Overwatch has been out for over a year now. We’ve seen lots of updates and gameplay patches, tons of cosplays, and an approximately infinite amount of fanart and articles on the game’s social issues and impacts. Suffice to say, the game has been a worldwide phenomenon among many audiences. In this regard, Overwatch has executed the seemingly difficult task of being a hit with both experienced players and casual players, as well as with both gameplay enthusiasts and fandom participants (and of course, these two can overlap). It’s one of the best examples of a game that has accomplished garnering such an audience, and I’d like to explore how they’ve done this.
I don’t know if any of you play League of Legends, a game I insist on calling “lol”, much to my older brother’s chagrin. I’m sure that by now, though, you’ve at least heard of it. League is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) published by Riot Games, wherein teams composed of five people choose characters with specific abilities, called “champions”, and do battle against other teams. League of Legends is a community of millions of players, with as many as 7.5 million playing at any one time. For perspective, that’s more people than live in Massachusetts, or in all of Bulgaria. And daily counts are in the high twenty millions. It is a truly massive collection of people interacting, often as strangers to one another. With any community of a reasonable size, some portion thereof are assholes.
While I’m not incredibly invested in the game itself—I played for a while, found it to be a lot like the WoW mod Defense of the Ancients that inspired it, and moved on—attempts to corral, quarantine, or reform these assholes are compelling object lessons in how one might manage a massive digital community. Over the past year, Riot Games has made well-publicized efforts to bring some of this behavior under control, considering their previous systems too lenient. As Jeffrey Lin, lead social systems designer for Riot, put it:
By giving the worst 2% so many chances, we’re actually letting them ruin a lot more games and players’ experiences and that’s something we want to try to reduce… we’re hoping to address with our systems is that some players understand what’s crossing the line and believe it’s ok, because other games never punished it in the past.”
Riot acknowledges that what it has is a relatively small problem, but considers that among the sheer number of games and reports of negative experiences, even these are unacceptable. Thus, they are taking proactive steps to make their corner of the internet a little less like Lord of the Flies.
Last week, Riot’s newest champion (see: character) for their game League of Legends was finally released to much hype, and the internet lost its damn mind. It wasn’t restricted to the League fanbase, oh no. Everyone wanted a piece of Miss Jinx, the insane criminal that, through lore, made the city of Piltover her circus.
From a personal point of view, I really don’t care for her myself. She’s an AD carry, so I’d never play her as a support main. But from a character personality angle, she’s boring: she’s just a female Joker with none of the backstory to make her interesting. However, my feelings on her character as a whole aside, Jinx does continue an interesting trend in the recent female champion releases, and it’s a trend that I’m actually proud of.
Once upon a time about six years ago in a Gamestop, not so different from a store near you, I came across an in-store display. “Games for Girls” it read in its lavender lettering, flowers adorning the sides. I doubt any guy bought the games that were in that display. Indeed, I can’t imagine any girl buying many of the games in there either. If you’ve spent any time anywhere, you probably know the games that were displayed: Imagine: Babies, Girls Mode, Cooking Mama, some horse game. I exchanged a knowing look with the female cashier, chuckled a bit, and went on my way, but the advertisement has never left my mind in all these long years. I had never really wondered why before a couple days ago. It’s beyond a simple incredulity about the stupidity of the campaign and I’m discovering this area of gaming is much greyer than I originally thought.
What are ‘games for girls’?