Welcome to Rose-Colored Gaming—a series where I revisit games that make me feel nostalgic using a critical lens. In this entry, I’m delving into the popular Twitter discourse generator and stylish action game Bayonetta.
Bayonetta is one of those games I turn to in the face of life changes. It’s like a comfort food that reminds me of what’s important to me and why I am the way I am. Even while I write this article—less than a year out of college and facing a future of adulthood in a world that feels vaguely antagonistic—I’m in need of that specific comfort that only Bayonetta brings me.
I was a confused and hormonal 15 year old when I first played it. Then an equally confused and only slightly less hormonal college freshman when I picked it up again. I bought Bayonetta on the Switch so I could remind myself that it’ll still be there when things get too scary and too confusing and I just need to remember who I am.
Playing Bayonetta was a stepping stone for me. Late puberty meant my body’s changes were finally reaching a plateau, and I was capable of exploring what it means to be an strong, empathetic, and sexually aware adult.
I’m 23 now, and still exploring, if I’m being honest. I often find myself peacocking like a know-it-all teenager—largely because I’m still pretty insecure about the fact that I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
That’s where I’ve always tried to see myself in Bayonetta the character. She doesn’t have any idea what she’s doing, and she doesn’t seem to care. She stumbles on a plot to resurrect the architect of creation and is by that point just tired of deities that won’t stop monologuing at her.
She embodies a confidence so unshakeable I can only describe it as iconic. The bodysuit, the shotgun-heels, the campy one liners shouted as she kills literal, biblical angels. She’s the definition of Too Much, and I learned a lot from that.
I’m someone with an insatiable craving to understand the chaos of the world around me. Bayonetta has no interest in sating that craving.
In the wildly convoluted lore of Bayonetta, the titular character’s clan of Umbra Witches are living weapons used in the war between heaven and hell. Bayonetta is a sort of mercenary killer of angels (and later demons) that’s closer to a dancing dominatrix than an action hero. She turns her own weaponization into a performance for the audience, occasionally even breaking the fourth wall to throw a wink at the player.
I’ve always been loudly queer; even before playing Bayonetta, performance was a kind of armor to me. I tried to make people laugh whenever possible as a way to get ahead of the jokes. Since falling in love with the game I started to telegraph overt sexuality far divorced from how shy I truly am, and I’ve mastered the art of catty one-liners.
I’m no Bayonetta, but I learned from her to fight the holdovers of Christian colonialism in my own culture. My own aggressive angels are people telling me I’m unworthy of love, and of loving myself, because of who I am. Fighting back is what makes me feel safe.
Both entries in the Bayonetta series force her into the position of motherhood. In the first game she is forced to protect Cereza, a literal child version of herself, and in the second Loki, an all powerful chaos deity who happens to share Bayonetta’s acute amnesia. These impositions probably say a lot about Hideki Kamiya, the creative mind behind Bayonetta, but nevertheless the way she responds to these impositions taught me some things about loving myself.
Bayonetta’s awkward, not entirely tender, attitude towards nurturing herself resonated with me. It’s clear she doesn’t have a lot of experience with caring, so she adapted her weaponized performance on the go. She expresses love for others (and through the wild conceit of Bayonetta’s narrative, herself) aggressively and without compromising her own strength. To this day I find myself thinking of crying baby cockroaches whenever I sink too deep into despair.
Of course, that isn’t always the best way to approach despair. Bayonetta’s love was definitely cobbled together from her naturally antagonistic attitude. She will always have a place in my heart for teaching me to love myself, but her love has no weakness—no vulnerability—and the more I grow, the more I need that vulnerability.
Bayonetta’s two strongest relationships are with Luka—whose earnestness is able to crack Bayonetta’s act—and Jeanne,who is able to act alongside her as an equal. This ends up saying a lot toward what I idolize in a relationship.
Luka is a human. He has no way of comprehending the centuries-long scope of Bayonetta’s world, but the passion with which he throws himself into it is as endearing as it is irritating. She is constantly saving him from himself, and yet every time she does she finds herself unwittingly learning more about who she really is—whether through flashbacks or her surprising affection for him.
Jeanne stands level with Bayonetta. They’re both witches and can understand each other in a way nobody else can. Over the course of the games they move from rivals who match each other tit for tat to live-in lovers who’ve spent 500 years building their relationship. The moments when they remember the literal eons between them is when the true power of their relationship comes out. I mean, Bayonetta literally travels to hell and back to save Jeanne’s soul in the second game, sobbing as she thinks she’s failed. Bayonetta chooses to let her act drop around Jeanne… and that’s a love story harmed only by the creative team’s unwillingness to acknowledge it.
The older I get, the more I realize Bayonetta was right to be drawn to both relationships. Each unravels more of her act the more she gives herself to it. Whether its 500 years of history or a newfound empathy, she becomes a more whole person by letting others in.
The Big Sexi
Bayonetta was vital (hell, it’s still vital) in teaching me to fight for love. Even if you have to fight through heaven and hell to to do it, the most beautiful part of being human is be able to protect what you care about.
I’m actually pretty shy when it comes to my sexuality. This is a common refrain through this piece, but when it comes to anything other than the pure mechanics of sexual experience I just feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.
I almost feel like Bayonetta, as a game, has the opposite feeling. Kamiya clearly had sexual interests that he channeled into its creation, and I’m glad he was able to (even if I don’t interact with them the same way he does). At 23, I’m still learning things about courtship and seduction from the gameplay of Bayonetta (…and pointedly not learning others).
My last year of college—during my required class on Foucault—an instructor told me all sexual relationships are a power struggle. If sexuality is a power struggle, the only difference between courtship and combat is the end result. Playing Bayonetta, I learned the following things about both:
- Listen to your partner and respond to their movements
- Try to balance intensity and distance
- Memorize some tricks for when you want to show off
- Always be ready to respond to unexpected quick time events
- And of course—climax is synonymous with mashing one button as hard and as fast as you can to get a clit-ical hit
(Obviously some of these tips hold up better than others.)
As it stands Bayonetta taught me how to love through the confusing maelstrom that is puberty, and it has been teaching me ever since. I learned how to advocate for myself by watching her, though I’ll never know (or care) if that was what the game intended. I hope she grows as the series continues, and I wish I too could strap shotguns to my feet and kick some ass.
A genderless eldritch beast bound to mortal flesh. Interests include games, gardening, magical realism, and the complete restructuring of America’s political and economic systems. Frequently orders too much food at restaurants. Tweets @unnnez.