Checkpoint: Defending sensitivity while criticizing silliness

This pose, struck by character Tracer in Blizzard's "Overwatch" video game, was called out by fans as being "over sexualized" and will now be removed. (Courtesy/Polygon)

Last week, there was a huge stir in the video games industry when Blizzard announced that a victory pose for one of their characters in “Overwatch” would be removed, because some users felt that it reduced the character to a sex symbol. The ensuing debate has generated the usual vitriol we expect from internet comments, but even in that sludge we can find an interesting argument about how far developers should go in an effort to be open and inclusive.

I’m usually the first person to criticize female characters wearing lingerie or bikinis into battle, so I’m not someone who thinks that toning down the sexuality of some characters is going to ruin the industry. That being said, the character in question, a spunky woman named Tracer, is dressed very tastefully, and the controversy surrounds one pose where she stand with her back to the camera in which the outline of her butt is visible through her yoga pants. When I first saw it I thought to myself “this is a controversy?” Still, here we are, and a forum post about the topic actually got a response from the game director of “Overwatch,” Jeff Kaplan, who promised to replace the pose, adding “We want everyone to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented.”

To get a sense of how ridiculous this controversy is, you’ll probably have to search for the topic online, although I would again urge you to avoid the comments section. If “Overwatch” were a movie, this pose wouldn’t even be enough to get it a PG-13 rating. I’ve seen more revealing outfits in a hundred other games that didn’t generate one millionth as much controversy and debate as “Overwatch” has. You can hardly blame people on the internet for fighting about something trivial, but I hold Kaplan and Blizzard responsible for caving on their character design as soon as they received so much as one negative forum post. Is Blizzard really so weak-willed that they can be persuaded or forced into doing something just because of a forum post?

At one point, I wondered if Blizzard was just doing this is as a publicity stunt to get the word out about their new game, but the more I think about it, the less sense that strategy makes. If they were trying to drum up controversy, then the developers made a mistake by making the controversy center around a character rather than the content of the game. You couldn’t talk about the sex scenes in “Mass Effect” or the mass murder in “Call of Duty” without bringing up the title of the game and what it’s about, but the conversation around Tracer’s butt has very little to do with the game, so the game gets less publicity. Next, the developers created the controversy by caving immediately to the one request that they alter or remove the pose, so that any controversy that was created is over before it could really get going. My point is that I think this was just a case of the developers being cowardly rather than any coordinated effort to get publicity.

My real problem with this controversy is that it’s a weird distraction from the other issues that exist in the video games industry. There are plenty of games in which women are basically fetishized, and there are more games that write their female characters as either damsels in distress or as stereotypes that make the whole industry look like its run by pre-pubescent teenagers. I’ll lead the charge against games like that, but obsessing over a character’s clothed butt is a waste of time and energy. Hopefully this controversy will fizzle out as quickly as it sprung up, because there shouldn’t be anything controversial about a woman wearing yoga pants in the twenty first century. 


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.