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Overwatch: Diversity Done Well

A diverse cast of characters is part of what makes Overwatch so special.

One of the current game industry buzzwords, "diversity" has gone from a real concern about creating a game, to just another box on a list to be checked.  Story ideas that were once considered revolutionary, like the extensive exploration of a character questioning his sexuality in Persona 4have fallen out of favor in place of token characters whose sexual orientation, gender, or racial identity are their main trait.  While not every story has time to discuss this subject matter in a meaningful way, and more representation of minority groups in games is almost never a bad thing, sometimes it feels like a shame that characters are portrayed this way just so a board of directors can say "this game is sufficiently diverse."

Which is why Overwatch'character design feels so different.  

By creating a cast of characters that truly is diverse in every sense of the word, Blizzard has made one of the few recent games that feels like a real attempt at representing the people of all walks of life.  No one feels like they were added to the team for any reason other than to be a part of the global team of heroes that is Overwatch.

The World's Finest

According to the opening cinematic, the titular team in Overwatch banded together when the robotic "Omnics," threatened the world.  To best combat the Omnics, the team was made up from the strongest fighters the world could offer, and this tradition carried on to the new Overwatch team.  They represent a society that has become a truly global one, one that cares for the good of the planet as a whole over conflicts between nations.

As such, it makes sense that the cast of characters in Overwatch is so diverse. They come from every corner of Earth, all with their own unique heritage. And this is shown in the way the characters are designed as well.  Rather than have, say, uniform Overwatch members, all characters have their own unique clothing that reflects their personality, with the one unifying element being futuristic elements.  For example, Mcree looks like the stereotypical American cowboy, channeling a bit of Blondie from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with a poncho and a cowboy hat, but one of his arms is robotic.


The characters' designs also say a lot about them.  Zarya, pictured at the top, is a tank character who can take a lot of damage and provide cover to herself and other players.  Shes also a fairly imposing character, with a strong muscular build.

Tracer, on the other hand, is much thinner. But everything about her, from her goggles to her posture, communicates how fast she is. And her teleportation abilities are all about speed and maneuverability.

Who's That?

This also ties into the gameplay.  One of the most important aspects of a class based game is being able to tell what class an enemy is from a distance.  One of the reasons that Team Fortress 2 ended up being so successful was that the characters are all easy to distinguish from their shape alone, so you could always tell who did what and how to deal with them from a distance.  Despite having more characters, Overwatch does this just as well, if not better.  Each character is so distinct in size, shape, and color that you always know what you're up against. Not only that, but the difference in each character's accents helps to tell them apart, even when you can only hear them.  The characters are so unique in appearance, it's easy to tell who's who even when they have different skins.

Overall, Overwatch does a great job of making its diverse cast not only fit the world it creates, but use their varied backgrounds to make the game feel richer. The gameplay benefits from the varied character designs by making them easier to tell apart, and their varied background also fits the game's narrative of a truly global team.

 

Published Jun. 17th 2016

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