For those who are not familiar with the BGG channel, Overwatch is a favourite of ours. So many of us enjoy endless hours in quick play and comp, cheering just as much as the next person when we get Play of the Game. However, unlike the next person, we must settle for ambiguous attempts at representation in the game.
Where are the unambiguous Black women in game?
Overwatch is often praised as a game that has gotten diversity “right” and represents many people from various backgrounds to the best of its ability. But where others see effort, many Black Women see laziness and exclusion.
Before we get into it, let’s review the current make up of the playable character roster in Overwatch. We have:
- 6 White Women
- 6 White Men
- 5 Non-human characters
- 3 Asian women
- 2 Asian Men characters
- 2 visibly racially ambiguous characters of Latin/Hispanic (race not specified – No Latino is not a race)
- 2 visibly racially ambiguous character of Egyptian nationality (Farah is half Canadian indigenous)
- 2 Black men
Now don’t get me wrong, each and every character above deserves to have their heritage/culture represented but….where we at?
I posed this point on Twitter and it seems I wasn’t the only one who was waiting:
I'm high key waiting for an unambiguous black woman character in Overwatch.— Black Girl Gamers (@Official_BGG) August 7, 2018
League still hasn't addressed this. The game companies often just dont care for black women. Periodt— Accio LACEFRONT!!! (@itsZanj) August 9, 2018
I am so here for this, I thought when we got Orisa we'd see a lot more of the young black inventor who created her but....meh.— 🕷Spooky Spidey🕸 (@AboutTy_Me) August 7, 2018
She could've at least got a little victory emote featuring her....
How many Narratives in are they? At this point,that they forgot Black Women exist.— It is What it is! (@Shes_deathProof) August 7, 2018
We are still yet to see any unambiguous representation despite the fact that we have seen, a long time ago, concept art of unambiguous black female characters.
So what happened?
The community has been bewildered by this for some time. In fact, ElleOnWords created a thread on BattleNet in 2017 on this exact subject which had to be shut down due to the racist vitriol it received.
What were people’s responses to the request? The common rebuttals both myself and the thread received are:
- “Sombra is Afro-latina”
- “Farah and Ana are Egyptian”
- “Erm Orisa…duh!”
Let’s tackle them shall we?
Sombra is canonically Mexican, this has no bearing on her race as Mexican is not a race – it’s a nationality. However there have been no overt indicators towards Sombra being Afro-Mexican in her short or her story video. Let’s not conflate the term Afro-latina with meaning anyone with brown skin. Just as Sombra could be Afro-latina, she could also be Mixed or Mestiza.
The next response was that Ana and Farah were Egyptian and therefore Black. Firstly, it tickled me that now people want to say Egyptians were Black when, for years, the Black community has been screaming this from the roof tops to be met with white washing and obtuse reasons as to why Ancient Egyptians “just simply weren’t Black”. I digress, Ana and Farah are Egyptian and quite rightly could be Black however again I had to redirect people to the word unambiguous a term many people had trouble understanding.
“Unambiguously Black” simply means that by looking at a person there would be no question as to what race they are. Using racially ambiguous people as representatives for the whole of the Black race is a tired tactic used by media and brands. Just as there are 6 representations of white women in Overwatch in a variety of nationalities, shapes and sizes, there should be different representations of the Black women and other POC in game.
We don’t all look the same, have the same skin tone and relate to one representation. Dark skin and non-eurocentric features deserve just as much airtime.
As we near the game’s third year of release, we have seen a variety of characters being released including Orisa. Orisa is a sentinel robot built by young child genius Efi Oladele. Efi is from the imaginary African country of Numbani, she is featured in sprays and player icons but makes no appearance in game.
As I return from Twitch Con this year, I noticed that games like The Breach and Sea of Thieves have no problems including unambiguous Black Women as playable characters from inception. So I can’t help but wonder why is there such reluctance from Blizzard when it comes to featuring them in Overwatch? To add more insult to injury this is not the first time Blizzard have excluded us, having 0 Black Female characters out of 82 in their other popular title; Heroes of the Storm.
As more and more time/opportunities pass, the exclusion is seeming increasingly deliberate; leaving many BGGs to find ourselves in this unique conundrum, yet again, where we love a game that doesn’t love us back.
Edit: Numbani is an imaginary city located near Nigeria.