Does the “male gaze” influence the players’ perception of Bayonetta? Should that term even be used to discuss Bayonetta?
The article I wanted to focus on in this week’s blog post is “Femme Doms of Videogames: Bayonetta Doesn’t Care If She’s Not Your Kink” by Maddy Myers and her dislike of the use of the term “male gaze”. To her, it is a term that is all about assumptions and stereotypes. When it comes to video games, the “male gaze” assumes that all the developers and players are white straight males who all enjoy the exact same things. If anyone other spectator/player enjoys something it was definitely not intentional and is dubbed “irrelevant”. The use of the “male gaze” shows that female media criticism is still little understood and that the “concept of sex-positivity, in general, might be a little too advanced” for video game criticism.
With a little bit of research, it is clear that Hideki Kamiya likes Bayonetta. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. Myers links to this hilarious post where people talk about whether or not Bayonetta is attractive or “freakish” and what is sexy about her or a turnoff. She seems to argue that the gaze that matters is your own. She states that if she finds something in a game that makes her feel empowered it is “always due to my own personal interpretation or re-reading, not due to an intended message on the part of the creators…” She acknowledges that the camera does seem to love Bayonetta’s butt but that the “story doesn’t attempt to humiliate” her and that “her dominance goes unquestioned throughout the game”. If you can relate to the character and appreciate who they are then that is personal interpretation and you cannot assume that everyone else is going to feel the same way. We are there to “inhabit” Bayonetta and play as her, not watch her, and when it comes to it, she is always in control. If you sexualize her, then that is on you. The game cannot just be dismissed “as a product of “male gaze”” because it is “an unkind oversimplification and evidence that gaming desperately needs a new phrase to describe the complex interlocking of factors that occur when players identify with a character”.
After reading this article by Myers, I had to rethink my question. I felt the need to approach in a different way and rephrase it to not mention the term “male gaze”. To ask whether or not the “male gaze” influences the player is to assume that it is always there. It almost makes it imply that we are playing the game through the eyes of someone else. To think that the “male gaze” can just determine who the character is and what they represent is actually a bit absurd if you think about it. The camera work in Bayonetta does have it’s moments. I think it makes maybe one too many glances at her crotch and butt and could have been wider and further out but like Myers pointed out, this doesn’t really affect the game at all, the story is still the same and Bayonetta is still the same. These angles, which do not humiliate her or try to get the player or other characters to laugh at her, may be the work of a male developer inserting his desires but his work should not ruin or determine everything for the game and character. But unfortunately for some people it does. Some people see these shots and immediately bring Bayonetta down to a sexual object and do not look past that or attempt to see her as an actual character and that may a problem. I agree with Myer that there should be a new way to talk about the player/character relationship and their agency. I do not think I want to continue to use the term “male gaze” when talking about Bayonetta because whether or not a female player feels empowered by Bayonetta has practically nothing to do with men. Bayonetta is not there to please us the players, she is there to kick some Lumen Sages butt.