Language and Power in Lollipop Chainsaw

I'm just going to say it, I love Lollipop Chainsaw. It's easily dismissed as ditzy and embarrassing but has more going on in its head than many give it credit for. I'm not suggesting anyone give a free pass to a game with an achievement for trying to look up the main character's skirt. There's plenty of fan-service and rape innuendo here, and I'm not telling you to like it. But I am suggesting there are other things worth talking about.

One of the things I find particularly interesting is Lollipop Chainsaw's use of gendered insults. Criticism of Batman: Arkham City drew a lot of attention to this issue, and Lollipop Chainsaw can easily be put in the same basket. The difference, I think, is that Arkham City didn't expect anyone to notice. A word like "bitch" is seen as a natural part of that setting. I doubt the designers (or most players) thought too hard about it, and that's what makes it so insidious.

Lollipop Chainsaw is part of the same cultural trend, but it seems to know exactly what a gendered insult is and what impact it has. This nets it more criticism because the words are so difficult to ignore, but it's a better lesson in what it's like to be constantly attacked for your gender and appearance.

The first boss fight in particular is a constant barrage of bitch, slut, whore, slag, etc. By the end of the battle instances of the word "bitch" are starting to bleed into each other. You are clearly supposed to notice the words being directed at you. Slurs written in giant letters fly through the air and have to be dodged. The symbolism isn't exactly subtle.

Lollipop Chainsaw Screenshot

Juliet fighting Zed the punk rock zombie. The giant words "STUPID COOZE" are coming towards her.

Words have power and can be used to hurt and diminish people. Insults, sexual harassment, and slut-shaming are a normal part of life for Juliet, and she has to fight them just as much as the zombies. Once the zombies are vanquished she still has to put up with classmates talking about how they're going to masturbate to her. Try being an attractive woman dressed in a cheerleader outfit for a while, it looks like great fun.

Embracing a cheerful, air-headed cheerleader stereotype is actually pretty understandable under these circumstances. It's one way of rising above all the shit. If that sounds messed up it's because it is, but many women adopt these kind of personas. Intelligence is seen as overly threatening, and sexuality becomes the easiest way to have influence and be admired. A bubbly attitude lets insults slide past, damage unseen.

Juliet's far from perfect, but I can't help but be on her side. She's the most in-control person in her school right now — probably the only person with the skills to survive — and she's still being perceived as a bimbo and sex-object above anything else. I honestly think there's value in putting players in that position. The major issue I see is the risk of perceiving the insults and sexual comments as just more over-the-top Suda51 edginess. It's exaggerated, sure, but not exactly out there.

Campy does not have to mean shallow. Lollipop Chainsaw is fun and incredibly silly, but it's beautifully crafted silliness. "Self-aware" is an easy term to throw around to justify all kinds of bullshit, but it's the best term I have for explaining why Lollipop Chainsaw's more than surface-level cheese.

Not that there's anything wrong with a bit of cheese.