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Overwatch Is Sexist, Feminist Frequency Writer Says

Yesterday, Blizzard announced Overwatch. Not even 6 hours later, Jonathan McIntosh, writer/producer for Feminist Frequency, started saying that the game is sexist due to its portrayal of women. Which isn’t at all surprising; if anything, I’m shocked it took 6 hours. I would have expected there to be cries of sexism mere seconds after the trailer started playing on stage. Anyway, onto the tweets (and my accompanying rant about said tweets) after the cut.

Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): "Overwatch continues the MOBA pattern: Wide array of male body types but only one female body type copied form the pages of Victoria Secret." Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): "Every female character Blizzard designed uses exactly the same character model. Only one female body type but it comes in multiple colors." Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): "The gaming imperative: Men can be ugly, heavy or weird. But all female characters must adhere to conventionally attractive beauty standards."

The crux of McIntosh’s complaints is that, since the females all share the same base model (not character model), the differences between the characters doesn’t matter. They all share the same physique, therefore this is a terrible depiction of women. Never mind that there’s an Indian woman (Symmetra), an Egyptian woman (Pharah), and a blue French woman (Widowmaker). Only two of the five women are white. The female cast is quite diverse.

Anyway, the base model is something typical of what you’d see from Hai Phan, a contract artist who has worked on Guild Wars 2, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and likely Overwatch. He uses approximately one base model for the females he works on. (I am unable to discern at this time if Hai Phan is working on Overwatch.)

Additionally, he’s specifically calling out Victoria’s Secret, which is renowned for having scantily-clad women. The women Blizzard showed off this weekend are not scantily-clad. This comparison seems rather lacking. Why not refer to this body type as the stereotypical super model look? Or, the traditional comic book heroine look? Why call out Victoria’s Secret specifically if he didn’t want to call to mind women in lingerie? It’s a tacit condemnation of female sexuality.

Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): "Design wise Overwatch essentially only has one female character but she come with different skin and power options." Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): "All female characters in Overwatch wear skintight outfits while male characters get a range of clothing including lots of bulky armor." Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): "No armor? Check. High heels? Check. No pants? Check. Skirt that is not a skirt? Check. READY FOR #OVERWATCH COMBAT!"

Only Widowmaker is wearing skintight clothing. It’s a catsuit. Mercy is wearing armor. Tracer is wearing a jacket. Symmetra is wearing a scapula-esque dress. The only part of their equipment that is skintight is in the legs, which is weird. It’s not weird that just the leggings are skintight. It’s weird that McIntosh is implicitly referring to the legs.

It’s weird because, for all his complaints about the females having the same physique and their costumes, he doesn’t at all mention the accentuated proportions of the legs. Here’s a quick refresher, if you’re unaware of how actual human females are proportioned: the legs of a real human female are half of her height. Of the characters we’ve seen so far, the legs of Overwatch’s females are two-thirds of her height.

(If his criticism about clothing was valid, he’d pick apart every costume. It’s kinda weird how he singled out Symmetra. By singling her out, the message he conveyed is that women of color aren’t allowed to have sex appeal. Which would be messed up, all things considered.)

Not that costumes matter. There were people cosplaying as gender-bent characters at BlizzCon. There was a female Thrall, a male Jaina, and a whole lot of other examples. There were larger people who dressed up as smaller, slimmer characters. A character’s body type doesn’t matter to cosplayers. The costume does. And they don’t have to stick to the design 100%. If they want a bit more armor coverage on their legs, they’ll add it. If they want to show more of their chest than the original design, you better believe they’ll find a way to make it happen. What matters is the fantasy of being a hero (or a villain, or a TARDIS, or whatever). Or the recognition for the crafting skill. Cosplayers are weird because they all have their own reasons for doing cosplay. Kinda hard to generalize.

But no, none of that matters because Overwatch’s females have the same physique and skintight clothing. He actually says that:

Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): “I guess I don't see this as progress because almost all fighting games have their one non-sexualized female character for variety.”

Are you kidding me?

It doesn’t matter to McIntosh that there are women of color. The effort Blizzard has put forth so far doesn’t matter because it isn’t inclusive enough. The depiction isn’t perfect, so that means it’s a token effort. They might as well not bother, right?

That is the over-present feeling whenever a new hero franchise is started that features people of color. The recently-Kickstarted Urbance received criticism that its depiction of hip-hop culture is problematic. That it’s not perfect. That the creators should strive to do better because it’s not good enough. And Urbance isn’t an isolated example. These complaints crop up every time someone tries to give people of color a shot at equal representation in the media.

Which is nonsense. There’s plenty of examples where media featuring white characters are problematic, but almost nobody calls it out. You can have dark and gritty stories about the mafia, presidential assassinations, war, drugs, and a whole gamut of things. You can have cute and fluffy stories where everything is sunshine and rainbows. But people aren’t allowed to create those same kinds of stories with a non-white cast? It paints a negative light on the depicted culture, they’ll say. It’s not a perfect representation of how things actually are. It’s a bad movie/comic/television show/whatever, because it’s not perfect.

And that’s the same underlying ideology behind McIntosh’s complaints. The women we’ve seen in Overwatch so far all have the same physique. It’s not perfect. It’s not good enough. It’s not progress.

Fuck that noise.

Having a minority hero is enough for some people. It’s enough for them to say, “hey, they look just like me!” That’s enough to inspire others, even though the depiction may not be perfect. It inspires other creators to make new heroes. To say that it’s not progress because it’s not perfect from the start just makes it that much harder for progress to happen. It negatively reinforces that creators should stick to what they know instead of branching out, trying new things, and making mistakes. The depiction isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be, because games and comics are not immutable media. Things can evolve. Writers and artists can learn from their mistakes. They can make their depictions better.

Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes): The most variation we will see with female characters will be a "little miss badass" type. See League of Legends.

I know Blizzard. World of Warcraft might not have the best armor or the best character designs, but that’s the problem with having a game that’s 10 years old; the longer things go, the more players get attached to how things are, and that attachment makes it harder for things to change. But we see in Diablo III that they don’t resign themselves to one character type. The female wizard is more on the skinnier side of things, but the female barbarian and monk are ripped. They have muscle.

We see in Overwatch that they have a gorilla. Heck, they have a giant guy in plate mail who wields a hammer and thinks he’s a knight. They have an angel in all but name. They have the Grim Reaper. There is no standard with Overwatch. There is no limit to what kinds of characters we’ll see. Blizzard is not Riot, Overwatch is not League of Legends, and other female characters won’t be “little miss badass.” (As if there were something wrong with being badass!) It is honestly a stupid assumption that more diversity is off the table. Blizzard will deliver more body types. They will deliver more cultures. They will deliver more females.

Times have changed, and Blizzard has shown that they’re striving to create better heroes. They are comic book geeks and they know what the value of a hero is. They know that the world could always use more heroes.

Update (June, 2015): Comments are now closed. This post got a lot of sudden traffic. For a dead site, that’s kind of disconcerting, because it means someone with an axe to grind is using this post stir up some outrage. Since some of that outrage is being posted here, on a dead site, comments on this post are now closed. Go be angry somewhere else.

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  1. Harry P. /

    White people problems

    Even if all the female characters are 100% meant for male fanservice, what’s wrong with that? “It offends feminists” isn’t a good reason to do anything

    • Possibly1 /

      What would be wrong with providing variety though? Why not have as much fun designing unconventional ladies as one does guys? Why NOT break out of that character designing shell and grow the art style and the game genre itself? I can’t think of a reason -not- too besides wanting to keep one’s demographic incredibly small.

      Not to mention they literally said in a Q&A at Blizzcon that they are LOOKING to break this mold – to bring more variety in body type and race for their female characters. So uh…I’d say doing what you’re saying you’re going to do is reason enough.

    • What’s wrong with female characters being 100% male fanservice? I can name a few things.

      1) A lot of developers at Blizzard have kids. I’d wager a significant portion of them are girls. Imagine if one of those girls develops body issues! Whichever parent worked on Overwatch wouldn’t be able to say body-positive things when all of the characters in this game are setting incredibly high (unrealistic, even) standards of beauty.

      2) A significant portion of Blizzard’s players are female. It’s just good business to get as many of them playing Overwatch as possible. Making female characters that exist for dudes to wank to is not good business sense.

      3) The implication behind “100% meant for male fanservice” is that all females should be slender/petite/conventionally sexy. What about male fans who like wanking to bigger women? What about guys who like seeing women in armor? What about more esoteric fetishes? In order to get those male fans their service, Blizzard has to diversify, which goes against the initial assumptions about sex appeal. Even if the female characters exist for male fanservice, diversity is still a good thing because then there’s more fap material for males. (Which sounds pretty gross—juvenile, even—compared to the more sensible, “because women deserve to have as much representation as men.”)

      • gushisgosh /

        1. If a girl/boy develops a mental problem because of a game, it wasn’t because of a game, it was the parenting. You are deflecting blame on the parents that can’t raise their kids well enough for them to be resistant enough not be scarred by a game.

        2. Yes, but they could just as well make games for females. We actually have a whole marked centered on them, it’s called casual market.

        3. Same thing as the second one. If I like some type of women/men, I can go and buy a game with them being sexualized. that’s why kratos is almost naked, but dante from DMC is only shirtless. Yes, it’s female fan service.

  2. Max Russel /

    Suuuure, becuase THIS http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/t_original/fmzof90qw5ziieutj99y.jpg Is a great example of how men dress in real life too.

    Sexism isn’t one sided. Use your brain.

  3. ok so i totally agree with Jonathan Mcintosh there is only one body type and that one character is really sexist and gender role inspired. Also what he meant by victoria’s secret is their body size, not their clothing buddy…. But hey i mean it is a step closer i mean at least one has actual armor on, but now we need a game that has them all like that more or less. How would you feel, being a guy, playing a game with fully armored women and all body sizes and appearances and some of the male characters are shirtless, all skinny and muscular and stand in sexy poses and wear cyber crocs to battle? Yeah, didn’t think so.

  4. What about the character Pharah? She is not wearing a skin tight suit, she is wearing body armour.

  5. Alright, let me start by saying I support true feminism and that I feel women’s rights are often undermined in so many ways it’s silly.

    Let me follow up by saying this is incredibly stupid.

    So what if all the female characters are the same body type? Does that actually hurt anyone? I’ve personally never had a female friend who’s played a Blizzard game look to me and say “this character’s appearance makes me feel bad about myself.” While I won’t argue that variety is a good thing and I wouldn’t mind some different body types, I find it stupid and ridiculous that people waste precious time and brain power to fuss over things like this.

    First off, I think “feminism” (I do not think it true feminism, just something that rides its coat tails) often fails to give women credit for being able to be happy with themselves and paints all females as being insecure and prone to complaint.

    Secondly, I sincerely doubt an alternate body-type would change feminist views, as such individuals would scrutinize every point and detail to find something wrong with it. She’d either be too annoying, too brazen, too angry, too nice, too soft, too good, too evil… I could go on. If a problem cannot be found, it will be invented.

    Finally, let’s consider the statement about variety among characters. There’s only really one male character who isn’t calender super model material. The rest are either covered in armor or not human, with the exception of Hanzo, who is attractive by many standards. If you swapped the genders of the heroes in this game, you’d get a very similar reaction to this one; except it will be along the lines of ‘this game is sexist and thinks women are animals and/or robots’ or something stupid like that.

    Ultimately I’m under the impression there is no real winning though, because like I said, these “feminists” (I use the term loosely as I do not like associating these people with those fighting the bigger problems facing women in today’s society) will always find a reason to complain if they want one, and they almost always want one.

  6. mojo1990 /

    The thing I hate the most about third wave “feminism”?

    Male activists under the guise of feminism criticising sexual themes in video games. Its almost as if they are sexualy frustrated. Most of the blog posts and opinion pieces are written exclusively by Male feminists. They seem to be more emotionally invested in how women appear in video games than women do.

    Mr Mcintosh do yourself a favour and realise that when beauty products and cosmetics stacked in the isles of beauty salons, superstores, and beauty parlors across the world are almost always exclusively marketed at women and for women, perhaps that implies a congruity and correlation beyond social conditioning.

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