Remember that controversy about Overwatch’s Tracer? The multiplayer shooter’s poster girl with a terribly mangled British accent and a legendary posterior? While she didn’t break the internet like Kim Kardashian did, there was some uproar about how her original character pose — in which her face and bottom were sort of facing the same direction — was removed by Blizzard for being too sexy.
The reactions from those who supported or derided the decision were swift; the camp that agreed with Blizzard’s decision said that this pose was out of character for Tracer’s playful (rather than sexy) personality. On the other hand, others saw this move as an attempt by Blizzard to cater to a vocal minority, and were vehemently against the removal.
There’s even a Change.org petition titled “Overwatch’s Tracer — don’t touch the butt” in which supporters implore Blizzard not to mess with Tracer’s derrière. While these folks have my utter and complete sympathy, I wish to clarify that Blizzard didn’t actually alter Tracer’s bum in any way; they simply turned it away from the camera.
In an age where feminism is synonymous with tyranny and oppression in some circles, Blizzard’s decision to remove the pose was a surprisingly refreshing one. Even though they had expected some measure of backlash, they still decided to go ahead with it anyway. Game director Jess Kaplan even clarified:
“We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay. That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it.”
This is only one instance of a select group of gamers’ hostility against what they deem as “social justice warriors” — people whose sensibilities are far too easily offended — but such anger isn’t without meaning.
As the medium becomes increasingly commercial, this serves as a springboard for discussions on video games’ capacity to both entertain and shape worldviews. I’ve been seeing a surge in socially-conscious video game publications in recent years. Think: Kill Screen, Unwinnable, The Ontological Geek, and, of course, FemHype. This is heartening news!
For instance, Shahryar Rizvi of Kill Screen recently wrote about cultural appropriation in Overwatch, whereas Jessica Famularo at Vice Gaming shared how a Twitch channel, Misscliks, is actively combating abuse in the gaming community. Meanwhile, pertinent issues about the state of the video game community, such as the sexual harassment of women gamers, have snowballed to the point that they are being discussed by media that don’t usually feature regular video game coverage.
Is it wrong to hope that video games may soon be able to join the ranks of its far more established siblings — film, books, and music — and become a platform for cultural and artistic expression? Yeah, maybe. Unfortunately, any progress the community might have achieved over the past few years is still being undermined by the same undercurrent of hate in the community. For every step forward, we take two steps back.
Look at any articles or games that try to broach the issue of sexism and misogyny present in video games, and watch as angry gamers swarm in hordes to question and dismiss everything about the author and the developer, bemoan the beginning of the end of games journalism, and loudly declare their loss of faith in humanity.
One prominent example is the discourse surrounding Kratos, the chronically frustrated demigod in God of War. He is the epitome of masculinity, a ‘tough guy’ fueled by his anguish as he embarks on a journey to absolve himself of his family’s murder. He crashes his foes with righteous impunity, roars with the repressed anger of a tragic hero, and hooks up with Goddesses by the masses.
But he’s also a controversial character in a game that didn’t care for its characters who are women, some of whom are merely introduced as sexual objects — or, in the case of an unfortunate lady only known as “Poseidon’s Princess,” a door stopper. In fact, this is exactly what Kyle McKenney wrote about at Paste Games, but to no one’s surprise, he was swiftly condemned for his commentary.
The late film critic Roger Ebert had famously concluded that video games can never be art because there has never been “a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists, and poets.”
While I beg to differ with Ebert’s opinion, it is challenging for video games to be included in meaningful conversations about art when every move by developers to make their games more inclusive for minority groups seems to be undermined by internet outrage that hinges on the most archaic of arguments.
Every comment that denounces Capcom’s decision to make Street Fighter V’s Cammy less demeaning means silencing another lady gamer who may feel uncomfortable about the representation of women in video games — and even more reluctant about sharing her thoughts online.
So whatever your feelings are regarding Overwatch’s Tracer and her overtly sexualized pose, I take some comfort in the fact that, at the very least, we are having some sort of discussion about issues like these. But let’s try to have conversations around video games that respect minority groups without stifling their voices, okay?