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.
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.
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:
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.
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.