If there's one thing I never expected a game to do, it would be to teach self respect.
I’m admittedly cynical about the phrase “owns her sexuality.” Not the concept, but rather the application of it, which I seem to find ascribed to any female character who fits the “girl who kicks ass” cliche irrespective of how she is otherwise objectified and depowered. I have listened to the arguments for why Bayonetta, for instance, is empowering and pro-feminine. Some, such as that by my blogmate G. Christopher Williams, are quite well-argued— but I still don’t agree. My view of the situation is perhaps best articulated by the likes of William Huber, who contended: “I had found it difficult to explain the inadequacy - even the wrong-headedness - of this approach, my perception that these depictions still ultimately served male vanities and played on female anxieties, and that the male game player—his needs, desires, and qualms—still was being overwhelmingly served in games that were supposedly being targeted to both men and women” (“The perpetuation of a misguided notion”, zang.org, 12 January 2010).
As a game designed by men and targeted to men (as most games are), Bayonetta does not particularly convince me that it is either profeminine or empowering in its cartoonish portrayal of the female figure. I’m open to differing opinions on this matter, but I’m not certain that the weaponized sexuality of Bayonetta or Atlus’s upcoming Catherine are the same as women “owning” their sexuality at all, not when they seem to simply play on male anxieties of emasculation and continue to serve moderately conservative, heteronormative social views.
Dragon Age II doesn’t break down doors or revolutionize women characters, of course, but it still has some positive characteristics that I like. I’ve spoken previously about my adoration for another Dragon Age II character, Aveline Vallen and my appreciation for the Dragon Age universe’s gynocentric dominant religion, Andrastianism, which features a woman Christ figure. I’m not saying that Dragon Age is a safe haven of liberalism and positive representation of diversity in an industry sorely lacking it, but . . . Well, okay, so I am, but that isn’t to say that Dragon Age is absolutely free of problematic representation. Indeed, it certainly has issues aplenty. But if there’s one thing I never expected a game to do, it would be to teach me self-respect.