I will be focusing on a game I love and enjoy, Overwatch. Overwatch has been lauded for having a very diverse set of characters and bringing representation into the field of triple A games. Despite their efforts, however, it certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. I will briefly talk about three characters that are part of the game: Mercy, Tracer and Pharah.
Mercy is a white, female medic who is described as a “guardian angel”. It was recently unveiled that during the concept development for her character, she was actually a he, and not just that, but also black. This received some backlash from the Overwatch community; the concept of the “white savior” has been used many times to try and be “progressive” yet it is also commonly used to deny representation from other minority groups. This was the perfect example. Here we could have had an interesting character, a gentle black medic, which contrasts the usual portrayal of black men as aggressive and hypermasculine, but we ended up with a concept that has been used many times before.
Tracer is sort of the mascot for Overwatch and many gamers who don’t play Overwatch themselves recognize her. A few months back she was revealed to be a lesbian through a side comic on Overwatch’s site, which was wonderful news of course. During the months following that, however, many fans realized that there was no “follow-up”. Currently, Tracer has no such reference to her sexuality in the game, no voice lines, no skins, nothing. If you played the game and didn’t read the comics, then you would not know unless another player told you. Announcing something that would mean so much to a marginalized community through a comic that not even a majority of players read and not incorporating that fact into the actual game was a bit disappointing because that would have been potentially something even bigger.
Then there’s Pharah. She has two skins called “Thunderbird” and “Raindancers” which obviously allude to Native American art motifs. At this point, however, we only knew that her mother was Egyptian. With her background unclear and having skins like these, the developers were criticized for possible cultural appropriation.
Later on they released another side comic where she was shown with what was possibly a father figure, eating at a home that hinted they were in Canada. That was it. No official confirmation of her background or ethnicity. Just a small panel from, again, a comic that many don’t read.
It can be argued that the developers of Overwatch have been doing more than other triple A developers in terms of representation of marginalized groups. However they can also improve by leaps and bounds by listening to the people that are actually part of the communities they represent and acting on them.