Recently, Blizzard released the art for a few new characters for their upcoming game Overwatch, one of which was a female heavy with a distinctive look. I have to give kudos to the artist behind Zarya’s design; while the character still has classic, gender signirific and complete nonsense boob-plate armor, there isn’t really another character I could compare Zarya to. Diversity and variety in appearance is always a good thing.
This is why I have been disappointed of late to see the shaming of some artist’s work. Whether it’s Mari Shimazaki for making Bayonetta too sexy or George Kamitani for the size of the Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown’s breasts, both games offer a wide range of playable characters – male and female and of all different shapes and sizes. When judging the appearance of playable characters, I think it’s more important to check for range, rather than banishing those you dislike.
Zarya is most definitely a step forward in terms of variety of design. There is a reason why “Male Protagonist Bingo” was created. Many video game characters, both male and female, can often be much of a sameness. Men are often well-muscled, cold-hearted killers; women are sexy shells devoid of personality. I guess this is the crux of my issue. It’s not just the look of the character which needs examination, but also the content.
I encourage game artists to keep making new exciting character designs, but that doesn’t of course mean they must stop making characters who look similar to the old ones. I am shocked when questioned how I could enjoy playing Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw so much when she is so sexy, especially when that is one of the many reasons I like playing her so much. The way she looks is one reason why I love her, but her heart and her brains are the others. I see Juliet as sexy kick-ass version of myself, and she is a wonderfully fleshed out and realistic character.
The mark of a good character is one which you can describe in depth without naming their job, hobbies or appearance. In Juliet’s case she’s highly intelligent, extremely athletic, she cares for others, a daddy’s girl, stubbornly independent, a fierce brawler, a polyglot and extremely loyal. While Zarya’s design can be applauded, I want to wait for her personality before passing judgment on whether I’d play her character.
Sexy and violent characters are not a problem; only sexy and violent characters are. The look of a character is of course important and a wide variety of artistic visions are part of a games core elements. But when talking about improving games it’s the writing where I see the issue. The best games not only have a great variety of designs, but often the most complex and interesting protagonists. Please design all the Zarya’s you want, but let me keep the wonderfully complex Bayonetta and Kratos too.