Blizzard hopes new Overwatch character will help address female diversity criticisms

World of Warcraft and Hearthstone developer Blizzard has said that the latest character revealed for upcoming shooter Overwatch demonstrates an renewed commitment to diversity in games.

New character Zarya eschews many of the typical traps that female games characters fall victim to – such as unpractical armour designed purely to show off cleavage. Essentially she’s a regular multiplayer tank character in every way other than her gender.

We’ve been hearing a lot of discussion among players about the need for diversity in video games,” the studio said, as reported by Kotaku. That means a lot of things. They want to see gender diversity, they want to see racial diversity, they want to see diversity along the lines of what country people are from.

There is also talk about diversity in different body types in that not everybody wants to have the exact same body type always represented. And we just want you to know that we’re listening and we’re trying hard and we hope Zarya is a step in the right direction.”

Kotaku last month reported that Anita Sarkeesian had singled out the game as being particularly guilty of presenting female characters that all adhere to the typical physical stereotype.

"One looks cool [but] the other four are similar, long legged, slender, mostly sexualized armour, high heels, lack of pants,” she said. "The male characters get to be short and stocky or heft gorillas or equipped with a massive power suit. You just don’t see anything approaching this variety of body types in weights and sizes with female characters."

Last year, prior to Sarkeesian’s criticism, Blizzard’s senior VP of story and franchise development Chris Metzen told a Blizzcon audience that the company understood the importance of appealing to a wide audience and ensuring that its titles are not alienating.

"We’ve heard [from] our female employees and … even my daughter tools me out about it," he said, as reported by Polygon. "We were looking at old Warcraft stuff on YouTube, a cinematic … and my daughter is like, ‘Why are they all in swimsuits?’ And I’m like ‘Ugh, I don’t know, honey.’

"I think we’re clearly in an age where gaming is for everybody. We build games for everybody. We want everyone to come and play. Increasingly, people want to feel represented, from all walks of life, boys and girls, everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honour that. There’s a lot of room for growth, but specifically with Overwatch, over the past year we’ve been very cognizant of … trying not to over-sexualize the female characters.”

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