The relationship between femininity and gaming has long been tumultuous. For a majority of the public, the image of the capital “G” Gamer is that of a bro playing Call of Duty or Halo online and shouting over voice chat. To be a woman and a gamer has long gone hand in hand with harassment. While the industry has made strides towards inclusivity, the treatment of a group that makes up 41 percent of all gamers still looms large as a major problem. The early 2010s marked a specific time in gaming that seemed geared towards fulfilling male fantasies. One cult classic from that era is on the brink of a comeback.
Lollipop Chainsaw was released a decade ago in June 2012, and around the game’s 10-year anniversary, original producer Yoshimi Yasuda teased over Twitter that the game will be making a return in some form or another. And so it is time for a cultural re-evaluation of the feminine depiction represented in the game.
So let’s talk about bimbos.
Welcome to the peep show
Lollipop Chainsaw was developed by Suda51’s studio Grasshopper Manufacture Inc., the same company behind the No More Heroes series. The Marvel Studios Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn served as a writer for the project. The game is a zombie hack ‘n’ slash, but that was not the main selling point. Promotional material and trailers for Lollipop Chainsaw focused on the protagonist, a barely legal cheerleader named Juliet Starling.
The way the trailers focus on Juliet’s skimpy short skirt and “perfect” body is downright voyeuristic. The camera zooms in on Starling’s lips as she sucks a lollipop. There’s even more than one upskirt angle. Suggestive language makes a few meta quips about the player being in her bedroom. Lollipop Chainsaw was never shy about advertising the real product that players wanted: Juliet herself.
Story-wise, it is Juliet’s 18th birthday. (Yes, we are literally talking barely legal territory!) She is nervous because tonight she is bringing her boyfriend Nick home for the first time to meet her family. Sadly, when Juliet arrives at school, she discovers there has been a zombie outbreak and poor Nick is bitten. To prevent him from turning, she decapitates her boyfriend and performs a spell to keep his head alive. Turns out Juliet and her family are zombie hunters. What follows is a hack ‘n’ slash adventure through school to stop the outbreak and make it to Juliet’s birthday dinner alive.
The game’s mechanics were uninspired, even at the time. It simply did not stand up to action titles like the Devil May Cry franchise. The one flourish developers did add to combat was a plethora of effects for Juliet’s attacks that included glitter, pink hearts, and rainbows. Continuous learning camera work accentuated the shortness of her skirt and the tightness of her sports bra. They can rightfully be called money shots.
The omnipresent objectification of Juliet even impacts how characters interact with her. In his review, IGN writer Mitch Dyer said, “For every zombie Juliet Starling decapitates with her chainsaw, someone calls her a whore, talks about masturbating to her, or comments on her gigantic breasts.”
The Lolita fantasy
Proponents of Lollipop Chainsaw at the time of its release argued that Suda51 games were always crass, always weird, and yet always had a deeper meaning. These advocates (typically men) would say that the bubblegum pop veneer and over-sexualization of Juliet was “The Point.” It was a commentary on sexual objectification.
There is a joke that if you ask a man why he loves boobs so much, he will give you a speech about the nature of sexuality, beauty, and the meaning of the universe. Ask a queer woman or nonbinary person why they love boobs, and they will say something like “titty soft, titty warm, titty safe.”
This is what contemporary analysis of Lollipop Chainsaw feels like.
Juliet is created from the minds of men to perfectly flip a switch in every straight male’s head that this is a hot piece of meat. Juliet is a Lolita fantasy, a barely veiled recreation of Britney Spears in “Baby One More Time.” Juliet literally says, “Oops, I did it again.” She exists in the pinkish-grey area between childish bubblegum innocence and the hypersexualization of youth.
The difference between Juliet Starling and an equally sexualized character like Bayonetta is an interesting thing to parse. The appeal of Bayonetta is that she is a hot woman in heels who would step on you and not give you the time of day. She tortures men and has a deep relationship with Jeanne, one that is largely read as romantic by fans. This power fantasy isn’t necessarily appealing to male audiences wanting to feel like they get to exert some sort of control over the female protagonist.
Long live bimbo
One word that was thrown around in several reviews of Lollipop Chainsaw was “bimbo.” It was used to negatively describe the characterization of Juliet Starling.
“Juliet is an idiotic, unaware bimbo,” reads the IGN review.
New York Daily News called Juliet “the typical high school bimbo, a San Romero High cheerleader and a blond, ditsy and stupid and painfully one-dimensional.”
But what does bimbo even mean? Urban Dictionary entries for bimbo during the time of Lollipop Chainsaw define the term as “a very unsmart blonde, with giant tits,” and “a stupid, sexually careless girl or young woman, usually but not always blonde, and usually but not always big-titted.” Yikes.
10 years have passed since Lollipop Chainsaw, and in that decade the conversation of both feminine identity and sexual politics in the games industry has evolved. 2013 saw the start of a years-long harassment campaign in the games industry referred to as Gamergate. A concentrated effort from misogynistic parties within the broader gaming community sought to preserve what they saw as true gaming. They believed the way to go about this was by sending death threats to female critics and developers to have them leave the industry by any means possible.
Lo and behold, Gamergate never truly ended. It is still not 100 percent safe to be a woman in video games, but the discussion around issues of misogyny allowed for much of the community to work towards change. At the same time, the larger culture has moved through phases of feminine identity. For a time, there was the Girlboss, the ideology of pinning femininity to the work hustle. Women can change the world if they just submit to systems of capitalism and work, girl!
But the Girlboss is dead, and the bimbo killed her.
The rise of TikTok during a global pandemic led to a resurgence in bimbo ideology or bimbofication. i-D Magazine announced that 2021 was “the year of the bimbo.”
The use of bimbo sounds like an odd choice based on those old Urban Dictionary definitions, but meanings change over time. Today, the bimbo adheres to the bubblegum pop and sexual aesthetic of bimbos from a bygone era. But modern bimboism is “grounded in inclusive, anti-capitalist, jubilantly queer and aggressively kind ideology,” as defined by Vice writer Arielle Richards.
In a modern bimbo, post #FreeBritney world, Juliet Starling still represents an ideal. She is a conventionally attractive woman who fully embraces her sexuality on her own terms. Juliet embodies distinct self-love and pride despite the objectification she receives from other characters, the player, and her creators. She may fit the bill of a stereotypical cheerleader, but she’s also a powerful zombie hunter wielding a chainsaw.
While the circumstances of Juliet Starling’s creation in the original Lollipop Chainsaw are rooted in early 2010’s misogyny and voyeurism, modern reclamation of bimboism can give Juliet the deeper meaning she always deserved. And there has never been a better time than right now.