Overwatch – shaping representation and diversity in a new form

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Often video games conform to the same perquisites when it comes to creating characters in a digital platform. Blizzard, the developers of the game Overwatch, aim to shake up the norm.

In all forms of media whether it be television or film, video games or music, there always seems to be some sort of controversy surrounding the way a certain group of people are represented. It can be hard to please everyone when you create something which appeals to a mass audience.  Someone always has something to say. Blizzard hopes breath fresh air into the same stale formula and make a change for the better.

Attitudes towards subjects such as LGBT and racial matters are not just based around individual prejudice. When making a video game it can be difficult to market your game to different markets around the world especially when there are different kinds of laws put in place. A gay video game character may be acceptable in one country, but in another it is completely frowned upon.

However as time has passed countries have slowly become more widely accepting of those of different race, sexual preference, gender and age. Blizzard is tackling the issue in order to celebrate diversity of all kinds. Overwatch features 24 heroes, of whom 10 are male, 10 are female and four are non-humans such as animals and robots.

The poster child for the game, Tracer, is lesbian. This is a big step for the industry since gay video game characters have been close to non-existent let alone being characters which embody a franchise itself.

It’s not just sexuality that Blizzard is attempting to showcase in Overwatch since at least six of these characters are of different racial descent with characters from places such as Mexico and India.

Jeff Kaplan, the game director for Overwatch, has made it clear that he doesn’t feel as though characters from different places around the world should be included in the game just for the sake of it. At a somewhat recent speech at DICE (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) summit, Jeff Kaplan expressed that with Overwatch after the initial host of characters and the introduction of new ones, it should get to a point where people expect that the latest character could have any kind of origin, and at that point it becomes accepted by the majority.

Unfortunately, just because Blizzard is promoting diversity does not mean that everyone just simply goes along with it. Sceptics may see the promotion of diversity as pandering. Not only this, but before the game was even released there was controversy surrounding an in game item called a victory pose for Tracer in which people felt was inappropriate due to its supposed sexual nature. However, Jeff Kaplan took to the forums himself to reassure that the team does not wish to offend or upset anyone and the pose was swiftly replaced. In-between that short lived conflict and the game as we know it today, there has been very little controversy surrounding anything to do with the game. This is how the Overwatch team hoped and aimed for it to be.

Nonetheless, Blizzard still have a long way to go. Every move they make, every decision will be judged by their audience due to the motives that blizzard follow when it comes to game design. It is not just Blizzard though, since any game developer who wishes to follow in their steps will end up facing a similar challenge. In the years that have passed it has become very easy to offend people if you make a wrong choice and Blizzard doesn’t want that at all.

Since game design is often from the ground up, it’s very easy for a game developer to have the mind set of if you don’t like something that they’ve created or included, don’t play or buy the game but the Overwatch team are trying to distance themselves from that way of thinking. If you are ignorant to the voices and opinions then you will only cause not just loyal fans to wither away but also your general audience.

Games development is a rich sphere of creativity, it’s how developers choose to harness that and how they present it which will prove just how far we’ve come when revelling in the idea that it’s okay to represent those from all walks of life. This new fresh attitude is only a glimpse of a hopeful future.