(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:
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:
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) 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.)
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:
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?”.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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), 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. 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.
 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.
 I hate everything. Seriously, everything.
 CAN YOU TELL HOW ANNOYED I AM?
 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.
 Grandmothers always trump grandfathers. ALWAYS.