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Let’s Dance, Boys! The Enduring Allure of Bayonetta

The rising popularity of digital storytelling in video games is quickly changing the way we as audiences engage with and validate popular culture. As online fan communities continue to exert a significant influence on modern commercial markets, the gaming industry is quickly moving toward prioritising complex characters and storylines that reflect the complicated and multifaceted nature of offline life.

It is this critical change in the desires of audiences that drives the innovative character design and storywriting seen in the gaming industry’s modern products. In particular, the increased critical discussion and considerations around the portrayal of gender and the role it plays in attracting audiences has seen a renaissance in recent years.

Photo by Lito Perezito (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DEED)

First sauntering onto the scene with the game’s 2009 original release, the titular heroine has long attracted significant critical discussion and a loyal audience due to her position as a counter-normative heroine. Breaking away from the traditional standards of traditionally passive portrayals of femininity – Bayonetta is a character that defines herself through an expertly balanced portrayal of sexuality, fierce independence, and strength within femininity.

As a franchise, Bayonetta’s position within the hack-and-slash genre creates the foundations for its unique nature. In a gaming genre typically exemplified by traditional action heroes and narratives embodying physical strength and brawn to earn a place as a ‘hero’, Bayonetta carves a space for herself amongst her market competitors on account of her confident sensuality and irresistible personality.

The concept of a ‘strong female character’ is a loaded phrase within game design. Often slung around to describe any female protagonist that does more than embody the cyclical nature of the traditional heroine, its meaning is somewhat ambiguous. Often connoting characters who embody depth, agency and resilience, the rise in these characters reflects the growing complexity of gender representation within gaming.

Photo by Nimarra (licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 DEED)

Whilst female characters have often been associated with traditionally sexist stereotypes and are largely overlooked on account of being passive in comparison to the uncompromising bravado of the typical male hero, in the case of Bayonetta, these stereotypes are entirely deconstructed. Rather than serving as a prize for a male hero or another representation of sexual fantasy, the character is instead a figure of power and agency for women, with her overt sexuality and acceptance of her body making her an equalised and potent figurehead amongst the men in the game.

Ultimately, as the gaming industry’s landscape continues to change and develop alongside the desires of consumer audiences, there is quickly becoming more and more space for female characters to occupy positions of strength and authority amongst their male counterparts.

Though Bayonetta is considered by many critics to be ‘too much’ in her approach to transgressive femininity, I say that she is just enough for what we need as modern audiences. And though her allure is controversial, her loyal fanbase and cultlike devotion within fandom indicates that she will continue to remain a beloved figure among the masses.

The Bayonetta Series is available for purchase on Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation and Xbox consoles.


Edited by Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor


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