The first thing that struck me about the Overwatch trailer, before anything else, was the fact that this game was trying to appeal to me. This is not something I’m used to experiencing.
Like many female gamers, I grew up with the understanding that most gamers are dudes and that games reflect that. I learned that hyper-sexualised female characters and male-only leads were the norm.
That said, I have always tended to like games that are in general more diverse. Games like the Elder Scrolls series or World of Warcraft, where not only can you play a female character but where there are some damn incredible female lead characters as well. Games that just feel more accepting of me in general, even if they were still very male-focused in many ways.
Of course, we now know that the gaming industry’s demographic has changed drastically. It’s become a lot bigger, and a lot more diverse, and the industry is beginning to accept and acknowledge that.
In response to a question asked at BlizzCon about representation of women in Overwatch, Blizzard’s Chris Metzen has said as much.
“We build games for everybody. We want everyone to come and play. Increasingly, people want to feel represented, from all walks of life, boys and girls, everybody.”
You can feel this attitude radiating from the Overwatch trailer. The first superhero we see, the one the young boy in the trailer is gushing over as his favourite, is a British woman named Tracer. The next superhero, a giant blue ape named Winston, wears glasses. While both the female Widowmaker and the male Reaper are the antagonists, Widowmaker seems to be leader of the two.
A further examination of Overwatch shows an even more diverse range of characters. Symmetra is an Indian woman. Pharah is a woman in big, bulky armour carrying the sort of big, bulky gun that we’re used to seeing reserved exclusively for big, bulky men. The male character Hanzo is Japanese.
The message is clear. Women can be kickass good guys. Women can be kickass bad guys. People with glasses can be kickass. People of colour can be kickass. And yes, white dudes can be kickass too. No-one has forgotten them, nor wants to see them leave.
Importantly, Blizzard hasn’t forgotten the young, excited boy that so many gamers recognize and resonate with.
All in all, you get the feeling that when Jeff Kaplan said “we want everybody to feel kick-butt”, he meant it.
Words cannot describe how good it feels to be spoken to, wanted, and cared about, and in a way that welcomes everyone rather than alienates one group in favour of another.
Chris Metzen also made it clear that Blizzard is trying not to over-sexualise female characters, a statement that might seem amusingly ironic in the face of the fact that four out of the five female characters are wearing skin-tight clothes, and that all five of them seem to have a very specific, extremely idealized and sexy body-type. He did state that there’s room for growth, but that it’s something to which they’re becoming increasingly sensitive. Again, the evidence supporting these claims is clear.
The women in Overwatch so far are certainly sexy, but it would be reactionary to treat sexy as inherently bad. The problems that surround the sexual objectification of women mostly have to do with that second word: objectification. All too often, female characters are reduced to objects, with no agency of their own, forced into impractical, hyper-sexualised costumes and expected to play the role of background decoration.
No-one can claim this is what’s going on with Overwatch’s female characters. Their clothes are practical. Attractive, but not at the cost of decreased protection. No battle-bikinis and, as mentioned before, at least one of them is fully kitted out in bulky armour.
Widowmaker’s outfit might be a bit skimpy and focused on how absolutely drop-dead gorgeous she is, but then Hanzo’s outfit shows off how drop-dead gorgeous he is too. It feels fair.
These women are also clearly not mere background decoration. No damsels in distress or objects here. They’re as strong, as important, and as dangerous as their male counterparts.
Maybe Chris Metzen is right, and there is still room for growth, but this feels like a damn good start.