The Challenge of Progressively Depicting Females in Overwatch
“Never accept the world as it appears to be. Dare to see it for what it could be.” – from the Overwatch Animated Short, “Recall”
I was playing Overwatch and reached for my go-to character, Mercy when a friend asked: “Do you only play Mercy?”. Now I bit my tongue but how many people get to level 25 only playing one character? Then he brought up that if I was, I would be “reinforcing the misconception that females only play supports”. But with Ana, one-third of the options for females are support roles. Now rather state, “Overwatch encourages females to play support roles,” because I don’t feel that is the case I’d like to look at the idea that Overwatch could still paint its more feminine characters as stronger and less dependent on the male characters in the games lore.
In this piece, I am not discussing how the female body is portrayed, as I think that Overwatch did a fantastic job including multiple body types even with all the criticism they faced. I’m also not saying that they Overwatch did not include backstories that portrayed females as strong, as I am particularly fond of Zarya’s and Pharah’s. I’m highlighting the fact that two of the three stories for their more curvy bodied females show them either as needing help from a man, being unable to save a man, or being kidnapped by men and tortured and this unintentionally reinforce the misconception that females need support.
Tracer – The monkey saves the girl … again
Lena Oxton, or Tracer, struck me as the flighty but cheerful sort. Never really staying still she was always on the run. Lore says that after an aircraft’s teleportation matrix malfunctioned Tracer was left with chronal disassociation as a living ghost and had trouble staying in the present. However, Winston solved her problem and invented a chronal accelerator that allows her to control her own time. I’m not going to make a big fuss over this. The “guy” saved the girl. And this is not the only time this happens in Overwatch’s lore. In the Overwatch Animated Short “Hero” Soldier 76 saves Alejandra from a grenade and returns the money a group of thugs has stolen from her. But that’s not what really bothers me. I’m more upset that we have yet to see a female successfully save or help a male in the lore, or another female for that matter. We actually see Tracer fail at protecting Tekhartha Mondatta from Widowmaker in the animated short “Alive”. Could females characters actually save one another or a male? Of course, they could. So why aren’t we seeing this in Overwatch?
Also when I say successful, I don’t mean Mercy “saving” Reaper whose bio states “It is possible that he is a byproduct of failed genetic alteration which forces his cells to simultaneously decay and regenerate at a hyper-accelerated rate” – FAILED genetic alteration does not mean successful. The game’s dialogue has Mercy asking “What happened to you?!” to Reaper and she notes that this is not what she intended. Additionally, in game, we watch Mercy revive characters from death. Meanwhile, she has to turn Genji into a cyborg and he is left hating himself and then finds Zenyatta who finally helps him find clarity. But she doesn’t “save” him out of the goodness of her heart but rather she did it to recruit him for the Overwatch team. In addition, though Ana does what she can to protect her daughter we here in her introduction video that she fails to take the shot when she needed to against Widowmaker and because of this the rest of her team is left to die. And after the tragedy, she thought it was best if the world thought she was dead.
“Old habits die hard, I guess.” – Soldier 76 from the Overwatch Animated Short, “Hero”
Widowmaker – Brainwashing and victimization
Speaking of Widowmaker, she is not much better off. While a talented sniper, she must resort to staying hidden and works best if paired with another player for protection because she can be taken out easily once spotted. Lore explains that Widowmaker was married to an Overwatch agent named Gérard Lacroix who was fighting the Talon terrorist organization. Unable to take him out, they kidnapped his wife and painfully brainwashed her. She is sent home as a sleeper agent and takes the life of her husband, before returning to Talon. She has become so cold that her heart has slowed down and her skin has turned blue. And she has been hurt so much she is no longer able to feel without hurting others. I get that they were looking to add another bad guy and I don’t have a problem with it being a female villain but I feel like they could have crafted one with a stronger motive than simply “I was brainwashed”.
D.Va – And the real life problems facing strong female gamers
Hana San, better known as D.Va has more than pink hair and is dressed head to toe pink, topped off with a bunny on her chest. I initially viewed her “strength” as a sacrificial suicide bomber who gives her life for her team. That said, D.Va’s ultimate doesn’t harm her and only ejects her from her MEKA. A friend of mine stated that her strength is in her intelligence and that she uses her MEKAs as game pieces. From the lore found on Overwatch’s site, we know that she was once a professional gamer, but now she uses her skills but to protect South Korea and surrounding countries from a colossal monster known as an Omnic.
The idea that professional female gamers will have such popularity is exciting. However, in June another talented female, Korean gamer named Gegury got accused of cheating in Overwatch and did a live stream to defend her name by two members of an opposing competitive team. With only 64 hours as her favorite character, Zarya, she is now the 8th best Zarya player in the world averaging almost 4 kills per death. However, her male accusers, Strobe and ELTA, from team Dizziness were so convinced she was cheating that they bet their competitive careers on it. The 17-year-old girl stated the accusations brought her to tears, but she had the support of another female pro, and personal friend, Akaros who plays a pretty sweet Genji. Since then, both boys and the team manager have written formal apologies and both have left the Overwatch scene as they stated they would.
While I in no way support their action or doubts, I cannot help but feel they simply came to the belief that she was cheating because they struggled to look past stereotypes and could not imagine a strong female. But, looking more in depth at how two of the most feminine characters are portrayed I feel like Overwatch has a similar problem. Despite having a strong female gamer, portraying their curvy characters; Tracer, the most iconic character and Widowmaker, her foil as dependent and vulnerable, respectively, I cannot help but feel that Overwatch has unintentionally continued to reinforce their views. While Overwatch has made steps in the right direction. I’m hopeful that future female additions will help to break this trend and show strength and independence as more feminine traits.