Women of Overwatch: A Closer Look at Character Diversity

I keep creating more tags for my blogposts which is a real problem. I have SO many tags by now!

Anyway, Overwatch! Blizzard have finally revealed the last of their 21 heroes (funny number?) this Blizzcon, several of which were female characters hooray! And not just your standard fare either – looking at the final 8 heroines, you can tell that Blizzard have actually made an effort in the right direction and are listening to some of that criticism related to representation in character-driven gaming. For their newer games, anyway.

Zarya and Mei

Zarya and Mei

Of course there is no pleasing some people which is one of my biggest gripes with extreme internet culture. You can browse that Kotaku link above to find commenters faulting Zarya’s design for being “too stereotype”. Now look, yes the characters are still stereotypes – for one, the entire game is based on hefty cultural/ethnic stereotypes for both its male and female candidates. Overwatch is doing what most oldschool beat’em ups used to: featuring folk from “around the world” representing a specific country. Their looks are stereotypes, their accents are stereotypes (although I think they should have hired me to voice for Mercy!) and there will be gender-related stereotypes. Also this being a Blizzard title, everything is highly stylized rather than nuanced.

Presence of such stereotypes need not mean absence of diversity however. I am pleased with the variety Overwatch is bringing in terms of female character design and role combos! I’m already loving some of them, so let’s have a closer look at what we actually got, shall we?

Overwatch heroine overview

First off, I did a quick breakdown of role-age-flavor for all 8 female characters, to get a very basic idea:

overwatchstats

– The average age of Overwatch’s women is 28.8. For men it is 36.9. Two of the 13 male characters are non-human.
– While role spread is even for the ladies, there are only two male supports (plus 3 tanks, 4 def, 4 off).
– 25% of female body types fall into a skinny/sporty category, 37% into curvy/sexy (with heels, no bare midriffs tho!) and 37% into heavier/muscled types. About half of them can be considered classic “pretty or cute characters”, the other half ranging from tomboy geeky to strong athletic types (no less attractive but obviously not exactly standard, either). Gear choice and role correspond to these flavor differences (healers…) which makes more or less sense.
– For male character design, about 23% can be considered attractive/hot in a western culture mainstream sense (Hanzo, Lucio, McCree). Generally, with the exception of Hanzo, male characters wear non-sexy gear with little to no notable skin bared (bare bellies also for Junkrat and Roadhog…not hot).

Naturally, these are my subjective impressions of the 21 playable characters, your mileage may vary here and there. I’ve intentionally used simplified, superficial characteristics which serve the purpose of this overview. Body types, armor and role spread (sometimes even gender-locked roles) are an often discussed subject in online games and players are quick to write off characters as the “hot or ugly ones”.

In action and depending on additional gear to come, things may yet change. To me it seemed useful to analyze actual numbers behind Blizzard’s approach to the Overwatch roster. There’s some refreshing stuff going on just like there are still differences between male and female representation. The most significant differences are age range and what I personally wanna call rugged/scarred/crazy characters which remain firmly the province of men. All the female champions seem neat enough and aware of body hygiene.

With all that in mind, there is more character diversity in Overwatch than I am personally used to from MOBA/TF-types and the 8:11 gender split (not counting non-humans) is very nice. So for that I give kudos to the Overwatch crew! Progress happens one step at a time – I’ll take whatever I can.

5 comments

  1. But but what if I want to play a skimpily dressed offense character, or a practically clad support character?!

    ;)

    On a more serious note, eh, it’s an attempt to address some of the more vocal criticisms. Which should at least be applauded for trying.

    Whether it succeeds, or if the stereotypical-stylized-ness (or the gameplay itself) turns more people away than it pleases, is still left to be seen.

    1. …Then you can still do that! :D I honestly have no problem with the naked ladies as long as there is variety for me to choose from (and there should be nekid guys too). The issue in lots of games is that they make up the majority of women and that’s nonsense. Whoever wants to play their super-sex-models can do so, even if it makes little sense to me personally in combat games.

      I think there’s a genre for interesting, realistic and deep characters and there are genres for simplifications/stereotypes in videogaming. There will always be more-or-less funny stereotypical characters in beat’em ups or arena match games and I am cool with that. Stereotypes can be not so srs. ;) It’s more difficult than one might think to create truly original characters that players can still easily identify and are interested to play.

      1. But but your excel table says that those aren’t available choices! ;)

        Frankly though, I’m more likely to be playin’ the monkey. Or the robot turret. Just ‘cuz.

      2. I love the Gorilla rofl….
        Ohh gotcha. Well, you can play a skimpy healer at least :P
        Tbh I expect all of them to get different gear sets, anyway. It’s just interesting how Blizzard handles initial impressions.

  2. I’m only recently and very slowly starting to resurface from a long gaming-less (actually, almost completely free-time-less) period. Hi, by the way! :D

    As such, I hadn’t even heard of Overwatch. I like the character diversity your research shows, though! Caters to my somewhat unusual character preferences. There’s a reason my two most played race-gender combinations in WoW were female orcs and male blood elves… Though I’m not sure whether that says anything about me, or whether that’s just my thing. I like the two character model examples in the picture, quite refreshing.

    The only thing I’m worried about is that this supposedly is a shooter or something like that. (Blizzard’s version of TF2?) Not sure how much shooter characters are designed to be identified with? At least for me, shooter or moba characters are just that… Characters that i control. Not really something to identify with. But hey, at least there’s still choice in characters. Choice > no choice.

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