Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday afternoon tidbits

Martin Luther King Day: that special time when we celebrate the life and legacy of a great civil rights leader by sleeping in on a Monday, and then spending the rest of the day on the couch. Truly, we have been to the mountaintop.

Tons of Bayonetta links this week. This game seems to have captured a lot of people's imaginations, for good or ill.

-Writing for the revamped GamePro (which seems pretty sweet, by the way), Leigh Alexander calls Bayonetta "incredibly empowering." I don't know that I'd agree with that, for reasons I may or may not elaborate upon as this post goes, but I want to highlight a really excellent point that she makes: "'s unfair to strip video game women of their sexuality completely, or to assert that if a character is sexual that she must be getting exploited." This is really true, whether or not Bayonetta herself is the best example of it. I'll go back to those terrific female characters in Uncharted 2, whose self-confidence also seemed to extend to their sexuality. They were neither chaste nor purely eye candy. Bayonetta? Well, she is intended to be eye candy, and the argument seems to be what that signifies.

-With a different view, Tiff Chow reminds us that "this is a game made by men, from the male perspective, for the male perspective, which is why so many of the cinematics seem awfully, well, porny." This is certainly true. The ass shots are legion. Here's where it starts to seem thorny to me: No one complains about male heroes wielding huge, obviously phallic swords, like Dante in Devil May Cry (made by many of the same people), or scantily clad male heroes like Kratos. Why are we saying it's not okay to be this outlandish when it's a female protagonist? Though there obviously seems like a difference between what Kratos wears and what Bayonetta wears -- the latter is overtly sexual, the former obviously not. If we want to get into questions of fairness and equality, you do sort of have to say that male characters have had plenty of opportunities to kick demon ass while wearing very little.

-Chris Dahlen's perspective is that the game falls in the realm of performance art, not unlike Lady GaGa or Bowie, and truthfully this is one of the best explanations I've read so far. And just like with Bowie (maybe not so much Lady GaGa), I enjoy the "music" of Bayonetta without necessarily enjoying the showmanship.

-Iroquois Pliskin returns from exile to make the case for Bayonetta as the apotheosis of camp. Well, sure. Maybe the argument people are having is simply whether camp has a place in games. Often we gamers seem to take ourselves too seriously for that -- which is not the same thing as saying people should lighten up if they're offended by Bayonetta. For what it's worth, I don't think there's a right or a wrong way to think about this one.

-Lastly, I'd just like to add to the chorus that you can help the victims of the Haitian earthquake, either by donating to a charity like the Red Cross, Oxfam International, or Yele Haiti. Additionally, you can text "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross, and the charge will appear on your next phone bill. Money's tight for a lot of us, but every little bit helps.


zach said...

Hi Mitch,

Regarding men in revealing outfits: You have to be careful here, because the history of sexism isn't just "girls wear less clothing". It's a historical and long-running societal trend that tries to define the feminine as sex objects for men, backed by centuries of oppression that men simply never experienced.

So the short answer to "why don't we complain about men wearing less clothes" is that men have never been subject to the same sort of repression as women in terms of their gender. So it has a different meaning when a woman wears less clothing (tapping into a historical context of "women are for sexin' and not much else") as opposed to men (Which historically is closer to "LOOK HOW BADASS I AM" - see any action movie where the star isn't wearing a shirt).

I haven't played Bayonetta and don't really intend to, not my style of game - but i'm glad to see it has people talking about sexism. It really pervades the gaming world in a very nasty way.

Alex said...

The thing about Leigh Alexander's point that you pulled out is that, to my knowledge, no one has ever made the argument that female characters are necessarily being exploited whenever they are sexual at all (I mean, for example, you're absolutely right about the women of Uncharted 2, and I've yet to see any serious criticism of them). Who is she arguing against? Is there a blog post somewhere that argues that a character being sexual is automatically exploitative? That's not snark, I am actually asking. This is the same thing that has put me off of Alexander's writing on gender and games in the past: she insists on arguing against strawfeminists.

Glad to see F... has already said what I wanted to about outfits =) Another issue there is that overall there is still far more variety in male characters' outfits than in female characters'.

Joseph Leray said...

For my part, I have a hard time getting riled up about Bayonetta either way. I don't find her to be a particularly strong role model -- .tiff's assertion that Bayonetta's aesthetic falls in line with the rest of the game's is astute (and aligned with Pliskin's), but I don't know that I buy the idea that Bayonetta is exploitative.

She wears her sexuality on her sleeve, and Platinum Games have been candid about their intentions. The game is certainly reptilian, but unabashedly so. Lara Croft -- who poses as a tough intellectual, yet is impossibly dressed -- strikes me as a much more exploited and exploitative character. I think Bayonetta's brand of gratuity lifts her above (or pushes her below) questions of female exploitation.

Like .tiff said, it's a man's game for men. I'm just insulted that Hideki Kamiya thinks this is what I want. It seems more likely that men are the one's being manipulated here.

Lyndon said...

Maybe it's time people actually did start talking about how ridiculously stupid the hyper masculine videogame characters are.

Presumably there'd be less sexual violence in the world if us men stopped thinking about our dicks as weapons (and visa versa).

Defending Bayonetta by pointing to equally terrible depictions of men doesn't seem like a strong argument to me.

Kirk Hamilton said...

While I've seen plenty of interesting posts lately about non-overly-sexualized female characters in games (Valve always seems to come out the big winner in this department)... as Alex points out, there isn't some big patriarchal blogger in the sky saying that women need to be totally desexualized in order to be seen as "acceptable." It struck me as a bit of a straw man, too, and reductive.

An early scene in Uncharted 2, in which Drake and Chloe are in their hotel canoodling and hatching their plan, might be the first truly sexy scene I've seen in a video game. No big deal, just two sexy people bein' sexay, with real chemistry.

Bayonetta, on the other hand, features a torture-kill wherein you wrap a chain around the neck and body of a female angel, then place her on a spiked crotch-ripping contraption and jam on the x button to tear her up the middle.

Tom Bissell's excellent Crispy Gamer piece about MW2's "No Russian" level emphasized the difference between "thought-provoking" and mere provocation. I think that the same distinction applies to Bayonetta (the game perhaps moreso than the character).

Bayonetta the game revels in being provocative, but has so little to say behind that provocation (other than some sort of winking send-up of gaming/Otaku culture) that, well... it's a really fun game, but I'm not sure it's worthy of being our current lily pad in the great pond of gaming debate.

dw said...

Bayonetta reminds me of No More Heroes, in that it's a combination of joke, insult and celebration of the absurdities of videogames.

In the opening cutscene of NMH, Travis Touchdown kills a guy with astounding brutality for no reason, within 5 seconds. It immediately makes me think this guy is an insane sociopath. Then, whenever you kill someone in game, you get this insane fountain of coins. All these games are about the joy of artificial brutal murder, but NMH makes you confront it.

It's the same with Bayonetta. Any time there's a female hero in a game, there's an implied sex-appeal part of it, even if it's a "respectable" appeal, like if you're playing Jade from Beyond good and Evil, or hanging with Alex in Half Life. Bayonetta just takes that and forces you to deal with it.

Yes, it's a game made by men, perhaps with some sex appeal, but it also challenges you and makes you think about how sex in videogames works, and your relationship to it all.

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