I keep creating more tags for my blogposts which is a real problem. I have SO many tags by now!
Anyway, Overwatch! Blizzard have finally revealed the last of their 21 heroes (funny number?) this Blizzcon, several of which were female characters hooray! And not just your standard fare either – looking at the final 8 heroines, you can tell that Blizzard have actually made an effort in the right direction and are listening to some of that criticism related to representation in character-driven gaming. For their newer games, anyway.
Of course there is no pleasing some people which is one of my biggest gripes with extreme internet culture. You can browse that Kotaku link above to find commenters faulting Zarya’s design for being “too stereotype”. Now look, yes the characters are still stereotypes – for one, the entire game is based on hefty cultural/ethnic stereotypes for both its male and female candidates. Overwatch is doing what most oldschool beat’em ups used to: featuring folk from “around the world” representing a specific country. Their looks are stereotypes, their accents are stereotypes (although I think they should have hired me to voice for Mercy!) and there will be gender-related stereotypes. Also this being a Blizzard title, everything is highly stylized rather than nuanced.
Presence of such stereotypes need not mean absence of diversity however. I am pleased with the variety Overwatch is bringing in terms of female character design and role combos! I’m already loving some of them, so let’s have a closer look at what we actually got, shall we?
Overwatch heroine overview
First off, I did a quick breakdown of role-age-flavor for all 8 female characters, to get a very basic idea:
– The average age of Overwatch’s women is 28.8. For men it is 36.9. Two of the 13 male characters are non-human.
– While role spread is even for the ladies, there are only two male supports (plus 3 tanks, 4 def, 4 off).
– 25% of female body types fall into a skinny/sporty category, 37% into curvy/sexy (with heels, no bare midriffs tho!) and 37% into heavier/muscled types. About half of them can be considered classic “pretty or cute characters”, the other half ranging from tomboy geeky to strong athletic types (no less attractive but obviously not exactly standard, either). Gear choice and role correspond to these flavor differences (healers…) which makes more or less sense.
– For male character design, about 23% can be considered attractive/hot in a western culture mainstream sense (Hanzo, Lucio, McCree). Generally, with the exception of Hanzo, male characters wear non-sexy gear with little to no notable skin bared (bare bellies also for Junkrat and Roadhog…not hot).
Naturally, these are my subjective impressions of the 21 playable characters, your mileage may vary here and there. I’ve intentionally used simplified, superficial characteristics which serve the purpose of this overview. Body types, armor and role spread (sometimes even gender-locked roles) are an often discussed subject in online games and players are quick to write off characters as the “hot or ugly ones”.
In action and depending on additional gear to come, things may yet change. To me it seemed useful to analyze actual numbers behind Blizzard’s approach to the Overwatch roster. There’s some refreshing stuff going on just like there are still differences between male and female representation. The most significant differences are age range and what I personally wanna call rugged/scarred/crazy characters which remain firmly the province of men. All the female champions seem neat enough and aware of body hygiene.
With all that in mind, there is more character diversity in Overwatch than I am personally used to from MOBA/TF-types and the 8:11 gender split (not counting non-humans) is very nice. So for that I give kudos to the Overwatch crew! Progress happens one step at a time – I’ll take whatever I can.