Better a Diamond With a Flaw Than a Pebble Without
November 8, 2014
There is an aphorism among philosophers, often attributed to Voltair whose poem, La Begueule contains the line "In his writings, a wise Italian, says that the better is the enemy of the good."
This refers to what is commonly known as the principle of the golden mean, or the middle between extremes. An excellent example from Aristotlean thought would be that courage is a virtue, but its extreme, recklessness, can be dangerous. I bring this all up because I've been thinking about it since Blizzard announced the upcoming release of their new first person shooter style, team oriented game, Overwatch.
There are a couple of great things people are saying about this game:
It's all new intellectual property (IP). No recycled Starcraft, Diablo or Warcraft characters. No more Azeroth, Sanctuary or Koprulo Sector. This is a whole new place, new story and new characters.
And it's gorgeous.
The characters are rich, the roles are interesting, and I, for one, can't wait to play it. Blizzard is getting some great and well deserved initial feedback after introduction of the game concept at this year's BlizzCon. The one thing that seems to have really resonated among the folks in the circles I follow is that there are so many female characters.
Blizzard isn't the first game studio to put women in the game, obviously. But they very obviously made an effort to include a variety of playable female avatars in this environment of controversy, particularly on the heels of the Assassin's Creed fiasco of "animating female avatars is hard." And all of the GG foolishness (which I'm not going to recap here).
However, an interesting counter point has arisen to counter the praise being given to Blizzard for these characters and it's a valid one. Look carefully at the 5 female characters in the poster. I'll show you three of them here:
So, here's the problem: All 3 women have more or less the exact same body type. Impossibly tiny waists, obvious chests, pretty sexual in the way that they stand.
More women characters, but only one female body. I won't lie, it is a bit disappointing.
While I completely understand that games are an escape and I want to be something different or unusual while I play a game, it's disappointing that in many games, even in WoW, my only female options are an ideal of somehow a perfect female body.
I will probably never look like that. And that's okay. I can say that, because at 43, while my body is far from a perfect ideal of the female figure, it's mine, and it's brought me this far. It's taken me a very long time, but I finally love this body, even with all its imperfections. I also love the things about it that are great, and the things I'm improving all the time.
Body acceptance is an important part of self acceptance, we all get that. And I'm not asking for games to give me a chunky middle aged lady gasping her way through a battleground (that certainly wouldn't fit with the story in any way). But, given that Overwatch also includes a simian style male, a robot and a dwarf, I'd like to see that variability given to the female characters as well. I think we all would.
Look, my username, GirlfriendMD, is based on an archetype of the girl who isn't really interested in role playing games but wants to play in order to spend time with the boy she likes, so she plays a healer. It's a longstanding joke in our family: my boyfriend at the time convinced me to try World of Warcraft, told me I could be his healer girlfriend. Given that I'm a physician in real life and was his girlfriend (now his wife), it was sort of the perfect joke on an archetype. The traditional thinking has been for many many years that games are for guys. I get it. It's wrong. But I get it.
Here's the greater point, I do not dismiss this game out of hand, and I think that neither should you or anyone else. I do not think that it should be used as an argument that there really hasn't been progress in gaming (as seems to be what I'm seeing on the tweets by some pro-GG, anti-SJW types). It's actually quite the opposite: there are female avatars that are playable and they play very different roles (not just healer girlfriends).
So, yeah, what I would say about this game is pretty simple: Blizzard missed the target, but they hit the tree. And that is powerfully, meaningfully important. In arguing "yeah but the body type is inappropriate, it sucks!" we would be allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. So very much time is spent focusing on the extreme, we're missing the common middle.
Is Overwatch perfect? No. Is it striving to get there? Yes. And the journey is as important as the destination in many cases: that's where the growth happens. That's where the ideas change. That's where we learn to work together as a team. This game, and by no means is it the first to do so, is helping to take us down this path, and should be lauded for doing so. Should it stay here? Of course not, but this is the start, and this race is a marathon rather than a sprint.
This game is what I would certainly consider to be a flawed diamond, but a diamond nonetheless.