Feminism in Gaming: Blizzard Games (with Mod Loser!)

Hey Nasties! This is Mod Loser, Jackie, whatever you want to call me. And in this FIG, I’m going to discuss Blizzard’s history with feminism in their video games. It has been a bit of a wild ride, so without any more waiting, let’s get started.

Obviously, the farther back you go, the more problematic you find the situation.  The original Diablo games locked certain classes to a gender (which made no sense), and the various other games released with more boring, white, male protagonists. And let’s not forget WoW, hmm? These games exist, and while they were good at the time, it is important to recognize why they were problematic.

However, Blizzard’s more recent games have shown a drastic shift towards a more inclusive goal, which is significant for representation. The primary contender would be Overwatch. As much as I absolutely despise the loot system in Overwatch, it is incredibly positive towards POC’s and members of the LGBTQA+ community.

The obvious example would be Tracer being in a lesbian relationship (which was confirmed), but let’s dig deeper. For example, Symmetra is a successful person of color who also has been confirmed to have autism. Further yet, she is a support character. This means that in any given match, she is beneficial. They specifically empowered Symmetra while making her an icon to gamers of color as well as gamers who have autism to encourage them to play. But who else?

Sombra is Hispanic and incredibly proud of her heritage. At first, I thought Sombra was a stereotype, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why it was so bad for a Hispanic woman to be proud of her culture? If anything, I’m glad Sombra was added in for that reason. Further, still, we have Mei who was the star of the Chinese New Year event. There’s Hanzo, Genji, Lucio, Pharah, Ana, Reaper,  and this list goes on. Almost half of the entire roster includes people of color, which is so very important.

You may have watched Mod Knight’s video regarding representation in gaming and why it is important (if not you can watch it here), but I’d like to reiterate. The point of seeing someone you can identify with, someone who clearly shares the same culture or background or struggles that you share, makes the player feel so much more invested. It validates us as players, it makes us feel more comfortable and we deserve these feelings.

Thanks for reading my little rant, Nasties! I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you have a stellar day! Mod Loser, signing off.

Character Spotlight: Genji Shimada from Overwatch with Mod Aria!

Mod Aria’s here today for another Character Spotlight installment! Since Mod Zan had the opportunity to talk about one of her favorite Overwatch characters, I figured I would follow along with that vein and talk about one of mine. Though not my all time favorite Overwatch character, Genji Shimada ranks fairly high on my list. Though, sadly, I feel like he’s certainly gained a lot of ire from the Overwatch fandom due to the way that some people, uh…play him. So today, I’d like to talk about what I think makes Genji a really interesting character!

The Tale of Genji Shimada

As Overwatch is a game that does not focus so much on it’s story or the background of its characters, lore must be searched for on the internet through the sources that Blizzard provides. Fortunately, they have given Genji a bit of a backstory via the Dragons animated short; as well as some snippets of lore that can be found in his character bio and within the game itself.

Genji was the younger brother of Hanzo, and the two were the children of the leader of the Shimada clan. This family had an enormous empire built with blood, but Genji separated himself from the crimes of his kin to pursue the life of a libertine. This angered many of the members of the clan, but his father and Hanzo were remiss to stop Genji. It wasn’t until clan leader Sojiro Shimada passed that things began to change.

Hanzo, now the new head of the Shimada clan, requested (or demanded, this part is a bit vague) that Genji clean up his act and commit to the Shimada. When Genji declined (or refused, this part is also vague), it lead to a heated confrontation between the two brothers. Somehow, Hanzo managed to land a killing blow on Genji, who would have died if not for Overwatch and Mercy.

From the information I’ve found searching Overwatch websites and such, it seems like Genji was conscious after being rescued by Overwatch. It is implied that he made a deal with Overwatch officers to aid them in exchange for robotic upgrades and implants to help him fight. Genji’s goal seems to have been hunting the Shimada, as he left Overwatch once that was complete. Genji also seems to have been a part of Blackwatch (Overwatch’s darker sector); meaning that Genji took part it some of the more sinister missions undertaken by the organization. 

It is also implied that Genji left due to his own inner demons; he hated his robot body, and felt like less of a human because of it. This inner struggle lead Genji to a nomadic life, and it was during his travels that he met Zenyatta. The omnic monk fervently pursued Genji in order to help him, but Genji declined. Through some miracle, Zenyatta was able to whittle down Genji’s hard shell and became Genji’s new master.

Reborn anew via Zenyatta’s guidance, Genji Shimada found inner peace. In Dragons, we discover that Genji had never taken revenge on Hanzo. Once the two fight, Genji notably says that he has forgiven Hanzo, and it is now Hanzo that struggles with his own inner demons.

Genji Shimada: The Meme vs The Man

Of course, it’s always fun to tease the Mercy of the group (or maybe just annoy her) buy spamming that you need healing. And the thousands of jokes made towards Genji’s backside never fail to make me grin. But beyond that, I think there is a great character that most of us have just kind of…forgotten about.

The Genji Shimada in the game is now serene and kind (while his previous self is implied to be cold and unfriendly). His battle-hardened attitude sometimes shows through, however, in his voice lines in the game. Some characters (like Hanzo, Zarya and Sombra) have some tense words between Genji pre-match. Genji can also be a bit cold when capturing a point or when losing the game. Despite that, he has many pleasant exchanges between other characters; mostly the old Overwatch crew. But he’s particularly kind to Mercy and Zenyatta, which is not surprising. Genji likely believes he owes his salvation to those two.

Other than that, Genji himself seems to be a man of few words. In a conversation pre-match with Winston, he mentions that he is uncomfortable with “awkward small talk”. His regular voice lines are usually only short sentences, and many of them are in his native Japanese. It seems to show that Genji must think before he speaks, and feels like conversations with no specified purpose are a waste of time. However, Genji is shown to have many witty retorts, and he feels quite unphased when threatened. This is a testament to Genji’s bravery, cleverness and determination.

Nevertheless, Genji still remarks during his visits to Numbani that he feels separate from both human and machine even after meeting Zenyatta. It seems like a subtle way of saying that it isn’t that Genji doesn’t continue to lament his new body. I think Genji has learned how to accept that he has no power to change what happened, and that the only road he can walk now is one of acceptance and love. By forgiving Hanzo, Genji seems to have embraced compassion; having a new relationship with Hanzo might not be something Genji would reject. However, I believe that Genji has also forgiven Hanzo as a step to find his own peace, not just to help Hanzo find his.

Suffice it to say, Genji Shimada is certainly one of the most intricate characters that came out of Overwatch. His personality has multiple facets, and a story that many find enthralling. Even if that part is glossed over for the sake of his healing line meme and his butt. I’m hoping that Blizzard will further expound upon his time spent with Zenyatta, as well as fully disclose what kind of relationship he and Mercy have. Until then, I’ll wait on bated breath for any and all Overwatch content.

Thanks so much for reading this article. Please stay tuned for more content from NWG!

–Mod Aria/Sam

Character Spotlight: Sombra with Mod Zan!

Hello, Nasties! Welcome to another Character Spotlight hosted by Mod Zan! In this delightful article, I’m going to be discussing my favorite Overwatch character: Sombra.

Sombra is a somewhat recent addition to Overwatch, entering the game in November of last year. Her playstyle is that of an infiltrator, categorized as an offense amongst well-loved characters like Tracer, Reaper and Soldier 76. Her powers available for use in-game are a translocator that allows you to teleport back to a location you set within a 15 second time frame before it expires, invisibility that also increases your speed, and hacking, which makes health packs unavailable to enemies and decreases the amount of time it takes for them to spawn for you and allies. If you hack enemies, they will be unable to use any of their abilities for 6 seconds.

Sombra is somewhat difficult to master and use effectively, especially to the benefit of the team. Since Overwatch relies on teamwork to accomplish most of the goals in game, it’s important to know that Sombra is great during control point games and capture the flag most importantly. She’s great for isolating enemies and taking them out one by one, but is easily overwhelmed if you aren’t quick on your feet and good at avoiding enemy fire.

Regardless, Sombra’s primary appeal for me is in her personality and backstory (like it is for many of my favorite characters…if not all of them.) Sombra is a Mexican survivor of the Omnic crisis, orphaned and left to fend for herself who ended up growing up and learning how to hack both computers and even people in order to further her own interests and to survive.

However, Sombra doesn’t just survive as a hacker. She thrives, and is presented as one of the most nefarious and fear-inducing hackers on the planet. Though she works with or for Talon, she is clearly more interested in furthering her own interests and proves it in her cinematic short where she, Widowmaker, and Reaper attack Volskaya Industries together.

Sombra is in her thirties, and her personality is that of a fun-loving gal with the kind of confidence that I would kill for. She’s incredibly unique as a character, especially one in a first person shooter such as Overwatch. Not only is she presented as a woman out for her own interests and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish her goal, she’s also the victim of a cyber attack through a global conspiracy that forced her to change her identity and go into hiding. She’s looking for the people behind it in addition to making connections through manipulation and hacking.

Her powers are varied and impressive. She’s a stealth-based character who exists to be played as offense as opposed to support. Sombra is never presented (thus far) as always having the upper hand, continually being the real one in power, pulling the strings for all characters involved. Her dynamic with the rest of the cast is also nothing short of hilarious, her voice lines presenting a variety of dynamics with each of the cast members. Most of them are humorous and give the player a nice sense of both personality and comedy.

Altogether, Sombra is my favorite character in Overwatch for a reason. She’s got a great deal of depth to back up an interesting play-style that you don’t often see in many games at all, let alone a first person shooter. She’s a woman of color with her own story and interests that don’t overlap with anyone’s that I can see thus far, and doesn’t operate under anyone but herself.

She’s powerful, strong, and feminine without being overtly sexualized, which I truly appreciate. Particularly because Overwatch historically has issues with the sexualization of some of its female characters despite its positives in diversity. Sombra is a great example of a character that is diverse in her identity while remaining interesting as a person without any help needed to engage the player in her story.

Another thing that the developers did very well in the making of Sombra was hyping her up as the release date approached. They littered the game and the wiki with hints about her existence for months, teasing her and refusing to confirm anything concrete in order to push the excitement for her release. It worked fabulously, and I don’t believe that they have hyped up any character with exception of Doomfist to the same level as Sombra. So far, every character that they’ve added to the game has only increased the diversity of the cast and increased the universe’s depth.

Sombra is still my favorite addition to date, and has taken the top place in my mind out of the entire Overwatch cast, and makes my top 10 favorite characters of all time throughout all of the video games that I’ve played to date. There’s a lot to love about her, and I honestly cannot wait to see what we learn about her in future cinematics, hints and teasers.  

Feminism in Gaming: Overwatch with Mod Zan!

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. 

Image result for overwatch women

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.

Image result for overwatch widowmaker

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.

Image result for overwatch uprising

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