Friday, November 7, 2014

Overwatch: Diversity Done Better

Blizzard announced their first new IP in 17 years. Seventeen! That's older than a good chunk of their fanbase--I know when I see comments about how people grew up on WoW it makes me feel old. But the last new IP Blizzard had was StarCraft in 1998. Though they've beefed up their franchises with spin-offs (Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm), at some point the Diablo/StarCraft/WarCraft triumvirate was going to give out. So to see a new thing is pretty sweet.

I'm not a huge fan of modern FPS games. I was big into Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, and Quake 3 Arena back in the day, but more recent titles like Halo or Gears of War haven't really interested me. I played Mass Effect despite the shooter aspect of it (though to be fair, Mass Effect 3 did a really, really good job of making it much more fun). But Overwatch seems like it's an interesting enough take on the team-based shooter genre that I want to give it a whirl.

Between the superhero-esque powers, a little faster-paced gameplay than many other shooters, and a strong aesthetic all really solidify it in my head as something I want to play. What also helps, however, is that the characters are actually quite interesting.

Twelve characters have been revealed so far, and there are more to be shown, but of the ones we've seen, we have two robots, nine humans, and a gorilla. Of those nine humans, five are women. And not only that, but we have people of different skin tones beyond white (which is typically either European, Australian, or North American representation in games). Symmetra is Indian, Pharah is Egyptian, and Honzo is Japanese.

Mind you, some folks have already accused Blizzard of "appropriating stereotypical aspects of other cultures to layer on top of its white-dude-fantasy-world." I'm not really in much of a position to argue for or against that, mind you, being pasty white and all, but at the same time I'm finding it hard to think of other major games where an Indian or Middle Eastern character is shown in a positive light, or at all, so it's probably a positive step overall.

While they mostly have similar body types, there's still a fair bit of diversity within the set of ladies.
As for the ladies in the game, while I think they could use more diversity in their silhouettes (as they largely all have the exact same body type), @Moxiedoodle summed it better than I could:

So kudos, Blizzard. Folks took you to task, and then you stepped up to the plate and maybe not hit a home run, but frankly still did a lot better than you have in the past. And a lot better than many other developers do today. And you did so in a way that shows the game as not being any worse for wear by being inclusive.

There are still white characters, and male-power-fantasy characters, and boob plate and fan service, but there's also covered characters, folks who aren't white, and lots of ladies. As @Moxiedoodle mentions above: there's something for maybe not everyone, but a lot more than there was in prior games. #Blizzard, #Overwatch, #Diversity


  1. Ok, so I hate blogger. I typed out a long ass comment and because I hadn't chosen what account to comment under, it ate my comment.

    The TL;DR version. Overwatch is TF2, but also feels like "MOBA in FPS mode." Avoiding hype. Look forward to trying though. Does anyone know if it's going to be free to play or buy the box?

    1. Argh, sorry :( Lots of people seem to have that issue with Blogger. Boourns. I really ought to figure out a better platform and migrate.

      Agreed with the TF2/MOBA in FPS vibe. I don't think we've heard anything about the monetization strategy. iirc, someone asked at the panel and the response was, "The marketers will figure it out."

  2. As someone who has been a Blizzard fan for most of their life but has sometimes felt slightly ashamed by the fact, I am very pleased to see Overwatch making an effort towards diversity and inclusiveness.

    As you point out, there are still some places for criticism -- Widowmaker and Mercy are very much examples of the narrow boxes games tend to force female characters into, for instance -- but I think the important thing is that they're actually trying. Most game developers aren't even making that effort to be inclusive.

    As long as they're willing to make an effort, that's a step forward. Over time, maybe they can learn to do a better job. That's how things move forward in the industry; it won't be a case of magically flipping a switch and making every game a perfect exemplar of diversity. It's going to be a journey. But that journey doesn't begin until developers make the conscious decision to embark on it, and that's what Blizzard's done with Overwatch.

    Aside from the obvious visual diversity in Overwatch, I think it's also interesting to note the multiculturalism of the cast. You'll note that not one of the game's twelve currently announced characters is American. Personally, I've gotten quite fed-up by the US-centric nature of most popular sci-fi over the years, so I'm quite happy with that.

    On the subject of commenting on Blogger, I've managed to figure out the proper combination of log-ins, voodoo, and animal sacrifices to make it work, but is, indeed, a pain in the ass.

    1. I think it's okay to have some fan-servicey stuff. There are plenty of folks who love cosplaying those characters as well, and find being sexy empowering. For me, the ultimate goal is a cast that reflects the diverse nature of the game's audience. That there are options for folks who want to be female, but not necessarily in a skin-tight cat suit.

      You can't end up with infinite combinations, clearly, but having more options is definitely good :D But I agree entirely: they're actually trying, and that's more effort than most companies out there. Like you mention, it'll take time, experimentation, and practice.

    2. Late late reply here, but I agree, some fan service stuff is good, representation is good.

      But while they're at it, I really hope they add a trans character. Just one trans representation would make a lot of people happy...although it'll probably piss a lot of people off, for no good reason.

  3. I don't think the DIII female barb gets enough credit for being away outside the norm in terms of body type. The demon hunter is so bad (high heels, on a character built around speed and athleticism? Really??) that it sort of cancels out though :(

    1. That's an excellent point. D3 in general actually does pretty well, as each class has both male and female versions of the classes, and they're relatively varied in look and tone. I love my lady wizard, she is sassy as hell and it is amazing. The woman crusader also doesn't fit the stereotypical silhouette.

      They do pretty well on the NPCs, too. Leah goes from cowering teenager to plot device. Adria is a trope of the crone, but she does pretty well. The guard captain in the desert city is a lady if I recall correctly.