Videogames have a deservedly poor reputation when it comes to diversity. If you are a white guy, you have plenty of representation. If you are a woman or a person of color, your options dwindle dramatically. If you are a black woman, finding representation in a videogame can be nearly impossible.
That’s why Blizzard Entertainment’s new game Overwatch was such a breath of fresh air when it was announced last November. Not only did the game have a fairly even split between men and women, but gamers were given ethnic and nationality choices that rarely come up in mainstream games. Female characters included a time-traveling Brit, a reality manipulating Indian technomage, and a flying, armored Egyptian.
But while the game featured amazing diversity in terms of ethnicity and gender, it lacked diversity in body type — at least for the women. The male characters had a huge diversity in body types, from dwarfs and overmuscled hulking figures to lithe, ninja-like acrobats. There was even a gorilla. On the other hand, feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian pointed out that all of the female characters looked like they stepped from the pages of a Victoria Secret’s catalog.
Then something strange happened. Blizzard heard that criticism and introduced a new Overwatch character: Zarya — a female bodybuilder with a massive particle cannon and the ability to create shields. In gaming parlance she is a tank — a character designed to take massive damage while protecting weaker party members. While female characters are often thieves, assassins or magic users, they are almost never “tanks.”
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