Last month, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan gave a speech at DICE on the importance of diversity in video games. Polygon had the opportunity to interview him and talk all about how Overwatch changed the format of your standard video game character.
Unlike most popular video games of this time, Overwatch attempts to create heroes that players can see themselves in. Every character has their own stories, their own abilities, and their own ideals. The backgrounds of each character have little to do with the actual gameplay, but still add a lot to the game even with just the voice lines in the beginning of each match.
“There’s always going to be someone upset with things that we do. We know we’re not always going to get it right. But it’s about trying to be to a lot of people and thinking of others. “
Overwatch doesn’t hold back when it comes to representation. Last holiday season, an Overwatch comic revealed that their poster girl, Tracer, has a girlfriend. Games don’t have a lot of LGBT+ representation and having the girl on the cover be a lesbian means a lot to the LGBT+ community. Not only that, but just a few days ago Symmetra, an Indian woman, was confirmed to be autistic through a tumblr post which revealed a letter sent to a fan from Jeff Kaplan.
“Diversity is something that we were really cautious about. When you’re representing Night Elves or Terrans no one gets horrifically offended at you unless you do something terribly ignorant, or you misrepresent them in some way [according to canon]. Earth was very challenging for us as a team. It hadn’t been a space we were used to. When I talked about the diversity of the heroes in Overwatch, a lot of people wanted to know if we’d represent someone from every country. But there are hundreds of nations. We’re not the type of game where we’re going to have hundreds of heroes, or at least not anytime soon.”
As much as we would all appreciate a hero for every single country, that really can’t happen. With all the diversity and inclusion in Overwatch, it really does change what people expect out of the new heroes. For example: they just released their new hero Orisa, an omnic created by a young West African girl named Efi Oladele. While the new character is very loved, many people were hoping to see a West African human instead.
“If you have a game with a couple of heroes from one single walk of life, and then a hero is added from a different walk of life, then there’s a big conversation about that. But once you hit a level of diversity that’s broad enough, then the conversation totally shifts. You cross a certain threshold where I think people expect and understand that anything is possible. So we created a universe where, at any moment, people can believe that anyone from anywhere might be the next character, I don’t think anybody would be shocked by a South Pacific islander or an Italian. So in Overwatch it was less about that obligation that we had to represent everybody and more about creating an approachable, welcoming world, where people feel safe and comfortable.”
The last event that Overwatch had was The Year of The Rooster; an event that lasted a little less than a month, but took a whole lot of work. The big concern was the difference between the way Chinese people celebrate Lunar New Years and the way Korean people celebrate it. They made sure to do their best so that there’s a difference for D.Va, a Korean character and Mei, a Chinese character.
“So we did an event called Overwatch: Year of the Rooster. When you started up the game there were two screens. One featured Mei in the traditional red and gold Chinese New Year colors. But we also built a Korean temple for D.Va. It would have been disrespectful to show her in a Chinese setting. We also composed a completely separate piece of music. We did the research and realized that if we weren’t careful, we might come across as very offensive even as we were trying to honor these cultures.”
Of course Overwatch has made their mistakes in the past. In March 2016, fans were upset about a certain Victory pose for the character Tracer. A lot of people believed that the pose was too sexual for the type of character that Tracer was. After lots of arguments back and forth between fans, Blizzard decided to change the pose.
“The truth was we wanted to change the pose anyway. It just wasn’t right. It was more of a knock-off of Widowmaker posing or Hanzo posing. Those fit within in the creative core of the characters. But I had ignited this controversy on the internet. We were looking at the social media trends and it was the largest spike that we’d had, at that time, in Overwatch social media mentions”
Blizzard has helped to prove that gaming doesn’t have to be filled with straight white males and characters so out of this world that you can’t relate to a single thing about them. They are helping pave the way for a new type of world of gaming. Overwatch is just more proof that people want to see themselves in the games they play, even if the game is just about shooting.
“There was this shift on the team, where we realized we had to stop thinking of Earth as this boring place. It’s an amazingly cool place and what makes it cool is all its differences. We no longer look at the cultural sensitivity as a land mine or as an obligation. We look at it as an opportunity.”
Let us know in the comments below what type of hero you would like to see added to Overwatch’s hero roster.