Today’s big Internet controversy involves butts, as these things so often do. An Overwatch player complained about one character’s butt-centric victory pose, prompting the game’s director to say they’re removing it.
When Overwatch’s closed beta returned earlier this year, Blizzard added skins, emotes, and poses for characters. Among other things, fast-talking, faster-walking time travel demoness Tracer got a victory pose called “over the shoulder.” It looks like this:
Hey look an ass.
In the past few days, that pose has become a lightning rod for controversy. It all began with an impassioned argument from a player called Fipps. Here’s a bit of what they wrote on the Overwatch forums:
“What about this pose has anything to do with the character you’re building in tracer? It’s not fun, its not silly, it has nothing to do with being a fast elite killer. It just reduces tracer to another bland female sex symbol.”
“We aren’t looking at a Widowmaker pose here, this isn’t a character who is in part defined by flaunting her sexuality. This pose says to the player base, oh we’ve got all these cool diverse characters, but at any moment we are willing to reduce them to sex symbols to help boost our investment game.”
“I have a young daughter that everyday when I wake up wants to watch the recall trailer again. She knows who tracer is, and as she grows up, she can grow up alongside these characters. What I’m asking is that as you continue to add to the overwatch cast and investment elements, you double down on your commitment to create strong female characters. You’ve been doing a good job so far, but shipping with a tracer pose like this undermines so much of the good you’ve already done.”
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The thread exploded into lengthy arguments for and against Tracer’s butt pose, with everything from Blizzard’s art direction to Tracer’s character traits called into question.
“Blizz, please don’t listen to people like this,” wrote a user named Wulphy. “Next she’ll be asking you to take away McCree’s cigar because she doesn’t want her daughter to see people smoking.”
“It doesn’t seem sexual to me,” added a user called Threads. “I do see where the person is coming from though. The way I interpret her stance is a cutesy little arrogant ‘Yup, gotta!’ as she looks over her shoulder at the people she just dominated. The buttcheeks that are evident are simply because of her outfit. And she IS a woman so like... what do we do, remove the buttcheeks? XD I think it’s in character.”
Ultimately, though, Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan found himself most agreeing with the topic starter. He said that Blizzard plans to get rid of the pose. “We’ll replace the pose,” he wrote earlier today. “We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented. Apologies and we’ll continue to try to do better.”
In response to Blizzard’s decision, some players expressed confusion and outrage. The basic line of reasoning is that instead of following their vision of the game’s development, Blizzard kowtowed over a relatively minor concern. More broadly, some people have wondered why Blizzard is a-OK with heaps of cartoon violence in their game, but not cartoon sexiness. Lastly, they’ve (rightly) pointed out that sexiness can be empowering, depending on the whens, hows, and whys of it. There’s a petition to keep the pose in the game.
To an extent, I can understand some of those concerns. The victory pose, frankly, isn’t all that over-the-top. Heck, it can even be downright badass:
But it’s also important to take the game’s broader context into account. First and foremost, Tracer is not Overwatch’s only lady character, nor is she the only one who’s dressed or acted in a fashion some might deem sexy. As Fipps pointed out, Widowmaker—who also has a variant of the “over the shoulder” pose that Blizzard won’t be removing—has outfits and poses that much more clearly flaunt her sexuality. She’s got the whole femme fatale thing going on, and she rocks it. That’s rad.
Tracer, by contrast, has mostly been presented as scrappy and silly, the butt pose aside. Instead of jiving with the image Blizzard had built for her, it clashed. Clearly, people noticed. It seems like Blizzard ultimately agreed that it just didn’t fit.
I might raise an eyebrow if Blizzard suddenly scrubbed Overwatch clean of sexiness and, I don’t know, made all asses concave or something, but this seems pretty in line with Blizzard’s goal of letting everyone who plays Overwatch feel empowered. It’s about options for male and female characters, in terms of both body type and personality. So many other games make sexy, easily objectified ladies the default, rather than one or two or a handful among many.
Blizzard’s been striving to include more options in Overwatch pretty much since day one. I remember sitting in the same room as company lore master Chris Metzen when he explained Blizzard’s shift toward providing more options than just the sexy femme fatale type: “We’ve heard our female employees,” he said back in 2014. “And my daughter tools me out about it. She saw a World of Warcraft cinematic of the Dragon Aspects, and my daughter was like, ‘Why are they all in swimsuits?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.’ ...We want everybody to come and play. Increasingly people want to feel represented from all walks of life, everywhere in the world. Boys and girls—everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that.”
The end result has been a game that, tone-wise, lands somewhere between Team Fortress 2 and a Pixar production. Between this and that whole masturbation gag incident, it seems like Blizzard’s really been narrowing down what exactly that means in recent times.
These days, the line between an in-development game and a playable product is so blurry that I think it’s easy for people to lose sight of how this all works. These decisions used to happen behind a curtain, a patch of conference room drywall. Now some of them happen in the public eye. In many cases, the motivations underpinning them are not all that different. The conversation between players and developers is just more direct. Also louder. A lot louder.
Update: 7:33am, March 29: “Well, that escalated quickly,” Blizzard’s Kaplan wrote last night in a substantial follow-up post on the Overwatch forums. He noted that the team already “weren’t entirely happy with the original pose” and had been making a new pose “that we love and we feel speaks more to the character of Tracer.” Asking for and encouraging “respectful” discussion about the topic, he added: “We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay. That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it.”