For gaming month, Stephanie Farnsworth looks at what made Overwatch so successful.
It’s the perfect day for some mayhem, as my favourite Overwatch character would say, and causing mayhem is exactly what Blizzard did when they released their game. You see, there was this nicely held belief in a lot of society that diversity was just too difficult. We had to wait for it, we couldn’t do quotas or simply introduce a load of diverse people into any workplace because it would upset “ordinary people” and it just wouldn’t be fair anyway. Then Blizzard game along and shattered that myth with a hammer the size of Reinhardt’s.
We had to wait for it, we couldn’t do quotas or simply introduce a load of diverse people into any workplace because it would upset “ordinary people” and it just wouldn’t be fair anyway.
Blizzard threw diverse characters in. There are characters from across the globe (genuinely, not just Europe or the US) and in traditional dress to their culture, with authentic accents. Even the accent of the person who announces the start of each match is not English or American.
To add insult to every injured conservative who ever screamed about the “PC agenda”, Overwatch is one of the most fun games in history. While developers are faffing about wondering how to make dark narratives out of stories that have been done a thousand times before, Overwatch thought “sod that” and didn’t even have a story. They just flung a load of cool characters together, gave them ridiculous weapons and launched it to the public for endless euphoric fun.
The game is as simple in its concept as it is complex with its characters. It’s revolutionary for storytelling, particularly for something that has a severe lack of story. Writers and developers have ran away with trying to give us bigger and more complex stories. Some of them work exceptionally well, some are mind numbingly dull, but very few ever have well developed characters. Most characters are rather predictable and almost always lacking in any diversity. Overwatch put the characters front and centre, which was a huge task given that they can only say four different things.
The game is as simple in its concept as it is complex with its characters.
Of course, there have been inevitable backlashes. When Middle Eastern layouts were added, there were gamers who were besides themselves with rage. There was fury too when Overwatch corrected Mei’s hip size after a recent update – because they were intent upon making her larger. There was also the quite embarrassing moment when gamers (presumably overwhelmingly men) cried over the fact that Tracer was revealed to be gay. Guys, she’s fictional; she was never going to date you anyway. For the record, most women aren’t interested in whiny, entitled and desperate men either so maybe consider keeping your queerphobia and misogyny to yourselves if you ever want a date at all.
Yet, the anger hasn’t stopped Blizzard from doing whatever it wants. It clearly spent a great deal of time getting the characters aesthetically right, and now it’s releasing Youtube content as well as regular updates to add more layouts and game modes.
Could such a diverse model be the future of the games? It’s unlikely. The games industry is still lagging, as are a lot of media fields. A remake called #DearWhitePeople can’t go without thousands of comments from white people who are crying about their oppression. Overwatch has been an exception to the vast majority of its competitors. Yet the problems Overwatch highlights are demonstrated throughout wider society. There’s a definite split between those who want diversity and respect the humanity of people who share different identities, to those who see diversity as a threat to their privilege which must be stopped. A lot of media just isn’t compatible with its audience, because diverse media is going to inevitably upset the bigots – but Blizzard has shown companies that they should not fear that upset.
A lot of media just isn’t compatible with its audience, because diverse media is going to inevitably upset the bigots – but Blizzard has shown companies that they should not fear that.
Overwatch is one of the most popular games around, and it’s still priced well. The demand is there for it but there’s a different audience; ones who love games and ones who just love great and fun characters. They’re not the bigots that were behind GamerGate, and that’s a wonderful positive. Developers can create a better culture for gamers by setting the standard with the products they give their audience. Blizzard have shown they don’t care about racist, sexist queerphobes and it’s time for other developers to follow their lead.
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