its voice actresses, Bayonetta 3 has had, to say the least, a tumultuous development cycle.
However, for all the controversies of Platinum’s latest character action spectacular, it is perhaps the current discourse surrounding the sexualized appearance of the game’s eponymous lead which has proven the most important.
Thanks to the latest cycle of outrage, players have been provided with perhaps the most staunch confirmation yet that video game journalists don’t actually care about the medium they cover, but are rather only interested in seeking external validation for their own personal existence.
Ever since the first Bayonetta hit the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2009, the sexy features of the Umbral Witch’s design – her skin tight costume, her large chest, her long legs, and even her overtly campy fighting style – has been regularly touted by critical race and gender theorists as evidence that both the video game industry – particular Japan’s – and the game’s fans were nothing but disgusting sexists.
These ideologues became so attached to this disingenuous narrative that even once it became widespread knowledge that not only was Bayonetta’s character extremely popular among women, but also that she was designed by a woman, Mari Shimazaki, specifically as “a strong female character“, they attempted to pivot their argument.
Instead of being created purely to titillate the ‘male gaze‘, they now positioned Bayonetta as a tragic example of the patriarchy at work and argued that no matter what ’empowerment’ female fans may identify with in her character, it was all ultimately undercut and made null and void by the sexist attitudes of its male audiences.
From there, the discourse would only devolve, with new criticisms of Bayonetta’s assets being leveled by the usual suspects anytime she would make the news, whether it be for the release of Bayonetta 2, her addition to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or even dev updates on Bayonetta 3.
As such, this obsession by such critical theorists over their own neurotic interpretations of how to ‘correctly’ engage with Platinum’s leading lady have led them – like they do with most pop culture – to be absolutely unable to engage with her lastest game without making sure it correctly valdiates their own politics – lest they face the wrath of their call-out-hungry peers.
To them, it’s not about how Bayonetta plays or how much they personally enjoy it, but rather that they appear to be doing so in the ‘Correct Way’.
And hilariously, this need for their own choices to be supported has led many of the usual suspects and groups to find themselves spouting diametrically opposing viewpoints – with some even outright lying about the history of Bayonetta discourse – in order to keep themselves in the favor of their audiences.
For example, former Kotaku staff writer Gita Jackson – after years of sites like her former employer browbeating people with their sexism accusations towards the heroine – attempted to argue, “Of all the games to say doesn’t need to pander to the ‘alphabet people’….. Bayonetta?”
“What exactly about Bayonetta signals that it’s for straight people,” she further questioned.
Met with the very real fact, as presented by Twitter user @Atvva, that “We had years were Bayonetta was one of the prime examples of being bad because it was pandering to the ‘male gaze’,” Jackson doubled down on her rewriting of history by declaring, “Yeah well: that criticism and line of argumentation was and still are stupid.”
“Who is the gazer in Bayonetta?” she continued. “I genuinely have no idea. I don’t know who looks at a woman’s body in the way that the camera observes Bayonetta other than queer people.”
“There’s a huge reason why the games attracted a big queer audience,” Jackson said. “I think thinking about it in terms of story is not exactly describing what queer players are picking up about Bayonetta. It’s got very gay vibes. It shoots for objectification and lands on camp instead.”
“Queer people are very much aware this isn’t intentional—a lot of queer culture comes from finding ourselves and our experience in the subtext and the margins,” she concluded her argument. “It isn’t so much a disappointment that her queerness isn’t confirmed as it is sad that it’s explicitly denied.”
Notably, in a 2015 Bayonetta ‘wardrobe style guide‘ written for Paste Magazine, Jackson herself admitted that she “tends to find the way the camera treats [Bayonetta’s] body a little gross.”
Unsurprisingly, former Editor-in-Chief of Vice’s Waypoint technology news outlet Austin Walker – who once fetishised the concept of “internet horny” simply because he could finally attribute it to “queer women” instead of straight men – was quick to voice support for Jackson’s analysis.
“I have been thinking about Bayonetta’s gaze as like… ‘big tent gaze,'” he attempted to rationalize to himself. “It’s campy. It’s gay. It’s also got bouncing tits and asses. It’s queer in many ways, and one way is that it insists that if the male gaze wants to attend it has to share the space with many other gazes too.”
“And I think a lot of (but not all!) analysis has fallen short of unpacking this well because the critical apparatus has been tuned for mass culture objects which hew very close to sexual-categorical norms,” he concluded his revisionist salad of buzzwords.
Yet, others in this general social ‘sphere’, such as Polygon Deputy Editor Maddy Myers, found themselves repeating the same tired complaint that the game was crafted too specifically to male fans.
“tbh it makes perfect sense if straight men are largely giving bayonetta 3 great scores,” wrote Myers. “the game is made explicitly for them. sorry if this tweet sounds mean or whatever but it’s simply the facts of the matter as presented clearly by the game itself.”
Explaining her reasoning for this declaration in an exasperatingly long diatribe included in her review of the game, Myers explained that her issue stemmed from the fact that during the course of the game a version of Luka (we’ll keep spoilers light) not only gains powers of his own, but another ends up winning Bayonetta’s affections – an unsurprising outcome for anyone who played the last two games, as the pair spend most of their interactions flirting with each other, poorly or otherwise.
“My most charitable read on Luka is that he’s an audience stand-in — but, of course, that isn’t particularly charitable to the audience, since this characterization would paint them all as pathetic manchildren who slobber after Bayonetta, incapable of matching her level of coolness and sexiness,” wrote the Polygon staffer. “In those games, Bayonetta was always the coolest person in the room, and mere mortals like Luka should count themselves lucky to breathe the same air.”
“Yet inexplicably, in Bayonetta 3, Luka gains completely unearned power and importance,” she grumbled. “Why he’s suddenly such a big deal, when previously he was little more than comic relief, amounts to a big heteronormative shrug.”
“She’s sexist! She’s meant to appeal to gross men!” “She’s for the gays! She’s a power fantasy for their ideas of confidence!”
Okay. But what about the gameplay? Myers’s review alone spends roughly four paragraphs on how the game actually plays, compared to the nine she spends complaining about Luka.
Therein lies the fundamental truth of this phenomena which finds itself exposed once again.
These ideologues don’t actually care about video games.
They don’t earnestly wish to engage with a game’s mechanics, or get a sense of enjoyment out of how it feels, or appreciate the original artistic visions of those who create them.
Instead, like most things in their lives, they’ve only attached themselves to the medium as a means of validating their own existences.
Who cares if a game doesn’t actually play very well? What does it matter if a game improves upon its predecessor or offers more of the same?
To them, it only matters that the game turn specifically to them and applaud their every life choice à la the ending scene of the original Neon Gensis Evangelion anime series.
This is why they try so hard to force a reading of contemporary politics onto every single piece of media.
These types are so insecure over what other people may think of them engaging with something that could even remotely be considered ‘childish’ that they must attempt to justify any attention they give to a given work on the grounds of ‘Good Politics’.
And does this need to constantly profess such insecure lines of defenses at every turn truly benefit anyone, let alone those actually complaining?
The answer is a blunt ‘No’.
In fact, it only serves to annoy every single other person who actually wants to enjoy a given production.
This even includes notorious GamerGate figure Briana Wu, who in a now-deleted tweet from October 25th found herself so fed up with this trend that she professed, “Unpopular Opinion: There’s a trend in game reviews to evaluate them primarily as political statements, rather than as games.”
“It doesn’t help reader decide if it’s worth playing,” she added. “I have to through 5 paragraphs of politics to get to the 3 about the game!”
At the end of the day, who cares if a game personally validates your own very, very specific interpretation of any given sociopolitical issue? Or if enjoying it makes you look like the ‘right’ sort of ally?
It doesn’t. All that really matters is if you find it fun to play.
Plus, nothing can really change the fact that for all their attempts to rationalize their enjoyment of her, one of her signature design elements – her glasses – was included simply because series creator Hideki Kamiya “likes girls with glasses.”
Bayonetta 3 is now available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.