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Saturday, March 7, 2015

People being stupid about Zarya

Sigh.


Guys, Zarya is a character in a video game. Not a real person auditioning to be your girlfriend.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Zarya

Today at PAX East, Blizzard revealed two new playable characters for its upcoming FPS game Overwatch, announced last November at BlizzCon. You can see a video of the entire presentation  here.

The two heroes announced are a futuristic outlaw gunslinger called McCree, and a Russian "tank" soldier called Zarya. Game director for Overwatch Jeff Kaplan introduced them, speaking with obvious enthusiasm and affection.

"There's a hero out there for everyone, and we all have different fantasies," said Kaplan as he
introduced the new characters. "Our goal with Overwatch heroes is that there's fantasy fulfillment for as many players as possible, to really deliver on that promise of a very diverse heroic experience."

With that, he announced the game's first female tank character, Aleksansdra Zaryanova, AKA Zarya:
She is a dedicated and loyal hero. Her goal in life was to become a championship weightlifter, and she was right on the cusp of fulfilling that fantasy . . . then strife broke out in her village, and she put all of that aside to defend her homeland. . . She's lawful good; she's who you wanna be when you grow up. 
But there's some other stuff to talk about, too. We've been hearing a lot of discussion amongst players about the need for more diversity in video games. And that means a lot of things. They want to see gender diversity. They want to see racial diversity. They want to see diversity along the lines of what country people are from. 
But there's also talk about diversity in different body types, and not everybody wants to have the exact same body type always represented. And we just want you to know that we're listening, and we're trying hard, and we hope Zarya is a step in the right direction to show you that we're paying attention. 
Kaplan obviously had some notes to which he was referring in this presentation, but it didn't appear to be scripted.

I'm honestly shocked to see such a frank acknowledgment that the desire for greater diversity in playable characters has made an impact on design decisions for this game-- and not just "diversity," but body diversity. In a game about futuristic heroes which features robots, a genetically manipulated gorilla, and more cyborg-esque augmentation than you could shake a stick at.

I think most character designers for video games might take pause at the idea of constructing
characters with special consideration to cosplay, but here are a couple of basic facts about cosplay:
  • It's an integral element of geek public life, omnipresent at cons, the foundation of many a livelihood, and the basis in which some practitioners find their best creative outlet, and also
  • There is a relentless and entirely understandable urge for cosplayers to have characters which look somewhat like themselves to use as inspiration. 
Zarya would make for some really fun cosplay. It's kind of funny how she's no less an example of physical perfection and beauty than any of the other female characters, but yet she's sexy and powerful and not bizarrely dressed for her role-- she looks like a futuristic soldier.

See? It's absolutely possible.

Props to you, Blizzard. We're watching, and appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Oversexualize? Overnope.

Last November during BlizzCon, I wrote a post critiquing the design of some of the female playable characters as compared to the male characters in the newly revealed but not yet released FPS game Overwatch. In it, I addressed the following comment made by Blizzard senior vice president Chris Metzen:
Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we've been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don't know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it's something we're very sensitive to.
I boggled at the idea of not knowing whether you oversexualize the male characters in your games, and concluded: No, you definitely are not.

Yesterday on that post, a commenter named "blank" asked:
My question to you is, how would YOU oversexualize a male character?
Here's my answer to that question: I can't. It is impossible for me to oversexualize a male character in a video game.

Here's why:

Obviously I am not any sort of game designer, specifically not a character concept artist for any video game, but let's pretend that I am.

Let's pretend that I have both unlimited funding with which to produce a video game, and unlimited creative control over its content. Let's imagine that having all of these resources and control, I decided to make the most sexual game possible involving male characters.

In order to maximize the sexualization of the male characters in this game, I would leave out female characters altogether. I would, effectively, make a gay porn movie in video game form.

In this gay porn game, because we're talking about the design of fictional characters here, I would exaggerate all of the sexual characteristics of these male characters far beyond what is possible in real life. I would exaggerate their secondary sexual characteristics as well, so that not only would these be the most well-endowed male characters ever, but they would also be the most unquestionably male. And they would be doing...well, what you'd expect to find in a gay porn movie turned video game.  That is the greatest extent to which it's possible for me, personally, to sexualize male characters.

(Would I then want to play this video game? Eh....no thanks.)

But that doesn't answer the question. The question was regarding what I would do to oversexualize male characters, and, as already stated, I can't do that.

That's because in this case, the "over" in "oversexualized" refers to frequency.

A trope is a device in story-telling which appears frequently. In today's usage in pop culture, it typically refers to such a device being used so frequently that it becomes hackneyed, cliché. That's the sense in which Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes v. Women in Video Games series is named, something which I've noticed seems to be all too often lost on its detractors. "She totally misrepresented the game mechanics in Hitman!" they will complain, as if such a gripe is devastating to the point of a video series dedicated to pointing out repeated use of depictions of female characters over time and throughout the industry, and discussing how the near-ubiquity of such depictions is bothersome and even harmful.

When Tropes v. Women says that women in video games are oversexualized, that's the kind of "over" it's talking about. Compared to that, my exaggerated gay porn video game would be a drop in the proverbial bucket. Maybe the non-proverbial pond, lake, or sea.

To ask how I would oversexualize male characters in video games is akin to asking how I would make America heterophobic. How I would make the country overly concerned about ending poverty. How I'd render the world's hungry overly fed.

It's funny to imagine, isn't it? But yeah, that kind of "over" is not gonna happen.