Blizzard Designs and Gender Beliefs

*It was pointed out in the comments that I was rather wrong in my judgement here… So terrible Iz I. See the total number of female characters is actually 6, yes they pulled a Samus switch on me.. Awesome blue robot suit is awesome. Anyway, with that it brings the female design total to 3 femme fatales and 3 that differ.. A decent balance really. OH WELL… rant diminished I guess although that study I linked is still pretty cool. Maybe just take out the blizzard name and add in any other stupid company you dislike atm*

I’m sure nearly everyone has seen the video by now but it’s worth showing off the new character for Blizzards FPS project Overwatch again. Most media sites and people have been going a little crazy over it with titles like “blizzard is really listening”, implying that the recent movement towards better female characters and Blizzards own troubled history with them might be changing. I however am a little less enthused.

I mean it’s great to see they are starting to create female characters out of the usual sexy female old; changing the features, the look, the general silhouette and of course the play style of these characters. But really, it’s but one character so far out of all the female characters that does this, and I would still consider the face and such young and cute, in those certain ways. Seriously just have a look at the character list and you see just how similar the other designs were with the same exaggerated silhouette: big boobs, small impossible waist and the ghetto booty for balance I guess… Oh, and can’t forget the revealing and form-fitting clothing.


Now look at the guys. Differences in size and stature. Armor design varies a lot. young, old and the awesome robotic types. Are we really thanking them for supposedly breaking the mold with just one female character.

I’m also a lot more annoyed at this supposed model in that it actually differs from nothing. It is still an incredibly stereotyped character.. I mean COME ON, the butch russian… really? We’re going there now. That’s been a joke for many for a long time now. A deviation from the regular population that has someone come to represent them. MOTHER RUSSIA, and all that idiocy.

I don’t know. I like that they are thinking from a different perspective but you could literally design a better character by stapling a few characteristics to the wall and then throwing darts to see where they stick. One morning I could stir some alphabet cereal and pick out a better character. My toddlers could have designed a better one (probably true actually). Do they not have anyone, anywhere in Blizzard that picks up on this. That can maybe point out any logical fallacies and blatant rip-offs of racist stereotypes to the design team. I can offer my talents there… unemployed remember =p

I get that a lot of these companies think they have to design like this these days to apparently appeal to their supposed demographics but really, have we not learnt by now how wrong and damaging that type of thinking is. There are a lot more demographics than just the younger male crowd looking at and playing games. In fact, many of those other groups now surpass them – together it isn’t even a contest. Wouldn’t diversity in design then be the better aim considering you will appease a greater amount of people.

In general I get the feeling the times are changing. Recently there was another study focusing on school age children and their own gaming opinions and interest which was rather enlightening. There are a few hypothesis you can easily make from this study too that continue to break that mold. First it was interesting that while Girls generally didn’t categorise themselves as gamers even though their habits where strong and comparable to the boys. Over 50% could easily be categorised as such, and yes that’s over a lot of different genres too. Multiple as well with only 19% saying they didn’t play games.. DIDN’T. That’s a huge shift from what a lot of people believe at the moment. And no, they weren’t all candy crush players you jackass

Another was in the choice of protagonist. As children get older their preferences seem to change. Girls begin to prefer to play female characters and boy gain a greater non preference. It makes sense in a way as the majority of games, especially those for the older demographics mainly have male protagonists.



Overall though there is always a strong sense of wanting to play characters that represent themselves, this would be common knowledge in many ways but it’s something I think a lot in development, or at least those calling the shots seem to forget. If you want more woman to play your game than the choice of characters matters and yes, even at those earlier ages in the studies recognise problematic and sexualized designs. I’m guessing this would matter during choice and purchase of games as well.

It should be common knowledge by now but apparently we still need studies like this showing certain habits and beliefs of the genders. There is a huge market there but an industry that is seemingly focused mainly on a single part, that seems rather silly. You would think, knowing what we do then that a greater parity in the amount and design of characters would be a far better idea for growing a greater playerbase and of course financially. Five out of the 16 released for Overwatch is much better than the usual but just one out of those that breaks from the sexy mold but still stereotyped is really not something I feel like celebrating. And I certainly don’t believe that Blizzard has been truly “listening” or learned anything just yet.

9 thoughts on “Blizzard Designs and Gender Beliefs

  1. Baby steps. We got an entire WoW expansion themed around seven super-masculine orc warlords with Yrel as our token strong female. (Yrel “possesses a dark secret” which may mean that she turns out to be a raid boss. Like Crowfall’s Fey Assassins, strong females must ultimately be fatally flawed lest they overshadow the strength and primacy of male characters.)

    We’ll know they’ve arrived when they ship an Alliance-centric WoW expansion themed around Jaina Proudmoore. Between now and then, however, (assuming “then” is an actual destination) we’ll probably be seeing more of this.

  2. I certainly think Blizzard’s characters need some improvement but I am not as narrowly focused on the female ones as you are.
    The male characters in Overwatch are just as stereotypical: the cowboy, the asian kung fu guy, the engineer dwarf, the dalai lama Dhalsim ripoff, the intelligent animal/gorilla (Planet of the Apes/Beast from Xmen etc etc), the grip reaper style character. Almost all the male characters are lean to overly muscular. The game itself is dripping with stereotypes and archetypes. Street fighter has more variation and cleverness in its design. And that’s a pretty low bar.

    I understand where you are coming from but the issue is more than just about female character design. I think it is about generic, bland and cookie cutter character design in general. I could have designed that cowboy for Blizzard. Is this really what their artists are being paid to come up with?

    Also, I disagree that people want to play characters that represent themselves. How many male gamers do you think are actually playing men that represent themselves? Are most male gamers fit and muscled? If that was the case, why are orcs, goblins, dwarves and elves popular? Why do men play a lot of female characters? Why aren’t all games using only human races? I think what people like is variety and choice. The flexibility to design or play a variety of characters or at least not be boxed into one look. The agency to channel a bit of creativity into creating a desired character image.

    One other thing: There are certainly a lot more women in gaming now but a lot of this is due to mobile gaming. Will they make the transition to other platforms? Possibly but as much as we would like to wish otherwise, males still make up the majority of the market Blizzard is targeting. So the argument that teenaged males are no longer so relevant a market depends on the actual gaming genre and platform. Mobile is far more diverse. Console and pc gaming, less so I think.

    Having said that, I am not convinced “teenage boys in basements” (to use an exaggerated stereotype) would not appreciate a fully clothed female character who does not have a v-shaped torso. Make her badass enough, I do not think they will care. Metroid is female no? Developers are just being unoriginal and uninspired.

    Sorry for the wall of text!!

    • The survey linked by Eri shows some evidence (not definitive by any means) that gendered marketing doesn’t satisfy the teenage male market as much as it completely misses out on sales opportunities to the teenage female market. Check it out.

      Women make up 50% of the RPG market AND the PC market. See stats for 2014 in the ESA survey. They seem to be a huge part of Blizzard’s target market, contrary to what you stated.

      Women are also the fastest growing market segment for games. BUT ….Even if we take your arguments as fact, there are some contradictions and inconsistencies.

      1. “I disagree that people want to play characters that represent themselves.” Yet you’re arguing that Blizzard’s male-centric marketing is appropriate because their audience is men. Which is it?

      2. “How many male gamers do you think are actually playing men that represent themselves? ” Most if I had to hazard a guess. The vast majority of game protaganists are male (and 99% of them are white, heterosexual males). Even though I understand what you’re *trying* to say, I think these facts show the contrary. Most males are playing males *because it is argued men want to play men* (also, see #1). Let’s not get into semantics. We’re talking about men wanting to play men (especially straight ones and white ones).

      3. “I disagree that people want to play characters that represent themselves”. Again, the marketing tactics you’re using to defend the over-representation of men is also being used to argue representation doesn’t matter? You can’t have it both ways 🙂

      If we take a step back you can’t possibly conclude that women are receiving equally messed up representation in games as men, even if you think male representation sucks. Every effort is made to represent every kind of us (conveniently along racial and gendered lines, I’ll give you that). However, when you try to say that it’s *just* lazy design, and equate the treatment male characters get with that of others, you try to erase the very gender bias you’re defending.

      So yeah, there’s lazy design going on here. But what Blizz is doing is called status quo — which is gendered and then some. Even their effort to “diversify” as Eri points out, is a trope. Representation clearly matters, as you’ve inadvertently argued here, right?

      • I never argued that Blizzard’s male centric marketing was appropriate. My point is simply that the issue is not just female under-representation but the game’s character design aesthetic overall. My view on Overwatch is that the majority of the character designs are bland and uninspired regardless of diversity. And of course the female muscular character is a trope. The whole game is made of tropes and not in the TF2 slightly clever way. See my examples. It shows the shallowness of the artists themselves and their creative inspiration. A literal approach to designing a strong looking female character is no surprise. Like I said, there is a broader issue in the design approach to the game which has far less to do with big busts and too few women.

        On point 2 and 3: Are you suggesting that if you are white and playing a white character that it constitutes sufficient representation of who you are? And where are your facts coming from? Your evidence seems anecdotal so I will state my anecdotal experiences. In all the guilds in MMOs I have played in and people I have gamed with, at least half the female characters were played by men. And in terms of race, at least one in 5 were not white. Also, if a girl playing a busty female is not sufficiently representative of said female player, why is playing a muscular white character sufficiently representative of male players.BTW I am black, female and gay. Also, why is your character’s sexuality important in a game like Overwatch? (you mention white and heterosexual)

        Ultiimately what matters is this: what constitutes an appropriate benchmark for diversity in a creative work? There is only one remotely dark-skinned character. Is that an issue? How many females or males are enough? And since when is any creative work (video game or otherwise) required to represent anyone’s notion (besides the creator) of what their view of character design is? Its great to talk about better representation in games but how should and can that be quantified? And please don’t tell me because a market has 50% male or female players that your game should mirror that. That’s design by marketing. Is that really how we want creative expression to work going forward? Again, diversity is great and all, but how does that get incorporated in a creative work? My answer, forget pre-designed characters and just do a decent character creator.

        And when I speak about representation, I do not mean it in the same context as you do. I mean representation in terms of my ability to customize and design my own character. Not, women aren’t’ 50% of the characters: bad game!

      • I see. Well I understand what you’re *trying* to say, but I don’t think the data supports it. This isn’t lazy design and the only difficulty in improving representation is a moral difficulty. This is very deliberate marketing. Planned and thoughtful. Blaming it on laziness is saying they aren’t trying — but they are. This is actually a classic upholding of the status quo. This is what it looks like: what Blizzard is doing.

        I’d say Overwatch’s characters are bland and stereotypical *because* it lacks diversity and it under-represents it’s players. Either way, neither of us can argue that dudes (especially white, heterosexual ones) aren’t well represented in the current cast, even if you don’t like said representation. We’re over-represented.

        Eri’s article isn’t about character customization in video games, and I took it all in the context of her article. Also, you may not have meant to, but you *did* imply that Blizzard’s marketing was appropriate because it targets their core audience (men). Here:

        “There are certainly a lot more women in gaming now but a lot of this is due to mobile gaming. Will they make the transition to other platforms? Possibly but as much as we would like to wish otherwise, males still make up the majority of the market Blizzard is targeting.”

        I think you can see where I’m coming from here. Care to clarify? Because this basically reads “since women are on mobile and aren’t crossing over into other platforms, the target audience is men and Blizzard is right to market more toward that audience”. If you agree that Blizzard *is* marketing toward their target audience, then you are implicitly arguing representation matters. That’s a direct contradiction, right?

        I didn’t mention any anecdotal evidence. My original point is that, we can’t dismiss the role of gender and representation in game marketing as laziness. This isn’t laziness. This is a very deliberate process. They are marketing to white males.

        But if you don’t think character representation matters (which you stated), you can’t also argue men aren’t well represented. That’s having it both ways.

        Sources for studies and demographics. I tend to collect these when I find them so some are a little old, but still highly relevant:

        ESA 2014 Survey (2012 and 2013 echo the same):
        Video Games and Gender Studies:
        Video Games Are a White Man’s World:
        A History of Sexist Video Game Marketing:
        No Girls Allowed:
        Researchers Find Female PC Gamers Outnumber Males:

  3. Also, your percentages seem off. Based on the website, 6 of 14 characters are female. Or have they announced two additional ones besides the generic cowboy and the muscle woman? What’s an acceptable percentage for diversity?

    • Well shit, they pulled a Sammus switch on me didn’t they which by the way is an awesome looking robot suit. So I know my characters now, that and McGilla Gorilla.

      And in now seeing that the balance seems ok. SIX out of 14, three of which are femme fatales and the others something more varied. Dad seems more than ok really.
      Think I’ll amend the post to add something at the start now.

      As for the male designs and yes, even though they are just as stereotyped there is a lot more variation in the presentation and design. Size, muscle form, age, and style are all rather different between them.

      And following on from the other comment I do believe that people want to play characters that represent them, either idealised or a fantasy version and gender is the base of that choice. One thing I did notice, and even see from my own experiences playing with others is that men tend to choose cross gendered characters more often though, why that is I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s that the get enough choice in male characters already, maybe it’s the sexualising nature of some. Or maybe it’s an exploration of the feminine… Probably all valid reasons.

      As for the mobile argument that’s actually a bit of a logical phallacy. If you look at a lot of the studies the balance is something like 60 – 40 between men and women, woman holding the greater percentage. Many of those woman also engaging in other genres as Well. If you look at the stat’s from this younger demographic in the study I linked mobile is but a small percentage of the choices made and the habits tend to be comparable to the boys… The just don’t call themselves gamers though which might have implications towards the other studies done in that they actively search for people who define themselves as gamers. Id be interested to know what their habits where with gaming media, and whether they visit and engage with these sites as well as that also has implications on previous studies as they would be searching out and adding their voice to many of these other studies.

      I think we have a lot of confounding variables within many of these studies, too much to draw any definitive opinions just yet anyway… One way or the other.

      • I forgot to also say I agree that the compliments to Blizzard are overblown. Even with female representation aside, the character’s design is shallow, generic and uninspired. I would rather have no female characters if that is their serious interpretation of what a strong female character is. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing is wrong with the butch look but is that all they can think of when the term strong woman comes to mind? In any event, Blizzard is the wrong company to expect anything new on this front. Kerrigan walks around in high heels still for goodness sake.

        I concur with your experiences on men playing female characters. It intrigues me as a female. The psychological aspect. lol. I think that is where I was coming from on the representation angle. And I was actually a little off topic as I was thinking of MMOs when i wrote that. I will try to be a bit clearer as Doone also took something else away from that. I mean that it is not a literal representation of them in the RL. It may be an idea for something they want to soft role play or that fits with an image for a class. eg. Even though I am a white male MMO player, I may create a female muscled black orc that is a tank or warrior. Not sure if that is any clearer.

        I understand where your concerns are coming from but it is symptom (I think) of a larger issue with that game. Generic design. And like I said, the best way to solve these issues, character creation time. Otherwise, I think the creator is entitled to represent the character the way they wish. And I can then choose to not give them my money while providing feedback on why I won’t.

      • I do like having character creators but don’t believe it to be the primary fix, for many smaller more focused titles and genres such things aren’t going to work as well.. Like this really, arena style combat benefits from defined characters with a certain skill set.

        And yeh, It is all a bit lazy but it still just bothers me how restricted the female stereotypes are compared the the male ones. Very little differentiation but yeh, I think there doing kind of ok I guess.

        Race is an element that I have written about before but not one I regularly think about. I have my own biases as well unfortunately. It is something I’m worried about though and there should be better racial representations as well.

        As for marketing in your previous comment I think that yes, considering the balance of the market you’re seeing towards a product like this should try to represent that to a reasonable margin. It is what they’ve been doing for a while now as the main thought has been a audience that is predominantly male, thus the wealth of make protagonists and characters. Also how hard it’s been for some to have there games published with a female protagonists… That’s not fostering creativity. I’m not saying there should be a perfect balance but there certainly should be an aim having enough options

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