Blizzard tries to “do women better”, completely misses the point

(I didn’t mean to go nearly two weeks without a paid post! However, the PhotoShopping for the last part of this post took significantly longer than I thought it would, and I lost a lot of evenings this past week to rehearsals for the play I’m in. Alas!)

Quite a while ago, this drifted across my tumblr dash (courtesy of Bikini Armor Battle Damage – which is a great tumblr that I love), and I facepalmed:

arg

It’s almost like… Blizzard has a complete lack of awareness of how and why their games were failing at women in the first place. No, wait, scratch that. It’s exactly like that. Because that’s what it is. That’s exactly what it is.

Curious to see what the other characters were like, because I hate myself and like being angry, I went digging for a character roster and found this:

lineup-wide.1z8E7
CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW

Now, looking at it, I’ll admit that this does do better than WoW and Hearthstone, in that 5 out of 12 characters are gendered as female. However, given that Blizzard’s modus operandi is to clearly delineate female gendered characters with BOOBS, I think it’s a safe assumption that the four characters without immediately discernable gender (Robot Monk (front), Giant-ass Robot, Heavy-Armor Gorilla, and Mech-with-the-Bird[1]) are going to be gendered as male.

Especially when you consider that Blizzard character designers operate under the assumption that characters are either interesting or female, but never both.

Granted, 5 out of 12 characters is 41% female representation – which is much better than Hearthstone’s batting average of around 22%. But still! You’d think that if a game company is going to trumpet that they’re trying to “do women characters better” (and really, I hope that was Kotaku’s phrasing and not Blizzard’s, because that’s a really unfortunate choice of phrasing), this is the low hanging fruit.

It’s not hard! TWELVE IS AN EVEN NUMBER. Half of twelve is six. If you want to NOT FAIL AT WOMEN CHARACTERS, you should maybe, I dunno, HAVE HALF OF THEM BE WOMEN. (At least.)[3]

Even then – even then – I might have been happy with this as a sign of progress if the character designs weren’t so uniform, or if they didn’t fall into all the same design pitfalls as their other games. Looking at the above image, the male-gendered characters cover every body type imaginable, while the women are all slim (some impossibly so – I call bullshit on the angel’s ribcage), all present as femme, and all fit standard definitions of pretty. And then of course, things get uglier when you start looking at the character designs more closely:

overwatch women
TOP, L TO R: Widowmaker, Tracer, Pharah BOTTOM: Mercy, Symmetra

Widowmaker (top left) is bullshit, for obvious reasons. Why the fuck would you wear that to a gunfight? Her boobs are about to pop out any second, not to mention the massive ass cleavage in the first screenshot. (Seriously, her suit looks like it must be lodged in her colon. WTF.) Tracer (top middle) is… yeah, okay, I guess she’s okay. I mean she’s skinny as fuck, but maybe that’s part of the tomboy vibe? We’ll come back to her.

Symmetra (bottom left) is yet another instance of Blizzard’s obsession with designing characters that wear dresses with thigh slits that go above the hips, no pants, and stripper boots. But at least she fares better than Mercy (the angel, bottom left), who not only doesn’t get pants but also has some of the most ridiculous fucking boob armor I’ve ever seen. You want to “do women characters”, Blizzard? How about you don’t put them in fucking boobplate?

Lastly, there’s Pharah. Initially I was pleased with her design, even if I was miffed that she didn’t get to be big and bulky like the male heavies. I actually like the contrast of her femme presentation (especially the eye makeup) with the heavy armor. And then I spotted THE BATTLE THONG.

Seriously, look at the male armored characters. None of them have ridiculous armor cod-pieces, so what gives? It’s like someone tried to give her a strong design without sexualizing her, until some studio head came in and said “yeah, yeah, that’s great, can we put her in a thong?”[2].

And all of this is just the obvious issues with the individual character designs! None of which are helped by shit like this piece of promo art here:

Overwatch-67
(I didn’t realize until I started writing this post that there’s a 5th male character squeezed in between the cowboy and the angel, which properly makes the ratio 2 out of 7.)

Oh hey, look. Two out of seven characters are women, and neither of them are in any way focal. So that’s good. Nice to know that Blizzard is still committed to women not being important to anything ever at all.

And remember Tracer? The one “yeah, I guess she’s pretty okay” character? Well don’t worry, because Blizzard made sure to sexualize her as well. So far there is only one Overwatch statue available and it’s this one:overwatch-tracer

Ridiculous boobs and butt pose? Check. Ass cleavage (seriously, who is it on the design team that is so obsessed with ass cleavage? That’s just weird), check. Distorted anatomy? Check. Phew! For a second there I almost thought Blizzard was going to manage to not screw that one up!

Oh, but I can’t forget to mention that the game’s role assignments are also horrendously stereotypical:

roles

That’s right. Two out of three healers are female, two out of four high-DPS/rogue-equivalent characters are female, one out of three defensive characters are female (the least-clothed female character to boot), and there are zero female tanks. Because women are just too dainty and fragile and shit. Or something. REASONS.

So basically, if Blizzard really was trying to make an effort to “do women characters” better, then they failed miserably. Yeah, okay, they didn’t fail quite as hard as they do in all of their other games! But touting this as some kind of achievement is like bragging that you only slap women a little sometimes instead of full on punching them in the face. You don’t get feminist cookies for not failing slightly less than you used to.

How could this be better? Re-examining design choices

If I’d followed my usual posting format, I could have rambled on for another 1,000 words easily about individual characters and problematic design decisions as well as problematic meta-patterns. But instead, I decided to do something a little different – I decided that I would PhotoShop the full-cast poster to actually show how easy it would be to have a character lineup that isn’t fucking terrible.

It turns out that this was a bit more a time investment, PhotoShop-wise, than I anticipated, mostly because the figures all overlap. However! The fact remains that more than half of the changes I made were purely cosmetic! Check this out:

wip2
CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW

So first, the easiest fix – the gender imbalance. Make one of the characters without obvious gender voiced by a female voice actor, and suddenly the problem is solved. I went with the gorilla, since that’s a character design that recalls other male archetypical characters (like Beast and others). Also, that way there would be a female tank, so win.

Next, looking at the design of the humanoid female characters overall, I was pretty pleased by the overall racial balance. Two brown ladies, a purple lady, and two white ladies? Rock on! Except. Mercy is an angel character with blonde hair. Which. NO. We’ve been over this. Always having angels be blond is some creepy white supremacy bullshit, okay? And sure, I could have shifted her skin tone as a fix, but part of the point of this exercise was to show HOW LITTLE WORK it is to fix this shit. (While I was at it, I also de-boob-plated Mercy’s armor and widened her waist enough to give her a fucking ribcage.)

Symmetra and Pharah were also changes that required almost no effort. I widened Symmetra’s thighs a bit because her torso is not totally skinny like Tracer’s. If she’s carrying more weight on top, then her legs should be more than just pipe cleaners, okay? I also gave her some fucking pants, because FUCKITY FUCK SHE SHOULD BE WEARING PANTS. As for Pharah, I resized her by about 50% to make her the same height as Really Huge Robot Guy, because at least one of the women needed to be a giant, with that degree of character size variance. (I also half-assedly got rid of the battle thong, although it was totally lazy and I can do better.) As for Widowmaker? I let her keep her bullshit costume, but I made her fat so that she’s fat, badass, and sexy. Now at least she reads as someone doing sexy for herself and not because she’s some game dev’s fetish/fantasy.

Lastly, looking at the humanoid male characters (Cowboy Guy, Dwarf Guy, Big Bruiser Guy, and Samurai Guy[4]), there was a serious imbalance in representation with only samurai guy arguably counting as Asian and the others all definitely coded as white. So since Mexican, Native, and Black cowboys are largely erased in anything that portrays cowboys ever, boom. Cowboy Guy is now Latin@.

I also wanted to make one of the other male characters Black, since I wasn’t positive that Symmetra read as Black. I wasn’t thrilled about my choices, but opted to make Dwarf Guy black by shifting the skin tone and desaturating his blond beard into a grey beard, operating on the “grandparents as PCs make anything better” principle[5]. Sure he’s an Angry Black Guy now, but in my head he’s a badass grandfather who’s just angry because people are trying to fuck with his teammates, and when they have downtime he tells awesome stories and makes pie or whatever.

And there you have it! I won’t make any claims that this lineup is 100% free of problems, but if one person can fix most of the problems with a game’s lineup with 4 hours and PhotoShop, then we’re not talking about things that would require a vast investment of resources to correct! Unfortunately, while Blizzard cares enough to give lip-service to the idea of “doing women better”, it’s obvious that they don’t care enough to actually put their money where their mouth is. So I’m not going to hold my breath for any actual substantive changes in their design directives any time soon.

[1] I could take time to look up their names, but honestly I don’t really give a shit. I’m not likely to ever play this game.

[2] I hate everything. Seriously, everything.

[3] CAN YOU TELL HOW ANNOYED I AM?

[4] Again, I literally do not give enough shits about ever playing this game to Google their names. Just more proof that I’m either NOT A REAL GAMER or OUT TO DESTROY GAMING, I guess. Take your pick.

[5] Grandmothers always trump grandfathers. ALWAYS.

17 thoughts on “Blizzard tries to “do women better”, completely misses the point

  1. “OUT TO DESTROY GAMING”
    Well, if gaming gets destroyed by deserved critisism and suggesting better character designs, it frankly deserves it. And I say that as someone who sinks most of his freetime into games and gaming-related stuff, just to make that clear.

    • Well thank you. Mostly I’m just pre-emptively poking fun at myself, although I’ve certainly been accused of attempting to destroy games once or twice.

  2. With his enormous skull crest, the gorilla is obviously gendered as a male. Females don’t have crests and real life males have much smaller ones.

  3. My response to seeing this was exactly what you said about body types. WHERE IS MY HUGE MUSCLED FEMALE TANK? Why does the genius cyborg gorilla have to be male? Why does robot monk Zenyatta have to be gendered?

    Also, Pharah is basically Samus Aran with a bird helmet. Way to be original, Blizzard

  4. Let’s not forget that they also introduced the Heroes of the Storm versions of Jaina and Sylvanas at the same time, complete with idiotic midriff-baring outfits.

    I do like Tracer’s outfit, though. The fact that she obviously went to some effort to integrate her (heavily worn) flight jacket into it gives her more personality than ten pages of blurb text.

  5. I have seen some speculation that Bastion, the robot tank, might be female, since they have that “Disney princess with a bird” pose in the trailer and on the website their portrait is between two male characters, where you’d expect a female character to be based on the order of the other portraits. I guess we’ll see when they release some footage with voice acting. At the moment it kind of feels like the whole “Pyro is female” speculation in TF2, where it’s just desperate grasping at straws for any kind of representation.
    Also, I think Widowmaker’s costume is okay in the sense that she is trying to fulfil a vamp stereotype, which I think is fine when there are other options available. Still, you’re absolutely right that really all of the female-coded characters are thin, curvy and all roughly the same size.
    Anyway, compared to things like TF2, it’s amazing, but it’s really not hard jumping such a low bar.

  6. I used to be a huge fan of Blizzards games when I was younger. I’ve played Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo 2, Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. I left WOW because it was a monthly subscription. I skipped Diablo 3 because of the various bullshit that Blizzard tried to pull with it. But what really made me abandon playing any Blizzard games in the future was what they did with Sarah Kerrigan in Heart of the Swarm.

    When I played the original Starcraft I never thought that the reason James Raynor went after her on Char was because he was in love with her, I just saw that as Raynor being loyal to his comrade and trying to find out what happened to her after she was presumed dead. In Wings of Liberty Raynor’s relationship can still be seen as either him having to deal with a monster that used to be his comrade or lover. But in Heart of the Swarm they went with lover. It did not add anything to the story. It made Kerrigan’s revenge quest about the death of her lover instead of it being about her being the only surviving rebel leader who did not side with Mengsk and her feeling that she needs to avenge all of her dead friends and allies.

    It also made the revenge quest itself dumber. Instead of framing it as a fight between a Kerrigan who struggles with being both the leader of the Zerg and being true to the her own humanity and the ideals she and the (at the moment thought of as) dead Raynor fought for before they were betrayed by Mengsk vs Emperor Mengsk who rules the Dominion with his armies which are filled with mostly people who are either conscripted against their will from prison populations, truly believe in serving the Dominion being a greater good or were kidnapped and indoctrinated into the ghosts because of their psychic potential. What we got was a far more simplified version of the above story and all of it motivated by Mengsk executing Raynor all of a sudden even though in the previous game it was noted that all that would do was make a martyr out of him and to make it even more stupid latter in the game you find out Mengsk decided to keep Raynor locked up on a prison barge and only pretend to execute him.

    And if I try to describe the stupid that happened to Sylvanas and the Forsaken I will devolve into an allcaps brick of text.

    All of the above is my way of saying that I no longer have any interest to play any Blizzard game ever again just as I am no longer interested in anything by EA. I don’t have the time to put up with shitty stories for the good parts anymore.

  7. I feel there is an unfortunate implication with the idea that taking a sexualized skinny character and turning them into a sexualized heavier character automatically flips the sexiness from creator driven to creation driven. While there definitely needs to be more representation of bigger women of all kinds like there mostly are for men, I feel like the wrong message is getting across, and I’d question a developer for using such a defense. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be sexy fat ladies, just that it doesn’t cause me to discount it’s still done for the “game dev’s fetish/fantasy,” especially if its as out of anatomical proportions as many of the spine bending “no room for organs” sized peers.
    Other than that, great job on the Photoshop and the character break downs.

    • Oh for sure – it’s not an ideal solution. But the idea was to “fix” the lineup with as little change as possible, so I was operating under a self-imposed constraint. It would be great to see a sexy fat character who thinks she’s hot as fuck and gives no shits about what people think about her, but I recognize that that outfit is still bullshit.

  8. Hey, I thought you might be interested to hear about this. There’s a website called Whatdoestheinternetthink.net, and it might help you with your studies of misogynistic language and such for future videos! It simply does some sort of special google search, and tells you if the internet is positive, negative, or neutral on a term. You should try different versions of seemingly the same word, too.
    For example, ‘feminism’ was nearly tied between positive and indifferent, with not much in the way of negativity, but ‘feminists’ was massively negative, while simply ‘feminist’ hovers in the very-neutral area.

  9. A valiant photoshop effort, but ultimately makeup on a pig. One thing I noticed (in both versions), the lady in blue’s thigh is almost as big/long as her torso. o.O

  10. Unsure where you found that image, but it depicts 15 characters, not 12. Assuming Lightsaber Robot is gendered male, the ratio is actually 1/3 women.:/

    And yes, everything about Widowmaker’s visual design is all kinds of wrong.

  11. Was this inspired by Japanese games? The designs and that figurine with the butt cleavage just screams Japan to me. But I could be wrong.

    • Blizzard has a loooong history of ass cleavage in their character designs. So no, I don’t think this is anime-inspired. I think this is just Blizzard’s design staff continuing to have a thing for ass cleavage.

  12. Your ability to show how easy it is to make this shit 500% better with such little effort just emphasizes the small-mindedness (or lack of imagination? or ingrained bias?) of Blizzard’s designers. Which makes me want to never, ever give them money. Ever.

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