The Perilous Perception of Bayonetta

January 14, 2010

Disclaimer: I haven’t played Bayonetta. Therefore, I know nothing of what it’s about other than what I’ve read.

Until very recently, I very much planned on not playing it. I just could not buy that the game was anything other than an exploitative action game, leveraging the body of a woman entirely for the sake of titillating a largely male target audience. Bayonetta herself was a winking caricature, a woman just a few button-presses away from stripping off her clothes, a burlesque act disguised as an action game. I was approaching Fox News levels of hyperbole and uninformed overreaction.

That said, I’ve read opinions put together by a whole bunch of writers that I very much respect — Chris Dahlen, Leigh Alexander, and G. Christopher Williams, to name three — that explain the hypersexual world of Bayonetta in a way that somehow makes it acceptable. It is apparently a celebration of excess both violent and sexual, and its depiction of its title character falls directly in line with a philosophy focused not on cheap thrills as much as a constant devotion to overstimulation.

The three authors above explore the acceptability of the character and the game in ways far beyond my capability (they’ve played the game after all), so I won’t discuss that. What I can discuss, however, is the Sega PR team’s failure in promoting such a product.

The winner of the Maxim promotion

Most notably, Sega teamed up with Maxim Magazine for a contest in which women were asked to dress up as Bayonetta, to be judged by Maxim’s readers. The problem with a promotion like this for a game like Bayonetta is that it grounds the game in a real world where women are women are asked to put on their best Tina Fey glasses and provocatively pose for a young, horny, male audience, with the promise of a plasma TV for the one who does it “best”. It transforms the fantastic into the all-too-realistic by turning the boot-gun-toting witch who kills angels into a piece of she-meat whose only function is to be gawked at.

A similarly ill-conceived promotion for Bayonetta showed up in Japan a couple of months ago as well — one in which a billboard-sized Bayonetta was “clothed” in flyers for the game. The implication, of course, is that people will take the flyers and eventually “undress” her. We did, of course, and then we publicized the result.

Perhaps these are the stumbling blocks that came with the happy news that Platinum Games (née Clover Studio) finally had the force of a huge marketing push behind one of its games. Perhaps part of playing to the masses is exploitation, and that chatter over the appropriateness of such exploitation was encouraged — it gets people talking about the product, after all. Still, one has to wonder if Bayonetta the game and Bayonetta the character would have been more readily accepted by those who care about such things if the marketing push behind the game wasn’t so grounded in the clichés of counterproductive sexual baiting.

Marketing is about reaching the widest group of people possible, and by that definition, Sega’s PR has done an admirable job in a variety of mediums when it comes to getting the word out about Bayonetta.  Perhaps next time, however, they can come up with venues for and methods of promotion that don’t sour much of their audience before we even have the chance to experience the game for ourselves.



  1. I’m in the same boat as you. Not only do I sneer and grimace every time I see a new bit of advertising, I doubt I will ever buy the game. I understand that people (including the 3 you mention) think that it transcends certain attacks (attacks based on its sexualization and representations of Bayonetta the character) by way of intentional hyper-characterizaton of _everything_. I just see demos and videos, and the ads, and all I can think is, “what shit.”

    I’ll play it, I know, thanks to Simon Ferrari and others, but it’ll be one of those disgruntled, “because I should” playthroughs.

    • I wish I felt like I had something to add to that, but you pretty much covered it. “What shit.” That it’s getting January-flavored GOTY buzz is shocking. I’m not sure I’ll ever actually get around to buying it given the number of games at my house still sitting in shrinkwrap (hello, Fallout 3), but maybe I can at least give the demo a runthrough at some point.

  2. […] who takes ownership of her sexuality and displays real power, the game was marketed to men in a way that turned her into a piece of meat on […]

  3. […] who takes ownership of her sexuality and displays real power, the game was marketed to men in a way that turned her into a piece of meat on […]

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