Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Sam Hinton, Assistant Professor in Digital Media, University of Canberra

Last year saw the release of Overwatch, a big budget title by Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s largest videogame developers and producers. A title whose “most basic goal” was:

[…] to be this bright, positive universe, where everybody feels like they could be a hero.

Overwatch has gone on to great commercial success, demonstrating the effectiveness of diversity as a core design strategy.

Their cast of playable heroes are straight and gay, men and women, robots, doctors, and criminals – and represent six of the seven continents (sorry, Antarctica).

So why haven’t game developers done this before? The answer may be that, before now, the industry just wasn’t ready.

An historical problem

The main audience for videogames has historically been young white men, and the game development industry itself has been – and still largely is – a very homogeneous environment. The industry’s most recent survey found that only 23% of developers were female, and that 81% were from a white Caucasian background.

This lack of diversity has long been a problem for the games industry. In the arcade era of the 1970s and 1980s, little attention was paid to female consumers. When they appeared at all, female and non-white characters were often props or one-dimensional stereotypes. Cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian analyses some of the recurring depictions of women — such as the “damsel in distress” — in her web series Tropes vs. Women.

Anita Sarkeesian explains that women are commonly depicted as ‘rewards’ in gaming.

Although games like Pac-man (1980) met some success in closing the gender gap, it would be many years before diversity was seriously addressed by the industry. Games like Dead or Alive Paradise (2010) and Duke Nukem Forever (2011) demonstrated just how far the industry had to go.

A toxic culture

The industry has been only one part of the problem. Players themselves have contributed greatly to hostile game environments.

In 2011 the website fatuglyorslutty.com started collecting user-submitted documentation of online abuse directed at female players. Their archives paint a bleak picture of a world in which female gamers’ bodies and sexuality are often the subject of deeply unsettling abuse.

Critics like Sarkeesian vocally challenged this toxic culture, and in 2014 the culture war came to a head. Sarkeesian, along with many female developers, critics and scholars were targeted as part of the massive cultural backlash coined “Gamergate” by actor Adam Baldwin.

While Gamergaters cited concerns over ethics in videogame journalism, the Gamergate movement was repeatedly linked to instances of online harassment including rape threats, death threats, bomb threats, and doxxing (the public release of victims’ private information).

Most academics have since characterised Gamergate as a reaction to a shift in the videogames industry away from its traditional base to a more inclusive one.

A bold decision

Development on Overwatch began around the time Gamergate was exploding. The studio was undoubtedly following the fallout, and its decision to develop a title championing diversity was bold, given the cultural climate.

This is especially true given that although latest figures suggest that more than 40% of gamers are women, the gender division across genres is far from even. A recent study found for the two genres into which Overwatch most closely fits – First Person Shooter (FPS) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) – the percentage of female gamers were only 7% and 10% respectively.

Blizzard Activision’s approach with Overwatch was both more nuanced and more substantial than most. Rather than giving a nod to diversity in the form of a single female character or plot element, they wove it into their world with every design decision. They also recognised that diversity isn’t just about the narrative elements, but can be enabled by the structure of the game.

image Overwatch’s Sombra is a hacker reknowned for her stealth and debilitating attacks. Activision Blizzard

Unlike most FPS games, Overwatch doesn’t rely solely on precision targeting or twitch reflexes. The distinct abilities of the various characters allow players to experiment with different styles of play, and the integrated roles of the characters emphasises the cooperative nature of the matches.

A mature approach

To say that Overwatch has solved the diversity problems in games would be an overstatement. Even before its final release, Blizzard Activision found itself criticised by fans first for releasing, and then for retracting, a sexualised image of one of the game’s most popular characters — a female character named Tracer.

Similar controversy erupted when another character, Mei, appeared to have inexplicably lost some of her waist circumference when donning a novelty Lunar New Year outfit.

image Overwatch’s Mei is a climatologist who is on her own adventure to preserve the environment and ecosystem. Activision Blizzard

Blizzard Activision’s response to these controversies has neither been to shut down debate, nor to engage with it. Instead, they have maintained their creative vision for a game that celebrates diversity.

Responding to the Tracer controversy, for example, game director Jeff Kaplan said that they “weren’t entirely happy with the original pose,” and that an alternate pose “speaks more to the character”. He emphasised that they “wouldn’t do anything to sacrifice [their] creative vision”, asked that the discussion remain respectful, and left it at that.

Responding to the Mei controversy, an Overwatch community manager claimed it was a simple bug, it’d be fixed soon, and “…btw. Happy Lunar New Year”.

Blizzard Activision seems content to let Overwatch speak for itself, and the emerging narrative suggests that they’ve achieved their “most basic goal” of diversity, and then some.

Overwatch has demonstrated that diversity and inclusion are no barrier to major commercial success. They have capitalised on a maturing gaming community by presenting their game’s diversity in terms of artistic integrity — rather than political point-scoring.

Whether this approach will be picked up by others in the industry remains to be seen.

Authors: Sam Hinton, Assistant Professor in Digital Media, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/diversity-and-inclusion-are-the-heroes-in-overwatch-a-runaway-commercial-gaming-success-75132

Writers Wanted

Why some people find it easier to stick to new habits they formed during lockdown


Why is it worth playing at an online casino?


What is Self-Education? + 4 Ways to Improve Yourself


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards Intelicare wins each nominated category and takes out overall category at national technology 2020 iAwards. Company wins overal...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Arriba Group Founder, Marcella Romero, wins CEO Magazine’s Managing Director of the Year

Founder and Managing Director of the Arriba Group, Marcella Romero, has won Managing Director of the Year at last night’s The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards. The CEO Magazine's Ex...

Lanham Media - avatar Lanham Media

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion