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Three pillars of the Tracer butt pose debate and why all of them are wrong

The eternal struggle between art and the percieved right to not be offended finds a new battleground: Tracer's butt in Overwatch

By now, you have probably heard of at least one of the many debates over the portrayal of female characters in modern gaming. From fairly legitimate issues like ridiculous body armor, to well-intended but perhaps a little far-fetched ones that ask for "realistic" body shapes for unrealistic women, you can pretty much find a complaint (regardless of its legitimacy) about anything and everything.

The latest issue regarding the portrayal of female characters in games comes from Overwatch, Blizzard's upcoming class based FPS that is set to release on May 24. More specifically, one of the poses that Tracer shows off is apparently overly sexualized, or at least in relation to the way that the character's lore and her in-game personality presents her. Below is the pose in question:

"I have a right to express myself and complain!"

Before everything else, regardless of where you stand on the issue, the art in Overwatch is protected by the same freedom of expression that protects your right to complain about pretty much anything you want. Plus the game is still in a beta stage anyways, so in theory all of the characters could be changed overnight on a whim. For all we know, all the poses and whatnot were just placeholders that were going to be replaced on launch.

"My interpretation is more correct-er than yours!"

That being said, the complaint regarding Tracer's pose is rather...let's say, conceited. While all art should be open to interpretation from anyone, the basis behind the initial argument for removing the pose in question revolves around how someone thinks a fictional character would behave.

The original post states:

"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."

Yes, the pose may not scream "fun" or "silly", and heck, maybe they're right in saying that such a pose is sexual. And let's put aside the fact that a similar pose is used almost universally by all manners of video game characters (Destiny's cover art for example). But who, other than the original artists and writers, can say that this isn't something Tracer would do?

Let's say, for argument's sake, that Tracer is a real person. Maybe to her it is a silly way to taunt someone. Maybe she's making fun of other people in the same manner that Bart Simpson pulls down his pants and presents his butt to people. Maybe she just wants to show off her body, who knows?

To say that it has nothing to do with the character in such a manner is to essentially say that no person, man or woman, should ever be able to show their more provocative side just because it reduces them to a sex symbol in your eyes. At that point, you may as well just go around and shame women who are dressed up in revealing costumes for the same reasons.

"Will someone please think of the children?!"

Let's say that the prior arguments are correct, let's say that such a pose is objectively and universally taken to be sexual and out of place for the character. Or the pose is just downright ugly. Fine, change the pose, whatever. 

But, without any provocation whatsoever, the post mentions a daughter.

"And I believe the team is responsible for upholding the great example overwatch can set to the rest of the industry for creating strong female characters. I have a young daughter that everyday when I wake up wants to watch the recall trailer again. She knows who tracer is, and as she grows up, she can grow up alongside these characters."

To be fair, there is a good point to be made regarding how the media has to set new standards for female characters to improve itself and how it portrays female characters. After all, we didn't go from generic action heroes and damsels in distress to female characters that are more interesting than male characters in a day. Plus, it is inevitable that children grow up with such forms of media, so every industry might as well modernize sooner rather than later. 

However, such a statement is dangerously close to outright shifting the burden of parenting to Blizzard, and the industry as a whole. Of course, no one is telling anyone how to raise their children, but it is the responsibility of the parent to regulate what is and isn't appropriate for their child, or at least explain what they are seeing. 

The non-issue issue

Even if all the arguments for removing Tracer's pose purely on the basis of sexuality are indisputably valid, this can set a worrying precedent. To be fair, Blizzard has stated that they were going to change the pose anyways, but the fact that they stated as such in a direct reply to the concerns of Tracer's sexuality raises multiple questions for the future.

Who is to say that X character is too sexual? Who can objectively state that Y action is too offensive? Is the combination of X and Y going to impact children in a negative way? These are issues that will be brought up again and again, despite the existence of industry rating boards like the ESRB, but even though our perception of decency changes through time, we must keep in mind that no one has ever put pants on Michelangelo's David because his schlong would be too offensive to kids. 

Published Mar. 30th 2016

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