Following the arrival of the final content drop for Super Smash Bros., thousands of players eagerly rushed to be able to play as the beloved Bayonetta. She became the final downloadable character after she was deemed the winner of the Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot, coming out as the overall No. 1 worldwide character voted to be included in the game—which is no easy feat, and speaks volumes about how iconic of a character she is in the gaming world.
The Umbra Witch has been both dearly loved and heavily criticized, setting her as one of the most divisive video game characters to date. Some people find her to be a positive representation of sexual agency, femininity, and sheer power. Others feel that, because of how often she gets at least semi-naked—and what the camera angles in the game tend to emphasize about her—it’s not a sign of sexual agency, but one that panders to the straight men who play the game. I think both sides have valid points, and it’s important to note that, no, Bayonetta does not get absolutely everything right. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many discussions about the game and its protagonist!
While I acknowledge why some people feel that Bayonetta isn’t a very positive figure, I can’t help but feel that she is an incredibly important character with many feminist elements to her. She is not the only type of woman who we should have in video games, but I believe there is room for all sorts of different women to tell their own stories—and there is certainly room for women like Bayonetta to exist and empower.
I played Bayonetta during my junior year of high school—a year in which it was easy to get overwhelmed by the stress of preparing for college applications. It was extremely easy for me to constantly feel inadequate and get ridden with anxiety, and I suffered a considerable blow to my self-esteem and mental health. Playing as Bayonetta not only provided me with an outlet in which I could forget the stress and anxiety, but it also made me feel confident, courageous, and utterly empowered. I treasured playing her game because it was simply so fun—it was playful, hilarious, and outrageous, and I absolutely adored every single second of her journey because she made it so enjoyable every step of the way.
Bayonetta often talks about her love for makeup, fashion, and dancing; however, she also loves weapons, motorcycles, and arcade games. She loves a mix of typically feminine and typically masculine things, and doesn’t find them to be mutually exclusive. She also—much to my initial amazement—wears glasses and is not stereotypically bashful or insecure. She is outgoing and always ready for a challenge, and lets the world know it. She fights without forsaking her femininity, for she’ll proudly wear her guns on her heels, strut as she fights on the battlefield, and blow a kiss to the enemy that she has just finished destroying.
Bayonetta establishes that although she loves showing herself off, she is in full command of her sexuality just as she is in full command of the battlefield. It is vital to not dismiss a woman’s sexual agency, because yes, a woman can enjoy sex, she can be open about enjoying sex, and she can express her sexual appeal and desires if she wishes to, and should still be respected as a person.
Bayonetta will not let you view her as a sex object because her sexual nature is not for or about the player—it’s for and about her. She loves herself and takes pride in her self-defined identity as a woman without ever making herself seem as if she is above other women. In fact, her strongest relationship is with her best friend and friendly rival Jeanne—a relationship that, for many (including myself), is more than just friendship, considering that the second game is largely about Bayonetta going through thick and thin to rescue the most important person to her.
Another extremely important thing about Bayonetta is the way that she takes on a motherhood role in the first Bayonetta. This is often forced on women, and is simply a role not all women enjoy, and Bayonetta is initially one of these women. She’s used to focusing on herself and doing her own thing, having nobody around to bring her down. She eventually decides to assume the motherhood role, and through that role is how she grows as a character from the challenge of having to protect a little girl named Cereza.
That Cereza is not her actual daughter isn’t the important thing here—it’s the intimate bond between the two of them and the way that she comes to see Cereza not as a liability, but as a companion. It’s the lengths that she goes to in order to ensure the safety of Cereza and how she comes to genuinely care for her as if she were her own daughter. The motherhood role is not one that diminishes Bayonetta’s character, sexuality, or power; it’s one that contributes to her growth as a person and makes her all the more multifaceted.
In a world where women are simultaneously encouraged to embrace their sexuality and themselves, yet restrict themselves from doing or being “too much,” Bayonetta—with her infinitely long legs and glamorous high heels—unapologetically stands tall, is over-the-top, and does not shy away from embracing who she is.
Playing as her has been so important for me as a young woman. I cherished every time that I sat down to embody her, getting to feel even a fraction of her confidence, courage, and authenticity. I reveled in playing as a woman who is a walking contradiction to longtime conventions and a subversion of stereotypes. I treasured playing as a woman who wears glasses and is confident as hell, not forced into a role of passiveness and submissiveness—a role that I felt was the only one for me as I grew up.
I learned from playing as a woman who defines herself and doesn’t take shit from anyone. I adored playing as a woman who always reminds you that she owns her sexuality and that she is not someone for men to reduce to the sexual object of their desires. I was empowered by playing as a woman so self-assured that she makes me feel like I could tackle the world—maybe not in high heels with guns, but in my glasses and regained belief in myself.