Video games and their community seem to be going through some sort of phase that leaves me asking “can’t we have one week without some bullshit?” more often than I’d like. And of course, the week we take off turned out to be the week where bullshit piled up. Last week, the community exploded, for better or worse, over a butt, and I have to wonder if people are just getting mad when someone questions the status quo for no reason other than to get mad about something.
Blizzard’s newest MOBA-style game Overwatch has been garnering a huge fandom, and though I haven’t played the game myself, it seems well deserved. Its graphics are beautiful, the mechanics seem tight, and as far as the characters go, the game is pretty inclusive. (If it’s like any other MOBA, I would guess that they’ll continue to patch in more characters who add to this diversity.) One area where Overwatch’s characters really shine is in the diversity of its ladies. From the buff Zarya to the chubby Mei, Overwatch is attempting to send an implicit message that everyone can be a badass if they want to be, which is great. An even greater feat is that many of these women characters aren’t sexualized—and this is where this outrage bubbled up from.
Back at the end of March, a post on the Battle.net forums by user Fipps expressed some worries over the character Tracer and one of her victory poses. Fipps brought up that their enjoyment of Tracer came from her fun personality and spunky attitude, and worried that her victory pose—which had her showing off her butt—worked to undermine these aspects and change her into a bland sex-appeal character. And the internet blew up. While not everyone disagreed with Fipps, their opinion brought to the forefront a debate on censorship in games and whether or not people these days were just being too damned sensitive. Many who argued this point failed to realize that censorship has nothing to do with this, and they’re essentially crying over nothing.
Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan responded to Fipps’s concerns with, surprisingly, no excuses. He states in the last post of the thread, “Apologies and we’ll continue to try to do better”, in addition to admitting that the pose was one the creative team had been debating over and wasn’t entirely happy with. Kaplan expands on agreeing to change the pose:
“That the pose had been called into question from an appropriateness standpoint by players in our community did help influence our decision—getting that kind of feedback is part of the reason we’re holding a closed beta test—but it wasn’t the only factor. We made the decision to go with a different pose in part because we shared some of the same concerns, but also because we wanted to create something better.”
Recently, Tracer’s pose has been replaced with one based off pin-up art (more specifically a piece by Billy DeVorss) which the Overwatch team believes better reflects Tracer’s personality. Undoubtedly some people will believe this to be a trolling attempt by Kaplan and his team since the pose, to a degree, still shows off Tracer’s butt, and pin-up art is quintessential Americana sexiness. While these people may revel in this pose being the one Blizzard chose to get back at the “SJW warriors”, I myself would like to think that it was a genuine attempt to improve on incorporating the spunky cheekiness they clearly see as part of Tracer’s character into her poses.
However, while my opinion on the entire meat of this argument is lukewarm, my real worry concerns people who think they’re crusading for the holy grail of artistic integrity by protecting the right to show butts in video games. News flash: butts aren’t an endangered species and they don’t need your white knighting. It’s a sad day in video games when people get up in arms because someone is justifiably questioning the importance of a stereotypical “sexy female” pose in a game, and a sadder day when people continue to be angry despite the artists themselves agreeing that the sexy female pose isn’t vital to the game. This is only the most recent of these events, lest we forget a certain subset of gamers crying like children over the fact that the minds behind Skullgirls decided to remove panty shots from their game late last year.
While a common argument for “sexy” female characters runs along the lines of “shouldn’t we be embracing female sexuality” and “aren’t you oppressing women who want to be more sexual”, these arguments tend to completely ignore the fact that fictional characters are not real women. In real life, a woman can choose to be as sexual as she wants and that’s okay because she is making this decision for herself. A game character never has that choice because she is not real. Even if the game presents her as an empowered character in total control of herself, she is still the amalgamation of thoughts and ideas thrown together by a presumably mostly male group of writers and directors. As such, it’s always acceptable for people to point out that maybe, just maybe, some design choices may be based off the internalized misogynistic idea that women should always be attractive to men. (Even if the dev team is comprised of mostly women or other genders, this may still happen—internalized sexism is insidious and hard to overcome.) Sometimes, developers disagree, or choose to not listen to observers, which is entirely their right. Sometimes, developers take a step back, see that the outside worries are correct, and adjust accordingly; this is also their right. However, it’s disgusting to fight for the rights of a person who does not exist, while the people who do exist can only ask developers to just consider that they may be wrong.
People who claim that even considering taking Tracer’s butt out of this one shot is some affront to women’s rights are completely ignoring the hundreds of other games that feature sexualized characters like this (and the characters already in Overwatch who embody these traits, like Widowmaker). While the end result in this case may need more discussion about whether or not the pose truly is an improvement, what can be applauded, at least, is Kaplan’s openness to discussing these things with the fanbase and the Overwatch team’s willingness to accept that their visions may warrant discussion. For the future, I hope all devs develop a policy in which they listen to their fans and adapt, combating the cultural norms that have imprinted themselves into our subconsciousness.