So, Bayonetta 2 review day has come around and while we were expecting the many great scores it’s receiving, so too is the criticism revolving around a certain aspect of the game predictable: Sex. Of course, as with every review surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, any detraction is immediately seen as an attack, more than actual critique. Still, there’s a point to be made against sex in games.
In this case, we’ll use the Polygon review that gave the game 7.5 out of 10, marking its “blatant over-sexualization” as a comment, for a pillar. It should be clarified, however, that this isn’t singling out one review or even one site.
This isn’t about Polygon. Using the review as exemplary is to encapsulate the idea of possibly finding sexual imagery inappropriate. It’s a thought. It’s something that more than one person finds objectionable.
The problem is that, even though intentional, it’s hard to actually make a convincing point that sexualization is of any value in a game that doesn’t involve actual sexual action to take place. There’s a reason why sex has a very defined place in society and it’s secluded elsewhere. It’s not fitting elsewhere. That’s why people get upset when ads for car insurance use half-naked women. So is it true in games.
Bayonetta isn’t made powerful in the game because any of her sexual imagery. She destroys others using actual raw power, physical or otherwise. It just so happens that this is marred in sensual material, held up by whatever narrative concoction is going on. It could well be removed and nothing in the game would change. It could even keep the plot.
Sex could still be a part of the conversation and seen in the immediate view of the Bayonetta 2 universe, without suddenly cutting over to the equivalent of a video game foot fetish. Nothing of value would be lost, as it’s inconsequential to anything but the imagery directly. As disclosure, I’d like to state that this is true for my past experiences with Platinum Games titles, as there’s no way for me to access Bayonetta 2 right now, but we’ll assume nothing has magically changed.
So, in short, graphic sex imagery is a gimmick here and quite the pervasive one. Is a gimmick necessarily a bad thing? Not exactly, but it definitely shouldn’t just be excused either, certainly not when it can be a source of aggravation to those not willing to deal with it.
That isn’t the only problem though. See, the issue isn’t sex itself, at least not as a singled out point. That’s what a lot of people like to read into most criticism. They take the core of the message and then reduce it to one fine point, making it appear much smaller. That’s why some see the otherwise glowing review from Polygon as tilted, since it “detracts” one fourth of a perfect score, if reviews even worked that way.
A gimmick being pervasive means that the point of sexual imagery is brought up, again and again. It’s everywhere, so what people believe is just one item is more several fine points over time that ball up into one giant whole, like seasoning your yummy sandwich in a topping you don’t like. It occurs only in minor parts of the whole sandwich, but it’s going to sting eating it now. It’s the entire game now.
Each time, some upskirt shot or suggestive pose brings back disconnect, in a game about destroying demons and the likes, mind you. Each time, it’s questioned why it should be there at all, since it was perfectly possible to hit enemies before, without any of those visuals. That’s a serious break on your enjoyment.
This is the same as “bad controls” or “terrible graphics” being just one comment. In fact, it’s a constant annoyance as it follows the player around the entire time. It’s only one factor to take into account, but that many times over. A game that would get reduced one fourth its value due to sloppy visuals wouldn’t have anyone bat an eye over it.
There’s another problem: Let’s now assume that those with possible objections to needless sexual imagery know this going in. Caveat emptor and all. In this scenario still, it would be impossible to prepare being subjected to things you’d find uncomfortable every time. You just don’t know when it’s going to happen, so you can’t brace for impact to justify it. As much as you can mentally persuade yourself that you’ll have to deal with it, you will be caught off guard and that’s unpleasant for most of us.
A lack of possible preparation ties back to how unfitting sex is in most cases and how we all think that is the case. Even the most perverted souls want some separation sometimes. You can perfectly revel in all the naughty sex scenes in Sex and the City, but you wouldn’t really suddenly want the screen to cut away to a graphic image of Miranda choking on several guys in a messy, juicy and really visual portrait. It’s a part of the story, sure, but it’d be out of the blue and you’d be forced to completely readjust yourself. It’s usually not nice getting forced.
In a much less acceptable, but also commonly used example, you can even enjoy full-on porn, but then the camera cuts away to a greasy, hairy dude grunting away. The comment here is usually that people receive a disjointing moment of shock that stems from the general focused imagery and that suddenly presented, despite involved parties knowing what they’re in for. Even the most graphic imagery can have disconnect in it.
As always, this is about context. If there’s any message here, it’s that issues usually are more than they seem and touch on a lot of things. Context matters and it’s something often lost in these days of immediacy and perceived flawlessness.
Sexual imagery in Bayonetta 2, while unfitting to any other part of the game, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s tied to gameplay elements, it’s influenced by frequency and it’s relying on unattainable acceptance. That’s just some of it, since it’s bound to branch off into other parts I can’t deduce from not playing a game. Again: It’s about the idea.
So, yes, you can be mad at an item like Polygon’s review throwing the idea into question. In reality, that particular piece really does have nothing but good things to say, however, other than the one omnipresent item discussed. It’s about context. Polygon’s review is still quite positive about the game, because you can like something, while also disliking things within. It’s possible for our content not to be perfect.