Overwatch: A Step In The Right Direction for Diversity in Gaming

By Dre Willis

Hi, Hello, Hey! This is Dre coming at you with another article that I hope you’ll enjoy, especially you Gaming Geeks of Color!

So, you may have heard about a little game that officially released in May of this year called Overwatch… If you haven’t, here’s a quick summary of the game:

– Official Overwatch Website

“Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. It was released in May 2016 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Overwatch puts players into two teams of six, with each player selecting one of several predefined hero characters with unique movement, attributes, and skills; these heroes are divided into four classes: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. Players on a team work together to secure and defend control points on a map and/or escort a payload across the map in a limited amount of time.”- Overwatch Wikipedia Page

Now that we know a little about the game, we can talk about the breath of fresh diverse air that is their character roster. First, let’s talk math. Out of the currently 22 playable characters in the game, 12 of them are male, 9 are female, while the last being a genderless robot. Right off the bat, the percentage of female characters is already high compared to a majority of video games being developed. Continuing, 5 out of the 9 female characters are Women of Color, while 4 out of the 10 human male characters are also of color. (The two non-human males are a sentient buddhist robot who identifies as a male, and Harambe’s astronaut brother who you saw in the cinematic teaser above.) That leaves only 5 out of the 22 characters being White Males and only 2 of them being American. That’s Freaking Crazy!

Blizzard has made one of, if not the most, diverse and popular game ever! And if you know of any more diverse games drop a comment below or on the Twitter post.

You’re probably wondering, “Well shucks Dre, that’s a lot of numbers you got up there. Can we get to know who these diverse characters are?” Well, in the words of Barry Obama: YES WE CAN!
For the sake of keeping this article as short as possible, here’s my five of my favorite POC characters (in no particular order):

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1. LÚCIO
Lúcio Correia dos Santos is a freedom fighting DJ from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After stealing sonic technology from the Vishkar Corporation who forcefully tried to “redevelop” Rio after the Omnic Crisis, Lúcio uses his music to help others while taking down his enemies fresh beats. Successful, he became a leader of his people and a global celebrity.

Now, when I first saw commercials with this guy, I was skeptical. I figured it was another stereotypical black character with dreads, which irks me a bit more coming from a Jamaican family. However, learning more about Lúcio, I can respect how music is such an important part of him and his courage to stand up against a corrupt system. Plus, it’s always a great thing to have more positive afro-latino representation in any media form.

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2. PHARAH
Fareeha “Pharah” Amari is a security officer hailing from Egypt. The daughter of founding Overwatch member Ana Amari, Pharah served as an officer in the Egyptian Army before taking a job with a private security firm called Helix Security International.

Everyone has their Bae in a fandom, and Pharah has definitely “secured” my heart… see what I did there? She is a total bad-ass, from her winged/jet powered mecha suit, to her powerful rocket launcher and barrage ultimate move, and her tear-jerkingly symbolic Wedjet (Eye of Horus) tattoo around her right eye in honor of her mother. Plus, she has the most beautiful alternate skin called Anubis.

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3. REAPER
Gabriel Reyes is a Mexican-American from Los Angeles, who started out as one of the co-leaders of Overwatch but would later defect as the international terrorist known as Reaper. Reyes went through a super-soldier type experiment while in the United States Armed Forces and once he retired the United Nations called him to start Overwatch. Unfortunately, his friend Jack Morrison (White American Hero of the group) was chosen to lead. Of course. Over the years jealousy ensued because of his “ghost writer” position, which ended in a fight, the two men presumed dead, and permanent the disbandment of Overwatch. Years later, Reyes resurfaced as Reaper, the genetically altered mercenary of death (intentionally redundant), and became one of the game’s definite evil bad guys.

Not much I can say about Reaper, other than he’s definitely the creepiest guy to fight in the game and that he’s one of the only Latinx bad guys who aren’t portrayed stereotypically that I’ve come across in video games.

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4. HANZO AND GENJI
The brothers of the Shimada clan, criminal assassin family from the town of Hanamura, Japan. Both skilled warriors, Hanzo focused on the bow while Genji on the sword. Hanzo, being the eldest, was the heir to Shimada clan once their father died. Genji, however, wanted to find a life outside his family’s crime. The brothers dueled, and Genji was believed to have died (which is pretty a recurring theme in this game). Saved by Overwatch and enhanced technology, Genji became a freaking ninja cyborg. While his brother, was left grief-stricken and abandoned his clan to restore his honor.

While, this in itself would make a great movie, you can’t help but notice the obvious stereotypes in these characters. Ninjas, Yakuza, cybernetics, honor, etc… Still, these are great characters who do develop and grow in Overwatch’s massive media content like their short videos and comics. Plus, Hanzo is definitely my second-favorite character to play, next to Bae of course.

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5. SYMMETRA
Satya Vaswani is an Indian architech of hard-light from the Vishkar Corporation. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Due to her impressive potential, Satya was chosen at a young age to be trained as one of Vishkar’s elite architects. Though this opportunity took her out of poverty, Satya is faced with the morality of what her company does to those who don’t necessarily want their kind of help. (i.e. Rio de Janeiro)

What I love about Symmetra is, like Pharah, her connection to her culture that she brings out in work and fighting style, incorporating her light-bending technology with the traditional dances of her homeland. Also, it is widely accepted (possibly confirmed) that she may fall on the autism spectrum. Which is amazing to hear, having three cousins on different sides of the spectrum. Here’s a page from her free comic book, available on the Overwatch website and Comixology “confirming” her to be on the spectrum.

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Those are just 6 of the 9 POC playable on Overwatch, and while that may not be half the roster, it’s definitely a start in the right direction. For more, look up Mei (China) D.va (Korea), and Ana Amari (Egypt). Aside from this awesomeness, there are caveats to this much diversity. There are rightful concerns about some of the skins available to the POC characters. For example Pharah has two stereotypical Native American skins, Thunderbird and Rainmaker. Pharah isn’t Native, and really shouldn’t have skin depicting their cultures to look cool. Also Symmetra has two skins named Vishkar and Devi that resemble Hindu Goddesses. Again Cultures are not Costumes. Though, playing devil’s advocate, I can see why they thought it would be okay (it’s not) since Symmetra is Indian and presumably Hindu. There are others, which sucks, but Blizzard has already been known to listen to fans criticisms. Like when they changed one of Tracer’s provocative poses due fan’s questioning of it being “out of character” for her as opposed to a more sexual character like Widowmaker. So, if you love Overwatch or plan to get into it after reading this article and want to see it grow into an even better, diverse, and more inclusive game, let your voice be heard! Personally, I want to see more black characters, maybe one from the Caribbean like my family or Africa! Also, more Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, and actually Native American characters! More Everything!

P.S. Developers have confirmed that there are LGBT characters and a Spanish speaking character in the game that have yet to be revealed. #EvenMoreInclusiveBoi
P.S.S. If you want to add me as a friend on PS4, shoot me a dm on Twitter.

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