Hi guys, gals and non-binary pals; it’s Mod Zan, here to talk to you a little bit about feminism in my favorite first person shooter. So settle down and put on your reading glasses if you’re ready to talk about feminism in Overwatch!
Overwatch came out early in 2016, and took the gaming world by storm. As a first person shooter it acts a lot differently than most in that genre and provides the kind of character diversity in both gameplay and identity that we’re unused to seeing. Though it clearly means a lot to us gamers, we must ask: Does Blizzard make the cut when we look a little closer? For the purposes of this article, let’s break it down into three simple but distinct categories: Representation, Sexuality, and Story.
Representation: Blizzard’s character roster, as of the addition of Orisa, has 24 playable heroes. Of those heroes, 11 are female and 13 are male. Out of these, 4 male characters are people of color, (not counting Zenyatta), and 6 women are people of color (not counting Orisa). I’m more inclined to count Orisa as a women of color, because of her creator, Efi, and her distinct South African Accent. Zenyatta is arguable, though his voice actor is a POC, but because of that, I’ll count him. Although this is honestly one of the best games for diversity that we’ve seen in some time, it isn’t flawless. Many of the women have outfits and character models that are overly revealing and/or sexualized (Looking at you, Widowmaker.) Additionally, a lot of the women don’t necessarily look their age despite being over forty (looking at you, Mercy!).
This isn’t to say that all women age in the same way, but there’s only one older woman that actually looks her age (though having an older woman of color is excellent!), it would be nice to see a little more. There are also no black women in the playable cast. Even though Orisa and Efi’s existence is amazing and creates an incredible opportunity for better game representation; we don’t get to see Efi in game, and if you don’t read up on the lore outside of the game, we wouldn’t know that she exists outside of Orisa’s sprays. I love having a game where I feel that I can relate to many of the characters, but Overwatch can do better, and they should! They’ve made great headway and hopefully, it will only get better despite its flaws.
Sexuality: Speaking of Widowmaker, the sexualization of the characters in this game is relatively important to talk about in this article. Despite the fact that we have plenty of women in Overwatch that aren’t sexualized, like Ana, Pharah, and Sombra, we also have a lack of proper outfitting; especially for battle with a few characters, like Widowmaker, Symmetra, and even Zarya! (Does she really need a titty-plate, guys? The armor would have been perfect otherwise…) These are amazing ladies, and having them in the game is fantastic. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that their armor doesn’t work functionally, and looks a little ridiculous. Especially when many of the male characters have armor that not only looks functional, but fantastic!
It’s kind of a fact that when a character, (no matter how dark, tortured, and badass) is sexualized to the degree that Widowmaker is, it becomes impossible to take them seriously. Overwatch is a game with rich characters and lore, but the ones that are sexualized suffer. They drag the feeling and story of the game down and interrupt the immersion for the player into their universe. Since the universe and world-building is arguably what makes Overwatch unique in the FPS genre, these problematic aspects are stains on an otherwise fascinating game.
Story: That being said, many of the characters in Overwatch are incredibly well made. The universe that the characters exist in is interesting and unique with the Omnic War, the Overwatch initiative and the respective factions, such as Blackwatch and Talon. All of the characters feel unique in gameplay as well as personality; so no two feel completely alike. The characters have different lines of dialogue with one another, changing depending on the location and team makeup, that adds even more depth to them and truly immerses the player. The POC characters have POC voice actors, and their backstory is relevant to them.
Ironically, my biggest complaint about the game as a whole is the lack of a story mode. As of a few weeks ago, we had the Uprising event that has expanded a bit on the story of Overwatch and some of its members (such as Tracer, Reaper, Soldier: 76, etc.). This has also brought in the addition of small character bios attached to skins that gives the player little tidbits about the characters. I genuinely adore this addition, but was slightly disappointed with some of the character’s information provided. While some people get a bit more of an in-depth look from the developers and writers, others are somewhat dismissed and given the most basic overview of what they are and the writing adds very little to their personality and backstory. In general, the game has a lot of depth to it and especially given that the story affects how the characters interact with one another. I would love to see a sequel with a story mode or the addition of a story mode in the future if possible.
Altogether, Overwatch is a great game. It has varied gameplay, modes, options, and lore that keep the player involved. It’s one of the most diverse casts that we’ve seen, possibly ever. (At least in AAA games). They have a lesbian as their posterchild and frankly, that’s a really great step forward.
However, despite its fantastic points, we can’t ignore the flaws in both gameplay and representation. Critique is an essential part of any art form and in order to continue taking feminism and diversity in gaming into the future, we must continue to talk about the things that we want to change.
Overwatch will hopefully set a precedent for even more diverse games to be made and promote representation for gamers that often don’t get to see people who look like them in their favorite media. I look forward to their future updates, and I hope that many other games will follow their lead in order to create a better future for all players, regardless of identity.
– Mod Zan