I’ve been talking about Overwatch a lot recently, and about how Blizzard’s self admitted attempts to do better have both succeeded and failed. Many people have been celebrating the game as a success in diversity, and it does have some positive aspects. However, the more I read and write about it, the more I think we are mainly celebrating the fact that it has stepped over a bar that is incredibly low thanks to the general state of the industry.
That is to say, I like what Overwatch has done. I have to stress this because I can be fairly certain that people are going to get upset by this post and tell me that I’m never satisfied. Well, you know what? Probably not. There’s always things that we can be working to do better. But it’s not that radical to say that Overwatch could have gone a lot further. Here are some ideas for those steps. (I focus on gender and sexuality because those are my areas of expertise. There are also racial issues within Overwatch for which I would direct you to people of colour, for example here.)
Firstly, there are currently eight female heroes and 13 male heroes. Let’s even that out, beginning with the fact that there’s no need to gender robots (or Omnics, as the game calls them). The game could have told us that Bastion and Zenyetta are both genderless, or perhaps beholden to a gender structure different from the human societal binary. Striking these two from the male half of the roster still leaves us with eight female heroes, but reduces the number of male heroes to 11. (Edit: to be fair, Bastion isn’t actually ever gendered by the game, but I include him as “canonically” male due to the fan perception.)
Gender swapping just one male character to female would bring us to an almost even 9:10 ratio. Now, there are good arguments to be made for honestly any of the characters to be female. I’d love a female McCree, Torbjörn, or Junkrat, as they occupy character archetypes usually reserved for male characters. Personally, however, my favourite pick would be Roadhog. When was the last time you saw a female character who unapologetically looked like that? (It was probably Borderlands 2’s Ellie. What a great character.) Worth noting that to gender swap any character there’s no actual need to change their physical attributes as there is no one “female” or “male” way to have a body, but if we are to change bodily attributes the key attributes should remain. That is to say that whatever else changed, a female Roadhog would still have a round belly with a tattoo, and a mask, much like the current Roadhog.
We’re now roughly reaching parity in numbers between male and female characters! If we change another character, there’ll be more women. Whilst this would combat the general trend of overwhelmingly more male characters in games, let’s not do that. Instead, let’s have completely equal male and female characters by swapping a male character for a non-binary one. Personally I’m going for genderfluid Lúcio, because his roxo skin, which I previously referred to as his bi pride outfit, also lines up really well with the genderfluid flag. But hey, we can make any odd number of characters non-binary and leave the male:female ratio in balance, so why not add, say, Mercy and Reinhardt too?
Moving on, this next one is fairly obvious: LGBTQ+ characters. It’s nice that Blizzard confirmed there was “a gay character, then corrected to more than one. But we don’t have any confirmation of who it is so it’s not really representation, is it? And including one gay character among 21 isn’t the pinnacle of diversity. Give me gay Reaper, and bisexual Lúcio, and pansexual Genji, and lesbian Pharah, and asexual D.Va. Why not?
Finally, character design. Eliminate boob socking and you’re honestly like 60% of the way there for me. Clothes (and breasts) do not work like that. There are reference pictures of women in tight, fitted clothing like leotards. You can use them, I promise. Having said that, there’s no reason for battlefield women to be wearing skin tight clothing anyway, and even less for them to eschew trousers like Symmetra. Oddly enough, some of the alternate skins eliminate the problems with female character’s designs, like Widowmaker’s Huntress skin (though she’s still wearing heels), so we know that it is possible. Basically, add more of that.
Overwatch has made some positive steps. It has some good representation. It could also be doing better. Saying that shouldn’t really be so controversial. We should be discussing improvements even, and in many ways especially, with games that are taking steps towards diversity already.