Overwatch is an incredible game. Blizzard’s first real foray in to first person shooters has struck a very large chord with the gaming populace. It’s the fastest game in Blizzard’s history to reach an active player base of 25 million people – and months later, still draws in players. It’s also one of the most diverse and representative mainstream games available right now.
The shooter has been rightfully praised for its diverse roster, which includes icy Chinese climatologist Mei, Egyptian mother and sniper Ana, her daughter Pharah, and a bit of sonic youth in the form of Brazil’s Lucio and one zippy lesbian.
Speaking at this year’s D.I.C.E summit, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan spoke about the game’s diversity, and how the team approached its characters and their world.
“What’s weird to us, is that Overwatch started to spark lots of discussions about diversity,” said Kaplan. “It was a very hot topic during the development of Overwatch.
“I think it’s really interesting that people think that diversity was the goal of the Overwatch team, when it was not. What we cared about was creating a game, and a game universe, and a world where everyone felt welcome. Really what the goal was, was inclusivity and open mindedness.
“We wanted there to be this feeling — and I’ve talked to a lot of people about this and I think they’ve agreed with it – when I say you might be from somewhere that we haven’t represented yet in Overwatch, but you could imagine there being an Overwatch hero or an Overwatch map from your area. And it seems totally plausible, like it seems like at any time I could be represented in the game. I think diversity is a beautiful end result that you get when you embrace inclusivity and open mindedness.”
One of the more controversial bits of added diversity came around when Blizzard revealed that cockney speedster Tracer was gay.
“In December we wanted to put a thank you out to our community,” Kaplan said. “So we made a comic book, written by Michael Chu, our lead writer, which was called Reflections.
“Reflections happened to reveal that Tracer had a girlfriend at home, not a boyfriend like some people expected. And this is all part of what we on the Overwatch team think of as: normal things are normal. It’s important to show normal things as normal, so they become more normal. A lot of people had expected other characters to maybe be representative of the LGBT community and maybe it wasn’t Tracer. To us, what was important about Tracer was that she was this badass, time-travelling hero, first and foremost.”
“It’s important to show normal things as normal”
“I was preparing for this talk and I took a moment to study some of the shooters over the last 10 years and I was looking into these game, and these are some of my favourite games of all time… I started to notice a trend as I put the box covers together. And the trend seems to be grizzled soldier dude and it made me think about just how different Overwatch was. It’s very different to have an LGBT character in the cover and also one who’s a female, so it’s something that we’re pretty proud of.”
Some vocal players were outraged, some thought it was wonderful – while it seems most people weren’t at all affected because it’s just a normal thing for people of the same sex to be in love. And that’s really the point. While there are still very many closed minds, representation like this in media can help those people realise that LGBT people aren’t to be feared or hated.
In many ways, Overwatch has become a symbol for diversity – even outside of games. Blizzard has been encouraged by all of this – though assert that Overwatch isn’t political.
“In no way do we aspire to be a political game,” Kaplan says. “We have no political motivation whatsoever, but it’s fascinating to see that the values of the Overwatch team are now being embraced and owned by the community in their own positive way.”
Here’s the thing, it is political, whether they want it to be or not. Everything – absolutely everything – in the media that we consume is political. Politics shape the world around us, which in turn shape the things we experience, which then go on to shape the world around us. It’s articulated quite exceptionally by Matt Lees in a video called “Can We Keep Politics Out of Gaming?”