I feel that a topic like this one is immensely fitting for this site, and I'm proud to be the one to bring it to you. Today I'll be referencing two major upcoming games I had the opportunity to play at GameX this past weekend to talk about what we're starting to see sexually in AAA games these days and how to use the topic of sex positively rather than negatively. If you've been following gaming news at all recently, you might guess that these two games are Bayonetta and Dante's Inferno – and you'd be right.
I'll start with Bayonetta. While I was initially put off by the hypersexuality of the main character and the blatant use of sex in the game's tone (the demo, according to the title screen, is subtitled “Foreplay”; the character Bayonetta's finishing moves are titled “climax” on-screen when you have the opportunity to use them), I quickly grew not only to accept the character and her actions, but even to appreciate them in ways a good little girl certainly should not. There are some things I can just ignore, such as how absurdly far out her hips swing when she's walking rather than running, and some things I'll never be okay with. Things in the latter category tend to be camera locations and poses; for instance, at least one cutscene bit was unabashedly angled from below to get a good look at her breasts. There's a specific pose I couldn't care for during the boss battle of the demo level, but it's better seen than told. I'm fairly certain most of my audience will appreciate it!
Her sex appeal, though, it put to very good use through one of the game mechanics: as a witch, she uses her hair to inflict major damage using fancy animations. And if that wasn't sexy enough for you, it turns out that her hair forms her skintight leather-or-maybe-PVC jumpsuit. Yes, this means that if she's using her hair for an attack, her clothing fades away. (To be fair, though, she ought to show off those curves with that kind of body!) Surprisingly, this actually adds to the game rather than taking away – even though it's absolutely absurd, it's charming in its implementation. I'd rather see something creative like this rather than some sort of generic excuse to rip her clothes off.
It's also no surprise that this game just oozes sex all over the table. Women who can effectively wield guns tend to be considered extremely “hot” in Western culture, and this one has four guns on her person that she uses interchangably. Surprisingly, two of these guns are actually part of the heels of her boots. But in case you thought that she might become too scary, she creates butterflies when she lands from a height and can actually summon butterfly wings to perform a double jump.
Dante's Inferno, on the other hand, is the “bad cop” to Bayonetta's “good cop.” Before I talk, I'd like to point out that I'm explicitly talking about the “Lust” level being shown around at conferences. I can't speak for the rest of the game, but note that Lust is one the earlier circles of Hell and that most if not all players will reach it.
There's two main points to bring up here: the level design and the marketing. I was playing Bayonetta when my colleague returned from the massive EA structure stating something to the effect of “God dammit EA, was it necessary to use penis columns and stick vaginas on the wall?” That's right – penis columns. In this set of rooms, the player fights a female-looking monster with a large slit down her torso. Out of this slit emerges a long phallic tentacle which she tries to grab the character with. This is blatant sexualization, much as we saw in Bayonetta – but is executed in a poor fashion. It's not negative so much as it is gross and over-the-top, and it just feels ridiculous
To make things even better, the boss of the level is a giant topless version of Cleopatra. Yes – you do see her breasts, namely the entire time – and yes, they do bounce. This is the first time I have ever felt like I'd seen mandatory porn in a AAA title. Out of her breasts, of course, emerge demon babies in a spray of...something. I'm certainly not sure what it was. Needless to say, this is not a positive example of sexuality in games. I'm all for mature content in games as long as they're rated properly and the big stores – I'm looking at you, Gamestop – work with the parents to educate their children and uphold said ratings, but this isn't the kind of thing I'd really stand for in a movie either. Frontal nudity of a woman in a sexual scene or one in which it makes sense is one thing, but gratuitous tits for the sake of tits is really just porn.
In addition, many of you remember Liana K's article on our very own site about the “Sin to Win” competition EA held back at Comic-Con in San Diego this year. This is a definite example of the bad sexualization. Treating people in this way is offensive and it absolutely should not have been tolerated. While the character of Bayonetta is certainly what we might consider “eye candy,” she isn't a human being with actual feelings. Booth babes, on the other hand, are very real. And guess what – they have emotions too! Judging by the deluge of email I received and the media explosion about the competition, there's a good chance this marketing ploy lost them a bunch of sales rather than gaining them some.
I don't think I'd let my young children (if I had any) play either of these games. I'm not sure why – I'm constantly saddened by the way the United States in particular has this culture of shamefulness around sex, and I try to fight it whenever I can. Maybe I'm just growing up and having a change of heart, or maybe as a woman I'm just more uncomfortable with the gratuitous sexual scenes I've looked at here. Dante's Inferno is especially awful in this regard: yes, it is the Lust stage, but the boss's breasts don't really need to be bare and bouncing around. That scene in particular is porn – plain and simple.
Even then, I'm glad to see mainstream games utilizing sex in this fashion just like the movies. We just have to remember how to do it right. While it's easy to say “Bayonetta good, Dante bad”, consider why that's the case. With these examples, it's that Bayonetta is handled in a mature manner while Dante's Inferno is handled in a manner I would expect from a group of teenagers.
Regardless, I know which game I'll be buying on release day – and which one I won't.