Hey there. So normally I use this blog for like… 80% games criticism, 15% general media criticism, and maybe 5% personal stuff I just need to talk about. This post falls in that last 5%, so if you usually come here for games stuff you’re free to go.

Also I wanna warn you that it’s impossible for me to talk about this subject without going into some personal stuff about myself. I’m not saying this out of embarrassment — to be honest, part of me wishes we could talk about this stuff more — but because it might just straight up be things you don’t wanna know about a stranger or casual acquaintance. If so, that’s cool! I will not be offended.

Okay. Warnings delivered, here’s what I wanna talk about: body types in gay manga. Details after the cut.

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Okay. It’s 2:30am, and this has been stewing all night, and on the heels of my GaymerX talk hitting YouTube and my expanded version of it getting into GDC, this feels like the right thing to do. So I’m gonna make a quick blog post to talk about a thing that bothers me, and perhaps pre-emptively address some of the critiques of why I’m angry that are gonna pop up.

This is about a Weight Watchers commercial that I saw tonight during Peter Pan Live (shut up). More info after the cut.

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[“Bayo-Sutra” is a week-long series of short blog posts on Bayonetta that leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone.]

I want to close out this week-long project with a discussion of one of my favorite things from the Bayonetta series:

Relationship status

Relationship status

Umbran sistership.

For those of you who don’t know the lore of the series, history knew two “clans” that kept the balance of the world as we knew it: one clan of light, called the “Lumen Sages,” and one clan of the darkness, the “Umbra Witches.” Each clan possessed one half of the “Eyes of the World,” a treasure that granted them great power. However, 500 years ago the clans, which had to that point paid each other respect, suddenly began to fight amongst each other. The Lumen Sages were wiped out by the Umbra, but the Witches were in turn wiped out by humans during the “Witch Hunts.” The premise of the original Bayonetta is that only one Umbra Witch survived: Bayo herself. But that’s not actually the case. Very early into the first game, another Umbra Witch — the platinum-haired Jeanne — appears.

Sadly, I can’t say much more without spoiling both games, so if you’re interested, follow me after the cut.

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[“Bayo-Sutra” is a week-long series of short blog posts on Bayonetta that leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone.]

So I’m going to come close to breaking my own prohibition with this post, because the topic is going to make it impossible not to discuss, in some small way, Bayonetta’s physicality as a character. However, I’m going to hope that instead of masticating endlessly over the Is it okay to like this?! question I am now entirely bored of (as are plenty of others), it will be a consideration of a design element that I think is really interesting.

To coin a phrase: the camera loves Bayonetta.

If the earlier post on music didn’t make this apparent, Bayonetta is a performer. Her fighting style is based on dance-like movements and they are filled with excess. Her movements are huge and dramatic when they don’t need to be; she is highly vocal and playful (one of my favorite additions in Bayonetta 2 is that when Bayo succeeds a Witch Time-enabling dodge, she’ll make a quip, like “So close!”); the combat is characterized by excess and being over the top through things like Wicked Weaves. This is the essence of combat in the Bayonetta games: it is as much spectacle as it is combat. In fact it might be more spectacle than it is combat.

One of the cute and interesting ways this plays out is in the use of the camera, both as a literal thing and as a metaphor. More on this after the cut:

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[“Bayo-Sutra” is a week-long series of short blog posts on Bayonetta that leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone.]

Luke with glasses, from Bayonetta 2

Luke with glasses, from Bayonetta 2

So both the Devil May Cry games (which are Bayonetta‘s spiritual ancestor) and the Bayonetta games themselves take place in a world where the “trio of realities” is a major shaping force on the world. In Bayonetta, these three realities are Paradiso, Inferno, and the Realm of Chaos, aka the “human world.” Between all three, connecting them to a certain extent, is Purgatorio, a sort of adjacent, Ethereal Plane-like MacGuffin which makes Bayonetta invisible to normal humans while she walks through the cities of Vigrid and Noatun, but also able to interact with the supernatural forces arrayed against her.

In one of the better little jokes of Bayonetta 2, series staple and journalist Luka Redgrave has managed to get a gift from Rodin: a pair of glasses that let him see into Purgatorio. I’d like to believe that Rodin managed to get Luka in the end, however, considering the design of the glasses (which you can see off to the left). The first time I saw Luka in those glasses, I heard myself say “Why hello, Professor Trelawny!” without thinking. You’re welcome.

In any event, the idea is that in the Bayonetta cosmos, the messengers of Heaven (Angel) and the denizens of Hell (Demons) exist alongside us every day, perfectly imperceptible to us except for those humans who go out of their way to acquire the talent or equipment to do so. Those humans who have magic powers, like Umbra Witches and Lumen Sages, can voluntarily enter or perceive Purgatorio with magic.

So how does this cosmology contribute to the series bringing me joy? Find out after the cut (spoilers for Bayonetta 2 as well).

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[“Bayo-Sutra” is a week-long series of short blog posts on Bayonetta that leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone.]

So if you’ve never played a Bayonetta game you probably don’t know the extent to which music and dance are integral parts of both Bayonetta’s character design, and even the way that she moves in combat. If you’re not a fan of video game music, you might be know about or appreciate the intense amount of music that goes into these games; both Bayonetta titles have soundtracks that are 5 CDs’ worth of songs, which is actually kind of a lot. The typical Japanese video game soundtrack is 1-2 discs, usually, for even particularly long games. Final Fantasy soundtracks of yore are the real juggernauts, with FF6-FF10 having 4 CD beasts chock full of songs for games that could take 50 hours or more to finish. Bayonetta, by contrast, takes about 10-12 hours on average to work through.

Suffice it to say: it’s a lot of music for such a short game.

The importance of the music to Bayonetta‘s ability to bring a smile to my face is the subject of today’s Bayo-Sutra post. But since it contains spoilers for both games, read more after the cut!

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[“Bayo-Sutra” is a week-long series of short blog posts on Bayonetta that leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone.]

Video games have forgotten how to make me smile.

This isn’t to say that they have forgotten how to be enjoyable. I’ve genuinely enjoyed most of the new games I’ve played over the past few years. But I’ve realized that in general, games don’t know how to make me smile. They don’t have the ability to reach into that part of me that has feelings — human emotions — and turn the right levers so that I acknowledge what I’m feeling is real and true.

It’s easy to read this as “games aren’t funny anymore” and certainly, that’s a feeling I’ve had. A lot of the games that have made me smile — the Saints Row and Borderlands titles, charming pieces like Animal Crossing, and of course the subject of this week of mini-posts, Bayonetta — do indeed do so through humor. But I’ve also smiled (through my tears) at, say, Kingdom Hearts, a game series which basically everyone in the universe seems to enjoy being Conspicuously Too Cool For because it’s so thoroughly about having feelings. I bring up that example because it is proof that my smiles come pretty much from feeling like the game acknowledging that I have Emotions™ and then me having those emotions.

So, let’s talk Bayo and joy. Spoilers for Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 to follow, so cut link ahoy.

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So let me tell you about the time I annoyed David Gaider at a major gaming event.

As many of you know, I spoke at GaymerX2 this July, as did Mr. Gaider who — if you didn’t know — is one of the head writers at Bioware and a major creative force behind the Dragon Age series of games. Bioware presented a number of panels at GX2 this year, including one called “Building a Better Romance” that was about creating and developing in-game romances. Considering that this is often considered Bioware’s oeuvre, and that as a developer they’re known for being the rare AAA entity striving for queer inclusion on this angle, it was a topic of some interest. This was, notoriously, the panel where they announced that Iron Bull, in the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition, would be romance-able by either gender.

Anyhow. So when they allowed questions, I decided I wanted to ask this team about the subject of what I was terming “Hawkesexuality:” the idea that the romance options in Dragon Age 2, with the exception of that toolbox Sebastian, were generally speaking always available to your created avatar (whose family name is Hawke), regardless of what gender you chose when creating them. To me, there was a question here about representing the sexuality of characters that I wanted to know their thoughts on.

So up front, let me tell you that many of the issues I’m about to discuss, Denis Farr has also talked about on The Border House back in 2012 — I absolutely recommend reading his piece. I’m going to cover some of that ground too, but in an additional direction.

Their responses are a thing I’ve been meaning to write about for some time and am only now just taking the opportunity to do. For the details, follow after the break.

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So to continue what appears to be an accidental series of blog posts writing about Gearbox Software’s Borderlands games, I wanted to get something down on paper regarding the newest title, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. Now, if you follow my writing and Twitter and such you probably already know that I recently reviewed the game for Paste Magazine. My verdict, which I will summarize for you here, is that Pre-Sequel hews pretty close to Borderlands 2 but has enough new gameplay features and narrative/comedic elements to keep my interest.

Also, one of the things I mention in the review is that Pre-Sequel includes a number of queer lady characters, way more than I am used to encountering in stuff made in the AAA dev space for sure. Not that this is a particularly high bar to clear; I have a hard time thinking of explicitly queer women in games full stop, let alone in big industry titles — a number of Bioware characters come to mind, and of course there’s [SPOILERS] the recent The Last of Us DLC and Gone Home. But by and large when we get queer characters at all, they tend to be men. So I was pretty happy to see queer ladies with varying degrees of story importance appear in Pre-Sequel.

Borderlands the Pre-Sequel's Janey Springs

Borderlands the Pre-Sequel’s Janey Springs

This is Janey Springs (I’m vaguely grateful that the folks at 2K Australia didn’t run the ball all the way down the field and name her “Alice”). Janey lives on Elpis, the lone moon of Borderlands‘s typical setting of the planet Pandora. She’s a black marketeer, junk salvager, tinker, amateur childrens’ book novelist, and a lesbian. She’s also one of the first major NPCs you meet in the game, and the first one you meet after actually arriving on Elpis itself. For players who’ve gone through Borderlands 2, she serves a similar early-game feature to Hammerlock in Liar’s Berg, taking you through a series of quests that introduce you to the nuances of Pre-Sequel‘s mechanics and quirks before settling in to being an intermittent presence for the remainder of the game. Interestingly enough, both Hammerlock and Janey are queer characters, something I literally realized while typing the previous sentence.

Janey presents an interesting opportunity to talk about how Pre-Sequel represents queerness in its world in a way that draws on multiple approaches to doing so (compared to the “background” approach I’ve previously written on). While this post is primarily spoiler-free for Pre-Sequel, I’m gonna add a cut anyway just in case. Thus, more about Janey after the break!

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Okay, internet. It’s time. After my talk at GaymerX2 on fat characters, and after hearing the folks at Gearbox give their own talk on inclusivity in design, I decided I really wanted to write something about one of the NPCs in Borderlands 2, a Gearbox title. Her name is Ellie, and she’s a big lady mechanic.

Ellie from Borderlands 2

Ellie from Borderlands 2

As I’ve written about before, the issue of fat characters in video games is pretty fraught. Most of the ones that exist are really just awful, pandering to the worst of stereotypes without a hint of consideration, awareness, or empathy. Before GaymerX, I didn’t really know much about Ellie other than her existence, and what the folks at Gearbox shared about her in their panel. But she intrigued me. I talked to Borderlands writer Anthony Burch about her, briefly, at the con because I wanted to include her in my talk, and what he told me about her sounded great. So when I got back home I bought Borderlands 2 (again; this was my second time but my 360 was in storage) to play through and see what Ellie was all about.

While the meat of this post goes into specifics after the cut, here’s the gist: there’s a lot about Ellie that I really like, but there’s a lot about her situating within the BL2 game and narrative that unintentionally plays into the most insidious problems that writing a good fat character can have. (more…)