This week, I’m contributing a critical fanvid made as part of my research work on the video game Bayonetta. Originally released in 2009, the title character is a divisive figure in the feminist gaming community, condemned for her exaggerated sexiness and praised for being an interesting, competent female game protagonist. She is one of the last surviving participants of a centuries-old battle of the sexes between male Lumen Sages and female Umbra Witches. Bayonetta provokes a lot of anxiety and debate, and I hope to engage the IMR community in robust conversation.
I read her as a queer figure whose femininity falls into what Micha Cárdenas calls “femme disturbance,” the capacity of femininity to disrupt heteronormative capitalist structures by refusing to bend to norms of modesty and competition. Femme disturbance suggests modes of radical action outside of demands for direct resistance, a crucial space to hold open when calling for tactical responses to problematic mass media. Bayonetta enacts femme disturbance in many ways, but one stands out: her Climax moves, part of the hypersexual aesthetic for which she is highly criticized, are button-smashing simulations of clitoral masturbation that reach out and implicate the gamer in her own pleasures.
Critiques of Bayonetta that center her within heteronormative structures of desire like the male gaze (itself an over- and misused feminist tool in games criticism) miss the ways that Bayonetta’s interest and attention is firmly oriented toward her sister-witch Jeanne. They also gloss over the nuanced ways that both Bayonetta and the game itself plays with visuality. Bayonetta has control over her visibility in the world, and can see things most can’t. The gamic camera is zoomed out to accommodate frenetic, crowded battle scenes rather than voyeurism.
But politics are precarious in a mainstream context. Bayonetta 2 released on October 24 for the Wii U, but the wild queer pole-spinning antics of the first game have given way to a traditional hero’s quest. The subtextual lesbian desire between the witches is more domestic, with Bayonetta sporting a new dykey haircut and descending into Hell to rescue her “roommate’s” soul. One of the great things about the first game was the cooperation between Bayonetta and Jeanne, a model for radical coalition with fabulous pistol heels. In the sequel, we get yet another damsel in distress. I finished it very recently and hope others can help me process this disappointment.