The Rigged Slot Machine – Overwatch’s Female Character Creating Engine
Every time we criticize female sexualization in Overwatch, we’re sure to get at least a single reply along the lines of “What’s wrong with having ONE sexy assassin/pilot/etc. in the game?”, to which our answer would be “Nothing. But where’s that ONE person you’re talking about? We see a whole bunch. Also why no male character is coded unequivocally sexy with his design and/or clothes and/or posing and/or personality?”
I figured the best way to illustrate this is a rigged slot machine, in which slot devoted to describing character design lands on “sexy” 6 out of 8 times.
All heroes in the game have unique ethnic and cultural backgrounds, backstories and personalities. Most of them look quite diverse. The problem is that for women in Overwatch, more often than not,
the visual design compromises that in one way or another, in favor of making them conventionally attractive for the presumed cishet male gamer.
It might be a single thing, it might be the whole way character looks, dresses and is animated, but most of female Overwatch heroines suffer from gratuitous sexualization and obvious double standard when compared to their male colleagues. And a single step in more varied female representation should not be glorified as massive progress when everything else remains unfixed.
a lot of them remain true.
Breakdown of all the concerns we have with characters under the cut:
Symmetra, the Sexy Indian Architect: (yes, we know the in-universe word is architech, but isn’t really relevant nor is it our job to explain Blizzard’s convoluted lore). Everything about her pantless costume and non-dance related posing is devoted to accentuating her hourglass figure, especially the thighs and hips. Also she’s wearing thigh-high high heels for no reason other than to look sexy to the audience – even Blizzard knows this.
D.Va, the Sexy Korean Mecha Pilot: D.Va is a teenage gamer celebrity. She’s girly, flirty, flamboyant and confident. Being a sexy character suits her personality and backstory. Her biggest sin is that she was revealed very late in the beta, so among all the gratuitously sexualized women, her genuine sexyness doesn’t stand out. Overwatch missed an opportunity when they didn’t make her THE sexy female character in the cast of diverse women with varying degrees of femininity.
Mercy the Sexy Swiss Healer: She’s a doctor devoted to heal the wounded with the help of her high-tech suit… suit that is so skin-tight it involves a boobplate. We can assure there’s nothing high-tech about separate boob bumps in a rigid breastplate meant for protection. Also, angel-themed character just happens to be a pale, blue-eyed blonde? How subtle!
Pharah, the Sexy Egyptian Soldier: Personality-, animation- and story-wise, a professional and devoted soldier in every inch. Design-wise… her (obviously Samus-inspired) battle suit includes what looks like a metal thong.
And funny how a female soldier character in gender-ambiguous armor just happens to have long, luxurious hair and perfectly made up face under that helmet. If she was a man she’d have the battle hardened, probably scarred, grizzled Male Protagonist™ look, including the buzzcut that conveniently cuts down on polygons while conveying military pragmatism.
Widowmaker the Sexy French Assassin: Some say she’s justified in looking sexy, as her design coveys a femme fatale. While it’s not wrong to have a femme fatale in the lineup (as long as it’s played as more than “good is chaste, evil is sexy”), we don’t see how that connects to this particular character, given her personality and story.
Why someone who was kidnapped, brainwashed and turned into a perfect unemotional killer would dress in something that looks like bodypaint with impossibly deep cleavage and high heels? How is such look helpful for her job as a sniper? Why does every male character from this archetype look totally different than her?
Tracer, the Sexy British Speedster: She’s playful, cute, energetic… and for some reason, whenever there’s a chance, her butt is put in the spotlight. Blizzard couldn’t give it up even when they admitted her previous victory pose was objectifying… they replaced it with a more playful, yet still butt-focused literal pinup.
Zarya, the Beefy Russian Gunner: The first attempt for a different female body type in Overwatch. Why does her suit includes boobplate, though? Much like Pharah, she doesn’t seem to have any of the grit we come to expect from heavy duty soldiers when they happen to be men.
Mei, the Curvy Chinese Scientist: Only problem with her is that we don’t know for sure whether she is significantly chubby/curvy (compared to all the thin women around) or if her thick arctic clothes make her look that way. She certainly doesn’t have her body type conveyed to the same extent as, say, Roadhog.
ALL OF THEM: They’re all young (19-34), with conventionally pretty faces (even Zarya and Mei, who are supposed to be somewhat masculine and chubby, respectively, don’t veer off any far from Western beauty standard). There’s very little body type variety. Literally half of the women are ethnically white, while two East Asian characters sport pale completions.