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Okay everyone, this week we need to talk about butts.
I know, I can hear your groaning. Nobody likes to talk about butts, right?
But here we are. Blizzard’s new shooter Overwatch comes out in May, and its beta has managed to create controversy over butts.
Now, I’m not stupid. As someone who has been following the gaming industry for decades, I know this issue feeds into a larger debate, and that there is plenty of vitriol on both sides.
I’m going to warn both sides of this debate reading this that I don’t agree with either of you completely, so if you’re looking for an ideology-stroking rant, you may as well hit the back button or angrily scroll to the comments section right here and now.
Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the controversy in a nutshell. Blizzard created the above character, Tracer, as one of many playable heroes in Overwatch. She’s a speed-based character who seems playful and silly. When she wins, she goes all “Black-Widow-on-Avengers-Poster” with her win pose.
Some people playing the beta didn’t much care for the pose, so Blizzard decided to change it.
Now, here’s the thing. Blizzard was right to change Tracer’s win pose, but it’s not for the reasons you’re thinking.
See, a lot of the vitriol surrounding the whole “women in video games” argument stems from the idea that any sort of sexualization of women is automatically bad. That’s the wrong point to argue, and the wrong thing to fight about.
The argument about Tracer has nothing to do with her butt. Her butt isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t like they’re re-designing the character.
The only thing being changed here is the way Tracer is presented as a character. If anything, the change is about keeping her character more consistent.
Here, let’s get a feel for what kind of character Tracer is with this trailer before we go any further.
Your mileage may vary, but I’m getting young, bubbly, playful, childlike, and even kind of silly. Not at all concerned with being sexy at all, much less with displaying it in victory.
But this pose doesn’t belie any of that. If anything, the vibe I get is more like…
Now, here’s the thing. Bayonetta isn’t part of the problem.
For all the heat she gets for being oversexualized, most miss the point that sexuality is part of her character. And her character is fantastic. It’s interesting, strong, funny, enjoyable, confident, but also deeply compassionate and loyal. Her sexuality is something she is comfortable with, and something she expresses even in the heat of battle.
Her character design supports this, the game’s writing supports this, her voice acting supports this. Not only is nothing wrong with this, it’s something we ought to see more of: characters, both male and female, who are aware of, and comfortable with expressing, their sexuality and strength.
Bayonetta is sexy because she wants to be. That’s who she is. She has a strong character, and all the aspects of that character work together, including the skin-tight outfit and playful “come hither” demeanor. She is empowered by her sexuality, and even uses it to her advantage.
Yes, I’m aware I’m giving a lot of agency to a character who was ultimately designed by a largely male team of designers. I don’t care. The point is that the mere presence of sexuality in a character isn’t the issue here. The issue is whether that sexuality suits the character or not.
For Bayonetta, absolutely the sexuality suits her.
But Tracer? The spunky test pilot with time-jump powers?
I don’t know, I just don’t get that vibe from her as a character. Neither did a portion of the community playing the beta, and clearly neither did Blizzard.
Now, some people out there are going to cry “censorship,” and I understand that. Really, I do. It probably feels a lot like Blizzard is being forced to change some of their content because a vocal few said they don’t like butts.
What is actually happening is somebody pointed out that Tracer’s victory pose seems incongruous with her personality as designed, and Blizzard agreed.
If the argument here was that no character should be sexy at all, or that there should be no butts anywhere near Tracer at all, then you would have heard a whole lot more outcry about this.
You know what? Tracer’s apparent fascination with Widowmaker’s butt (at least in this one scene) fits her character a lot better than any desire to display her own. Tracer, for as much as we know about her, strikes me as exactly the kind of character who would do this.
Then again, I watch a lot of anime. The whole “girls feel up other girls for the lulz” trope is relatively familiar to me. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but it’s usually played for laughs, and I take it at face value.
On a related note, let’s also mention that an equally acceptable change to Tracer would be changing her personality to better fit the “over the shoulder” pose. Maybe she just really likes butts, or is just very open and nonchalant about sexuality in general.
That would be fine, and would completely explain the pose in question.
Why? Because removing the butt from Overwatch is never what this was about. It isn’t what the entire debate about female video game characters is about. It’s about building strong characters who are consistent and interesting. That isn’t limited by gender, nor is it about censoring butts.
If you’re going to make a sexy character shooting bedroom eyes at the screen? Fine, make that character. If you’re going to make a multi-faceted character who has a lot going on, but openly expresses sexuality in a way that fits their personality? Great, even better.
But don’t tack skin-deep sexuality onto a character who does nothing else to express it. That’s the kind of thing that brings “objectification” to mind. It feels like a betrayal of a character if that gets thrown in for fanservice alone.
I laud Blizzard’s attempts to create a diverse cast of characters with unique personality traits, and I further appreciate their attention to detail in trying to create consistent character personas.
But ultimately, this simply isn’t something that is going to meaningfully change almost anybody’s experience with the game.
I mean, it’s just a win pose.
So more than anything, I want to invite everyone to calm down. If Tracer’s over-the-shoulder pose had never existed, this wouldn’t be an issue.
This is just another proxy war in a much bigger fight between two very vocal sides who continue to have the wrong argument about the right issue.