One of the most praised aspects of Blizzard’s new multiplayer shooter Overwatch is its cast of characters. Incredibly diverse, the character roster features characters of various body types, races and nationalities. Newly added Overwatch character Ana Amari, for example, received high praise for being an older woman and for being a woman of colour.
However, Blizzard has also received plenty of criticism, with one Tracer victory pose being called out for being too sexualised and with character skins such as Raindancer/Thunderbird Pharah criticised for cultural appropriation. In a new interview, one Overwatch developer addresses these concerns and reveals how Blizzard takes this sort of backlash into account.
Blizzard on Overwatch Cultural Appropriation
Speaking to VG247, Overwatch’s lead designer Geoff Goodman (who is in charge of hero design) explains that this is the first Blizzard game to be set on Earth and that as “there’s a lot of interesting culture, we can take a lot from all these places,” Blizzard is “trying to highlight very positive things.” Moreover:
“We’re not trying to offend anybody, of course. We’ve shown that if we’ve overstepped our bounds somewhere that we’re willing to correct things. It’s a line we’re trying to be careful of, obviously. We definitely want to highlight the awesomeness of all the different cultures everywhere where we can. It’s part of what makes Overwatch, Overwatch.”
Goodman adds that when the Overwatch team starts to do something relating to a region that people aren’t “intimately familiar with,” there’s “a lot of research” on both the art and cultural side of things including “what people are about.” Goodman also says “we want to have accurate portrayal, to get everyone excited about what they’re seeing.”
The Overwatch designer also directly responds to the backlash surrounding those Pharah skins. The criticisms levelled at the skins were that as Pharah is Egyptian, the skins, which are inspired by Native American (including Eyak) culture and beliefs, are inappropriate.
However, a post on Tumblr from a member of Native American indigenous group, Eyak, voiced support for the skins saying that it helped to preserve and promote Eyak culture, as well as helping it to “survive.” Goodman says that he has read that post and that “it was interesting from their perspective that “This is cool – we don’t get to see our art around anywhere.”
Unfortunately, Goodman didn’t address the controversy surrounding Overwatch’s Symettra Devi skin (some Hindus called the skin ‘inappropriate’ and asked for its removal) or Zenyatta’s Djinyatta skin.
It’s at least positive to hear that Blizzard takes these concerns about cultural appropriation into account but how this translates in the game in the long-term is yet to be seen.