Overwatch: An Exercise in Character Diversity

This is an abbreviated version of a longer article posted at Foxy Game Reviews.

In case you’re not familiar, Blizzard has a new game coming out this spring called Overwatch. So far, they have a closed beta running, which means a very small number of people are invited to play while things are tested and bugs are fixed before the big release, but the invites are few and far between. However, thanks good fortune and a good friend, I got in!

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And thus the Gods of Gaming did smile down upon Kelsey and did grant unto her a spot in the Overwatch closed beta, and play game upon game she did, and it was good. Amen.

So what is Overwatch? Well, simply put, it’s a first-person shooter. Think more Halo than Call of Duty, though Halo doesn’t really come all that close either. This isn’t your average point-and-click shooting game by a long shot. The characters have all sorts of exceptional abilities, which means each game requires unique coordination between you and your team in order to use your strengths as efficiently as possible, as well as doing your best to ensure the opposing team can’t do the same.

I won’t mince words here: I love the gameplay. It is absolutely fantastic and loads of fun. It’s dynamic and team-oriented. It’s fast-paced and constantly engaging. And, in addition to all of that, Overwatch also has something which most games have managed to fall short on time and time again: diversity.

First, let’s take a look at my five favorite characters in the game:

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What do you see? First, perhaps, it may stand out to you that they’re all women. That’s because in Overwatch, there are lots of female characters to choose from. Of the 21 playable characters, 8 are women. Two of the characters are robots and one is a gorilla (Ha! Fantasy games, am I right?), so if we’re looking just at the humans up for play, there are 18 total. That means of the those characters, about 44% are women! (And if you’re interested, you can read all the characters’ interesting backstories here.) I’ve made a post before decrying Blizzard for its forgetfulness when it comes to including adequate female representation in its games, and it seems the company is listening. (Not to me, of course, but hey, they must have heard somebody.)

I love that some of the women of Overwatch are sleek and and seductive while others are covered in thick armor or showing off powerful muscle, but all are equally badass. Take D.Va, the woman in the top left, above. That is about as small and dainty as they come, physically, but her role in the team is that of the tank, which means she exists to take as much damage as possible, survive the toughest assaults, and protect her team. Strength comes in all shapes and sizes, after all.

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Learn about her and other heroes here.

Another powerful character, Tracer, pictured above, is easily one of the most feared assassins in the game. She zooms around, essentially healing herself while keeping her enemies guessing about her location until she can take them out with a combination of the element of surprise and deadly efficiency. In short, don’t underestimate any of these Overwatch ladies!

And, not to leave them behind in all this, obviously there are male characters just as powerful and fun to play. I don’t mean to do them a disservice by not mentioning them individually, but tough and adequately represented male characters are nothing new in the gaming world, especially in the realm of FPS-style gameplay. For that reason, I will allow you to rely on that which you have already experienced time and time again to make an educated guess about their power and overall badassery, while I focus instead on these fearsome females soon to be introduced to the world in spring.

The breakdown is something like this: One-third of the DPS and assassin/specialist characters, 40 percent of the tanks, and half of the support heroes are women. That is unlike anything I’ve seen in similar games, and I love it! When I said “here are some of my favorite characters” before, I didn’t set out just to show you the ladies in the game. Those are actually the characters I enjoy playing the most. Since the game has near-equal gender representation, it’s easy to fill any role and kick some serious butt by playing a male or female character, which is all most of us have ever asked for.

But diversity is not just about gender, of course. Another very exciting aspect of the game is the characters’ cultural diversity. I teach English to speakers of other languages for a living (What? Writing game reviews doesn’t pay my bills? I’m as shocked as you are!), and I’m sensitive to the fact that American media often does not represent people like my students (and a huge percentage of the American population) equally or generally very fairly, so I’m always excited to see a mosaic of colors and cultures in media, and Overwatch has done a great job painting a beautiful picture with their cast of characters.

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See the amazing gameplay trailer here.

Represented in the game are the countries of South Korea, Japan, Australia, Brazil, America, China, Switzerland, Egypt, Germany, India, Sweden, and Russia, while several other characters’ home countries are not named or made immediately obvious. What’s extra special to me is that each character has an accent representative of where they’re from, and they even speak at times in their first language (but never when it would leave the player confused about what’s going on). For instance, you can make your character say hello to the team, and that means hearing greetings called out in a multitude of beautiful languages, which never fails to make me smile.

All in all, I think Overwatch has done an excellent job representing its playerbase and making this game seem accessible to and welcoming to the diverse population who consider themselves gamers. I give it an A+, and absolutely encourage you to keep an eye out for it this spring!

If you’re interested in hearing more details about the game, check out the original article here.

3 thoughts on “Overwatch: An Exercise in Character Diversity

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