Overwatch’s new character Ashe sparks discussion on the roster’s diversity

    
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There’s been plenty of excitement over the announcement of new Overwatch character Ashe at BlizzCon 2018, but the new arrival has also sparked a bit of controversy around the subject of Blizzard’s dedication to diversity in the popular online shooter. Although it isn’t entirely fair to say that Overwatch’s cast of characters isn’t diverse, with its array of representatives of different ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, and so on, it’s nevertheless been a matter of some contention that, despite having multiple characters that aren’t even human (including one super-intelligent gorilla and one super-intelligent hamster), the game has yet to feature a single black woman, at least aside from its Egyptian mother/daughter duo.

This issue is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that concept art of Ashe has revealed that she was, at some point, envisioned as a dark-skinned character herself. As Kotaku’s Gita Jackson puts it, “[Blizzard] made a hamster and a second cowboy before they made a black woman. It just feels like [black women are] not a priority.”

According to Kotaku, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan says that “Ashe as we now know her was born of timing and sudden inspiration, which played a role in her appearance,” though that doesn’t entirely explain why Ashe had to be another white woman. Nevertheless, Kaplan assures players that there are “around six” additional characters currently in the works, so hopefully players won’t have to wait much longer for the characters that will speak to them.

Source: Kotaku
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Totes McGoats

What if Ashe indentifies as black?

This is so stupid.

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Shiodian

When I play this game (and I play alot), I could care less what the character looks like and care a ton more about the abilities. I am looking for counters and a good group make-up. Aesthetics are at the very bottom of the list for me. I understand people have their own wants, but this is just me. : )

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Arsin Halfmoon

I agree with you, its that “function” argument that combofiend put out in regards to the new marvel vs capcom. Man if things were only that simple yenno? But hey ever since people started considering games as a social statememt these things have to happen

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wratts

But, a la JK Rowling, it will be later revealed Ashe is trans, so there’s that

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John Mynard

I have an idea. From now one ALL games take place in an alternate reality where humans all have blue or chartreuse skin tones and everyone wears full coverage body armor, so skin color doesn’t actually fecking matter. So forth and so fecking onward…

I am so SICK of manufactured outrage, outrage for its own sake or identity based on immutable physical characteristics being injected into everything. It’s destroying our society and we’re adding more by the gorram second in our short-sightedness. We should be seeking thing to unify us, not tear us down into ever smaller units.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

read the source.

Ernost
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Ernost

I find this argument ridiculous. I’m a scrawny Indian guy who wears glasses, I have no interest in playing a scrawny Indian guy who wears glasses in any game. Gaming is meant to be an escape from reality, a fantasy, not a reflection of your personal reality.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

Surprisingly, your goal in play games is not the same as everyone else’s goal with playing games.

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Chris Mc

No middle eastern men. No Indian men. No Hispanic women. Obviously, Blizzard is racist.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

Read. the. source.

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Ozius X

I just watched a movie that stared an all black cast… Funny thing is, I didn’t even notice that until my black friend pointed it out. As a white guy, I wasn’t mad, they didn’t fit into the story as the writer intended. You can feel when characters are forced. We all can. These characters should just happen organically and not because we don’t have a certain race in game.

Now, you’re gonna get a black women that may not fit as created because she was created out of necessity and to fend off the SJW.

From now on, let’s have every book, movie, game and any other form of artistic expression have mandatory race/gender check marks prior to release. This way we can make sure no one is left out…

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Bruno Brito

This makes no sense. No character on the roster of OW is out of place. This is a game about people and sentient animals and robots shooting themselves. Also, Blizzard is PAID to provide a good roster of characters.

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Loopy

Blizzard is paid to develop a fun and entertaining game, not a diverse roster of characters.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

And the two are mutually exclusive?

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Loopy

No, but neither are they of same priority. No developer starts work on a game with the top priority of making roster diverse. This has 0 impact on gameplay, on its mechanics, systems, monetization model, or anything related to how the game works.

Diversity is good, it has its place in gaming, and should be something to strive for. However, i do not believe that it should be forced into every setting, regardless of its context, just for the sake of diversification.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I mean, it’s hard to make an argument that anything is done “just for the sake of diversification.” I mean, something that might feel forced to you as an already-represented individual, but to the person newly being represented it feels natural.

Rarely is anything done just for the sake of diversification — that doesn’t make sense. You would do it to add to the appeal of the game or to keep it in line with the ethics and values of the game you are creating.

This has 0 impact on gameplay, on its mechanics, systems, monetization model, or anything related to how the game works.

This is true in most cases (though how wild would it be if a game interacted with you different based on the color of your skin!?). But those things DO impact how a game is experienced, and a player’s satisfaction with a game. Games are a unique medium in that they are, by necessity, experiential. So mechanics, gameplay, system, monetization, and graphics/representation that all contribute to the experience of playing the game. My experience with playing the game might be different playing a character that is canonically gay than not (I mean, it IS different for me)

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Jack Pipsam

The real end result from this will most likely be Blizzard holding back from showing off different concept art designs again to be honest.

Then again, for as much as Overwatch is ‘diverse’, it’s also just a melting-pot of stereotypes.
In Team Fortress 2 every one of the characters was a stupidly extracted stereotype, that was the consistent joke across every character, combined with the whacky world, made it not only okay (IMO), but work. Overwatch is a mix between some characters being earnest and others being a silly stereotype, to the point where I have to question where does the joke end and Blizzard’s misunderstanding of different cultures begin.

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Jack Pipsam

exaggerated*

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Bruno Brito

Here’s the difference: Blizzard’s world is to be serious, TF2 isn’t. The stereotypical approach to TF2 works because they’re extremely exagerated, but they also have a LOT going on under it, the story is full insane, and it fits.

When you have a plethora of stereotypical characters that wants you to take them seriously, you have a lot of issues respecting them. This is why OW character roster is seen as “bland”.

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Jack Pipsam

I think it’s just inconsistency. Blizzard tries to pretend that Overwatch’s lore is serious, but it’s hard to take it seriously. Many of their maps try to be serious, but some are clearly designed to be fun and silly (or at least if they thought it was serious then they failed). Some of their heroes are well thought out, have depth, respectful and earnest. Others are just horrible jokes.
Overwatch is consistently inconsistent in their tone and pretence.

TF2 is just fun from start to end. And before they went off the rails with the Steam Workshop, everything used to adhere to a strict art-style (I miss those days). When everything is meant to be a joke, it all falls into place and you don’t question it, nothing jumps out as out of place (aside from post-F2P stuff).

It’s really why I love the Sniper, but find Junkrat insulting.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

Because I’m a glutton for punishment and I feel like most people don’t immediately ignore what I write here, I thought I would weigh in (again) on why this OK to bring up, and why it matters.

First off, let’s talk a little bit about representation. The way we communicate (or don’t communicate) about things influences our perceptions and unconscious responses to this things. What the field of media studies asserts is that every communication (visual, vocal, written) is persuasive — meaning that it persuades you to interpret it in a specific manner. Everything from the medium (representation of black women in video games vs representation of black women in movies) impacts the way we receive and interpret this information. The ‘message’ is different based on an infinite number of factors.

“Media Critique” takes a limited set of the factors that influence the message and assumes that those are dominant reading of the artifact in question (artifact here being a fancy word for message communicated). You adopt the perspective and then you view the rest of the artifact through the lens of that reading. The “Truth (note, big T)” of the matter isn’t at stake but rather understanding how someone else would view and interpret the artifact based on a limited set of factors.

All of that is to say, “it’s OK and even healthy to bring the representation of black women in games because there are black women who play games.” Adopting a subversive perspective does not devalue the game as a whole or make moral or ethical statements about a game (though it’s possible, depending on the critique). Doing a media critique is imperative to help you step outside your comfort zone and view the game from a different perspective because there is no “True (note big T)” perspective to be had here. The intent of creator influences preferred perspectives, but cannot mandate how people actually interpret their messages.

So why does the lack of a black women characters in games matter? When taken as a discrete entity, and viewed entirely siloed, it doesn’t really. It’s impossible to derive direct correlations between a single media artifact and any change in behavior or stereotypes. But if you examine those same representations over a spread of time and artifacts – then you notice a change in the way that people interact and perceive the subject of that representation. The tendency to portray people consistently across different cultural media leads to a change in how other perceive that being represented when considered in aggregate.

It’s important to remember that not representing someone or a group of people is also communicating something — generally that they are valued less than those groups that they’ve spent time and effort representing. So when we look across a multitude of games and see a significant lack of black women, we ask why? When Overwatch has issues of representation that continue existing trends in the medium, DESPITE making the effort to be inclusive, you have to ask why. When Blizzard considers making the character a black woman but decides to whitewash her, we have to ask why.

The answer is almost never “Because they are racist!” as I doubt anyone sat down and consciously decided to exclude black women. But why do black women get unconsciously excluded? What’s the underlying stereotype, assumption, cultural foible that leads to this?

Asking those questions is healthy and progressive. Moreover, they don’t hurt anyone to discuss, and make lots of people happy and feel heard. There’s almost no downside to the discussion and lots of upsides.

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Sorenthaz

Do we really need to keep getting upset about this stuff in video games?

I guess it originating from Kotaku explains it, but that’s incredibly nitpicky. What next, are they going to complain that the only overweight human characters are Roadhog and Mei?

Like they might as well rant about League of Legends for not featuring a single black female character after 120+ champions. Slap that on top of the sexism controversy.

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Bryan Correll

Mei is not overweight! She’s just curves in the right places.

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Bruno Brito

I don’t think it’s like, outrage material, but it is something that should be at least pointed out.

i see no issue in being aware of this.

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Sorenthaz

We should also point out the lack of Native Americans, Latin Americans, etc. as has been mentioned above then. Also will need to throw in a transgender character of both sides, a gender fluid character, gay male, more handicapped folks…

The list goes on. Nitpicking that a black woman hasn’t been added to Overwatch’s roster yet is ridiculously silly and it feels like Blizzard is just the company that maybe one or a few Kotaku writers love to beat up on for not having XYZ in their games.

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Bruno Brito

So? Point it out. I, again, see no issue in this. It would be actually great to have those characters.

Also, Sombra is Latin American, if i well recall.

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Ryan Allgood

League of Legends does have a black female character though. >_>

Karma is a black woman.

Also, as others have stated, if it’s not brought up and discussed, it will never happen. Just because it isn’t important to you in particular, doesn’t mean it’s not important at all.