Yesterday the first reviews for the Wii U exclusive Bayonetta 2 were published, and most were extremely positive, with Platinum Games’ latest labor of love soaring with an extremely flattering 91 on Metacritic. Yet, among all the joy for a game that really makes Nintendo’s home console shine, also bringing something radically different from the usual Mario’s and Zelda’s, there was a discordant voice.
Polygon published a frankly depressing review in which the author praised the gameplay profusely, only to drop the axe and dock points due to the “blatant over-sexualization” included in the game.
When Platinum Games is on, it’s really, really on, and Bayonetta 2 is in almost any respect that counts a better game than the first, whose mechanics were already exemplary. But every time I’d feel on a roll, enjoying my time with Bayonetta 2 immensely, I’d be broken out of it by another cheap shot of T&A. I would be wrecking a flock of angelic or demonic enemies, sliding in and out of witch time almost at will, and then the special weapon I had picked up became a literal stripper pole for Bayonetta to dance on, because … well, because, I guess.
I won’t guess why the blatant over-sexualization is still there, often more intensely than before. But it causes an otherwise great game to require a much bigger mental compromise to enjoy.
I spent a good while conflicted on whether to write about this or to just elect not to touch this crap with a ten foot pole, but, in the end, I decided to commit my thoughts to virtual ink, as it represents a much bigger and widespread problem, and something needs to be said.
I won’t spend a lot paragraphs defending Bayonetta 2‘s sexy imagery, because to be completely honest, it doesn’t need to be defended. It’s part of the character and of the franchise. It’s expressed with joy and irreverent strength in a positive celebration of beauty and allure, and demanding or expecting a Bayonetta without it makes as much sense as wanting Call of Duty without guns (with the difference that those that criticize sexual imagery in games tend to have absolutely no problem with violence and assorted slaughter).
The problem is deeper and is starting to take deep roots in modern reviews. Authors are departing from the idea of giving their readers a fair assessment of a game’s quality, and are increasingly using reviews as their personal soapbox, or as a high horse on which to sit to educate the allegedly unschooled gaming masses on whatever personal agenda they happen to support, and to “punish” those game developer that happen to produce games that don’t fit said agendas.
I used the word “fair” on purpose. Fully objective reviews are not of this world, and expecting one is exactly like expecting a Bayonetta game without lovely curves on abundant display, but “fair” reviews are definitely something we should expect and strive for.
What should be reflected, first and foremost, in a review’s content and in its score is the game’s quality, and while several aspects of “quality” are subjective, there are also many that aren’t. Production values are an example: graphics, animation, audio, textures, effects; Those are objective aspects of a game’s value that should not be overlooked. Lately, on the other hand, you see reviewers completely ignoring them in favor of their personal gut feeling, which often has very little to do with the game.
When you see games with extremely high production values like Destiny being slapped with a 4 or a 5, it’s obvious that the reviewer is completely ignoring the objectively positive aspects of the title, and is replacing them with spite and misinformation in order to punish the developer for having released something that didn’t match his personal expectations.
And this is ultimately what we’re talking about: the purpose of a review is to inform the reader on the game’s quality. It’s not to school gamers on what kind of imagery they are entitled to enjoy without “mental compromises,” nor to punish developers that happen not to agree with our moral, social, political or aesthetic standards.
Scoring a game lower (and possibly much lower) due to a very personal agenda is nothing short of misinformation, as it blatantly misrepresents the quality of a game, and ultimately does a disservice to the many readers that don’t happen to match the reviewer’s personal hurt feelings.
This doesn’t mean that a reviewer can’t mention his personal problems related to a game, but this kind of thing definitely should not reflect in the final judgement, as it simply has nothing to do with the game’s real value as an entertainment product.
There are plenty journalistic tools to express displeasure for an element introduced in a game without marring a review with evident bias that goes much beyond the natural departure from objectivity characterizing any and every human being. That’s why we’re allowed to write editorials, in which we can rage and shake our angry fists against Bayonetta and her curvaceous graces to our hearts’ content.
This is even more problematic when the one writing the review is a site’s Reviews Editor, responsible not only for the content of all the reviews churned out by that outlet, but also for assigning said reviews to the staff.
Logic would dictate to avoid assigning a review to someone who has strong personal and preconceived feelings against a relevant element of a game, as the conflict of interests between writing a fair review and jumping on that gilded soapbox is evident. A Reviews Editor is supposed to know how he feels, and I don’t believe for a moment that anyone working in even the most remote outskirts of this industry may not be aware well in advance about Bayonetta 2‘s sexual content.
This means that Polygon’s Reviews Editor knowingly and probably intentionally approached Bayonetta 2‘s review to give Platinum Games a rap on the knuckles for daring to depict their protagonist in a sexually charged way, which is something I can’t consider acceptable.
Polygon and its Reviews Editor definitely aren’t alone in this saddening trend. Many are steering away from pure gaming coverage and moving towards pursuing broader goals, that not always fit with safeguarding diversity and fun in gaming.
Unfortunately, the idea of diversity many seem to share is: “diversity is awesome, as long as it fits my taste and ideas.”
Personally, I’m all for diversity, and I pride myself in writing for one of those sites that has always sported an extremely diverse mix of colors, genders, ideas and tastes. It saddens me that between the many calls for diversity we’ve seen lately, some actually fly in the face of diversity itself by implying that games that celebrate sexuality and beauty like Bayonetta 2 should not exist or are not worth playing and enjoying.
Humanity already went through dark and oppressive periods in which sexuality was seen as evil and sinful, and honestly we don’t need another. Games have fought for decades against censorship and fanatics like Jack Thompson, and we definitely don’t need more coming from our own midst (even if saying that some journalists come from “our own midst” does require a rather big “mental compromise” I guess).
Championing diversity should involve pushing for more and more diverse games to be made by more and more diverse people and cultures (and this includes Bayonetta 2‘s own Japanese culture, that many seem to enjoy reviling), not for the elimination of those games and styles that don’t fit our ideas and morals.
Marring our reviews with our personal agendas against this or that game which we deem offensive to our personal sensibility goes against what we’ve always fought for, and I find it appalling.
When a game is “great,” it’s great. Period. Worry about your “mental compromises” on your own time.