With ‘Overwatch,’ Blizzard Hopes Women, Minority Fans Will Feel Welcome

As the buzz starts to circle Overwatch, the new first-person shooter from Blizzard set to go into beta in 2015, one of the most interesting comments has been from game designer Chris Metzen. During a press conference at BlizzCon 2014, Metzen told a story about watching some World of Warcraft cinematics with his daughter.

My daughter was like, ‘Why are they all in swimsuits?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.’

It’s an interesting question. As geek culture becomes more and more mainstream, more women are proud to stand and be counted as geeks and gamers, playing games like Overwatch and League of Legends. Even playing as a female in an Overwatch-type game has become more common, however, female gamers have seen more than a little pushback. The most recent horrors have come at the hands of GamerGate, a hashtag coined by actor Adam Baldwin, and whose users often claim to be talking about integrity in regards to female gamers and journalism, as they doxx (reveal personal details about) women gamers and industry professionals.

According to Metzen:

I think we’re clear we’re in an age where gaming is for everybody. We build games for everybody. We want everybody to come and play. Increasingly people want to feel represented from all walks of life, everywhere in the world. Boys and girls—everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that.”

But are the female characters in Overwatch really all that different from what Blizzard has released before? According to the comments in the article Polygon released regarding the increased diversity of the Overwatch’s characters, it seems that opinions are pretty split. Sure, it seems like the female Overwatch characters are better…if you consider “better” meaning that they’re not all running around in metal bikinis and high heels. Still, it seems a bit of a mixed message that the statement was released at the same time as artwork for “Widowmaker,” a female sniper character, pictured from the back, with highlighted “assets,” high heels, skintight clothing, and twisting her spine at an angle that only functions in comic book physics.

That said, it is a step forward to have someone at least paying lip service to the idea that women playing games like Overwatch might want to pick up an avatar who resembles them in some way. The just-released Overwatch artwork does seem to show a variety of skin tones (though, as some folks on Twitter have pointed out, there’s no black character) and hair styles that indicate several nationalities which players can embrace, and that’s definitely positive. The male characters, after all, also showcase a very particular type of aesthetic, with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and burly muscles. There’s also a gorilla wearing a mech suit, so it’s not that Overwatch is being strict with realism, like such games as Call of Duty or Far Cry. And Blizzard has only released artwork, not character models, so it’s very possible that when the game releases, female characters in Overwatch will have waists that look like they might survive the kickback of a rifle.

[Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment]