If you’ve taken the time to click on this article then chances are you have consequently heard of the recent controversy surrounding a character called ‘Tracer’ in the closed beta of a game made by Blizzard called Overwatch. If, however, you haven’t heard of this controversy yet or simply would like the full picture; then here’s how things went down.
25th March 2016 –
A user on the Overwatch beta forums by the name of “Fipps” posted an impassioned post titled “Overwatch’s Strong Female Heroes and that one Tracer Pose”
in which she proceeded to make a complaint about the following pose:
In her post, the user went on to explain that she found the above pose to be “overly sexual” and to reduce Tracer to a “female sex symbol”. The user also posted how this isn’t the sort of character pose that she wants her daughter to see. More accurately, the user wrote
“WHAT? What about this pose has anything to do with the character you’re building in tracer? It’s not fun, its not silly, it has nothing to do with being a fast elite killer. It just reduces tracer to another bland female sex symbol.”
The posting quickly electrified many users into joining in on the debate with some agreeing with “Fipps” and then some disagreeing with her line of argument. In particular, a user called “ZAON” responded to “Fipps” rebuking her argument in that it goes against the developers’ artistic freedom. The user wrote that:
“Assuming this is not troll thread, There is something very wrong with the position you seem to hold. Blizzard has the creative freedom to make the game they choose. You have the right do dislike the work of other people, but you should not impose what you think “ought” to be in regards to artistic freedom.
Artistic freedom is the extent of freedom of an artist to produce art to his/her own insight. The extent can deviate to customs in a certain school of art, directives of the assigner, etc.
If Blizz wanted to make a game with 100% males because of some interesting story/dynamic or what ever reason, they have every right to do so.”
28th March 2016 –
Game Director of Overwatch, Jeff Kaplan entered into the debate to inform people that Blizzard had made the decision to remove the pose. He also released a short statement saying that
“We’ll replace the pose. We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented.
Apologies and we’ll continue to try to do better.”
This sparked outrage from many fans of the game and even those who hadn’t played the game since many perceived this as the developers “pandering” to the original OP. Fans were so outraged that a petition was started to undo Blizzard’s decision to remove the pose. The post is currently the “hottest” post on the game’s reddit page, a sign to the magnitude of disappointment in the decision to remove the pose.
29th March 2016 –
Game Director, Jeff Kaplan was forced to make another post on the original thread in response to the criticism he faced for making the decision to remove the pose. In yet another official statement, albeit a longer one this time around, Kaplan wrote that:
“Well, that escalated quickly…
While I stand by my previous comment, I realize I should have been more clear. As the game director, I have final creative say over what does or does not go into the game. With this particular decision, it was an easy one to make—not just for me, but for the art team as well. We actually already have an alternate pose that we love and we feel speaks more to the character of Tracer. We weren’t entirely happy with the original pose, it was always one that we wrestled with creatively. That the pose had been called into question from an appropriateness standpoint by players in our community did help influence our decision—getting that kind of feedback is part of the reason we’re holding a closed beta test—but it wasn’t the only factor. We made the decision to go with a different pose in part because we shared some of the same concerns, but also because we wanted to create something better.
We wouldn’t do anything to sacrifice our creative vision for Overwatch, and we’re not going to remove something solely because someone may take issue with it. Our goal isn’t to water down or homogenize the world, or the diverse cast of heroes we’ve built within it. We have poured so much of our heart and souls into this game that it would be a travesty for us to do so.
We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay. That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it.
If it isn’t, feel free to continue sharing your concerns, thoughts, and feedback about this and other issues you may have with the game, please just keep the discussion respectful.
Why This Embodies A Wider Problem Of Censorship In The Industry
It’s important to make clear that I am unopposed to the decision made by the developers to remove the Tracer pose from Overwatch as I respect their autonomy to – put frankly- do whatever the hell they want with their creation. Developers in general incessantly receive complaints such as the one made by the user “Fipps” concerning a pose for the character Tracer and it can become a real difficulty for developers to keep true to their vision for a game when so many users make complaints and whine about things they don’t like or agree with in a game. While constructive criticism is almost always welcome in most walks of life, the sort of toxic complaining and whining by gamers can often lead to forcing developers to change something in their own game perhaps even against their own wishes.
Further, I’m not saying that those who are labelled as ‘social justice warriors’ or ‘progressives’ are wrong for putting forth their opinions on something in a game since they are also well within their rights to do that but in my view and in my experiences, it becomes a problem when these people then attempt to enforce their ideologies upon others and demand that each video game reflect their own ideologies. Because of the rise of this ‘political correctness’ or however you would choose to define it, can end up resulting in developers being pressured into censoring themselves in order to avoid the controversy caused by those who are offended by something within their game based on their own personal ideologies.
The pertinent issue here is that no game will ever be ‘perfect’ as that’s something that cannot ever be achieved and as such, there will probably always be those who find some form of criticism for a game such as Overwatch. In a medium of entertainment that is made so great by the creative freedom and flexibility that video games allow, it’s hard to swallow when you consider that you’re likely going to see creators taking less risks in their creation process in order to avoid any negative controversy from those who are offended by any particular thing in a game.
For most of the argument, it comes down to the innate right of freedom of expression. That essentially means that developers should be able to depict whatever they like and in an ideal situation, no one should be able to tell them different. They shouldn’t have to feel forced to change their creative design as a means of avoiding anyone being offended.
One thing that we mustn’t lose sight of is that video games are a form of entertainment. And, in my view, censorship has no place in entertainment. Whether it’s Charlie Chaplin impersonating Hitler or comedians making offensive jokes, we mustn’t allow this freedom to be restricted due to the outcry of some who were offended by it. There’s so many instances of this forced censorship across all forms of entertainment. The sexualization of women in games is sometimes a target for such outcry but denying that females in life or in video games can have a ‘sexual’ side is in itself denying the nature and personality of some women. We wasn’t forget that people are very convoluted and everyone has different beliefs but an attempt to force your ideologies onto other people or other people’s work is an aberration of the freedom of expression that defines western culture.
Do you have an opinion on this recent controversy and the wider problem of censorship in the gaming industry? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.