Opinion Other

Let's talk about that Tracer victory pose

Overwatch Tracer victory pose.jpg

One of the year’s more anticipated releases, Overwatch (2016), has recently come under fire for one of their character’s victory pose, and its subsequent removal. Tracer is the character in question, and the removed pose involves her in the back-breaking position made popular by everyone from graphic novelists, Hollywood bigwigs, and video game art directors.

After Blizzard received complaints over Tracer’s pose, Game Director, Jeff Kaplan, wrote that they would be removing it from the game, citing that the developers, ‘want *everyone* (sic) to feel strong and heroic in our community’, and that ‘the last thing’ they wanted to do was ‘make someone feel uncomfortable, underappreciated or misrepresented.’ Kaplan was quick to state in a later post that the decision was not one that detracted from the game’s art direction, and was not a case of ‘pandering or caving’, presumably to uproars against the Tracer pose. It is that caveat that disturbs me, because in a post around five times longer than the one he used to respond to people asking for Tracer’s hyper-sexualised pose to be changed, Kaplan did pander and cave – only, he did this to those who thought these outcries unreasonable. I don’t want to spend more time explaining why the hyper-sexuality of women characters in video games is a bad thing, generally speaking. I would like instead to discuss Kaplan’s response in relation to our industry internationally and locally.

First off, I don’t believe that Kaplan was honest about Blizzard’s intentions with Tracer’s pose to begin with. Even if it was removed to allow more people to feel ‘strong and heroic’, as Kaplan put it, I doubt that empowerment was what they were first trying to invoke in Tracer’s players.

Her body in this pose was less about ‘hell yeah, I did it’ and much more a way to say, ‘here’s your reward, stud’.

Women as rewards is not a new thing in video games, although it might be the first time you’ve heard of it in a more official capacity. It’s even studied as part of a course on the history of sexual depiction at UCT, and how’s that for official? If you’d like to know more I suggest you watch this video in the Tropes versus Women series on Anita Sarkeesian’s YouTube channel. It will give you a good overview of the concerns at hand.

Moving on, the difference between a character used for empowerment and one used for reward is colossal, although often misunderstood.

Sure, many women find sexual expression empowering. I fully support that because when it comes to what empowers women, we have had a long and complicated struggle with the status quo and with each other. So, I don’t think we should limit offhand what makes something an empowering position. That said, I doubt the people that brought us the outfits of Valeera Sanguinar, and Jaina Proudmoore in Hearthstone and WoW had feminism in mind when first creating Tracer’s stance.

I’ve heard similar cries for freedom of sexual expression when Bayonetta 2 (2014) was released with that cover that had us doubting the existence of her spine. ‘The pose is okay because she’s sexually empowered, silly.’ Now I’ve said above that sexual expression is a complex web in a world where women have long since been made into sexual objects where men have not had to endure the same. I don’t trust executives and creatives in an industry that has very recently only began to tackle issues of gender prejudice to understand or even care about this complexity. Like Bayonetta before her, Tracer was not a feminist symbol of sexual freedom – she’s a reward for straight men, the real intended players of games like Overwatch (2016) and Bayonetta 2 (2014).

Then while we may think this pose removal is a victory, it’s not, because while Blizzard have said they’d remove the pose and have learnt to quote ideals of equality, there is no serious self-scrutiny involved. For proof, look no further than Overwatch’s Widowmaker, who has an incredibly similar victory pose. One indication that this should still be an important issue is that many of the articles on this were written by men and commented on by men. The same is true for MWEB as far as the comments go.

In the while that I have written or been written of in MWEB, I don’t think I’ve seen even a handful of comments from women. When speaking with a local colleague about this at rAge, she finished my sentence with ‘because they’re afraid to comment’. Then it dawned on me – that is why I haven’t seen comments on my articles, even though I’ve hoped to keep these as safe places for women to read about themselves in a positive light.

If it can be assumed that women have as much to say about issues on gender as their male counterparts do (and I think we can assume this), one reasonable explanation for their absence is the history of aggression shown to women in these spaces. A pretty tell-tale sign of how far we still have to go towards inclusion and empowerment.   

We need more women and men engaging in these debates thoughtfully. This is in part because women are not innocent in sexualising women’s presence in video games and as gamers.

I know there will be male dissenters that will still think that the Overwatch drama was uncalled for, so I would like to propose a thought exercise.

Imagine you come home from your job where women make up most of the management positions, and where you get paid less than women for the same job that your female colleagues do, and settle down in front of your PC to play some Overwatch. You choose Tracer, a skin-tight-outfit wearing male character and lo and behold, you’re victorious. Tracer celebrates by giving you a pointed look over his shoulder, as his ass is displayed as the pose’s focal point. You are reminded that the appearance of a ‘strong male character’ comes with the proviso that he be visually appealing to straight women. Repeat this until you lose the urge to immediately reply whatever it was you felt the need to interject.

Repeat until your opinion is contextualised and well-informed instead of one you’ve rehearsed and saved for occasions just like this.  

Aléz: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

"here’s your reward, stud"

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