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The Tracer Overwatch Controversy

Updated on June 26, 2016

I'm getting into this late, as the whole deal is already well over and done with. But, as I'm plugged into and part of the community, I still se this pop up every once in a while, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents, and maybe somebody reads this and learns something. And, before I go any farther, if anyone reading this is a gamer and you haven't played Overwatch yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? Minimize this window, go out and buy Overwatch, and waste a couple hours playing it. Seriously, the game is awesome and well worth the money.

In brief, Overwatch is a multiplayer first person shooter created by Blizzard, in which two teams of six players each duke it out in a number of arenas and game types. The basic story is that, at some point in the near future, mankind creates a race of sentient machines called Omnics, who, inevitably, rise up against their creators. World governments are unable to deal with the crisis, and war and lawlessness grip the planet. Out of this chaos, a singular organization arises, the titular Overwatch, to restore order and bring an end to the Omnic uprising. The organization is successful, but collapses amid mystery and controversy in the following peace, and the various operatives go their separate ways. Now, as the world again descends into chaos, the heroes of Overwatch are again summoned to fight.

While Overwatch was in closed beta testing, some controversy arose over the character pictured above, named Tracer. In the lore of the game, Tracer, who's real name is Lena Oxton, was a test pilot for Overwatch. When an experimental craft malfunctioned, Tracer was left out of synch with the normal flow of time. The device on her chest stabilizes her in the time stream, and also allows her to control her own personal time stream, which grants her an enormous degree of mobility on the battlefield. Tracer featured prominently in some of the earliest material Blizzard released to the general public, and has become the unofficial mascot of the game.

Tracer's original victory pose.
Tracer's original victory pose.

The Tracer controversy centered around one of her victory poses, pictured above. During the beta test, one of the players submitted a note to Blizzard stating that the pose was "too sexy" and "out of character" for Tracer. Blizzard listened, and took a look for themselves, and decided they agreed, and they changed the pose. Of course, the internet being the internet, all they heard was that the character was too sexy and needed to be changed. This is an allegation that is often leveled against the gaming community, and with good reason. Any objective observer will note that video games have a pronounced tendency to show female characters in ways that are far more sexualized than their male counterparts. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does often seem to be done more for the titillation of the male audience than for any other purpose.

Now, let me be clear on one point; Tracer IS sexy. The character is designed that way. But the character doesn't trade on her sex appeal. She doesn't flaunt her sexiness. It's something that she is, but it isn't who she is. Tracer has a self-confidence that comes from her competence, from being one of the very best at what she does. She's also a complete goof, who is barely able to keep a straight face even when she wants to. And that's where the internet got things wrong. It's not that the pose was too sexy; it's out of character for her.

Below is a picture of the new pose Blizzard came up with, and what is currently in the game. The internet had a field day when it was first released because much of the initial online uproar focused on the prominence of Tracers rear end, which this pose doesn't really address. But, as I said, the sex appeal of the character wasn't really the problem. And this new pose does a much better job of showing off the playfulness inherent to Tracer's character.

Tracer's redone victory pose
Tracer's redone victory pose

There are artistic theory reasons why the new pose is better as well. Seeing as I'm only a layman when it comes to character design though, I'm not going to go into that. The good folks over at Extra Credits are qualified to talk about that though, and they did a wonderful video on this subject that I'll include below. They cover the whole thing in much greater detail than I have, and if I'm being honest, it's been very influential in forming my own thoughts on the subject.

Extra Credits Tracer and Pose Design 101 video

Also, if you've never watched anything from the Extra Credits crew, get over to youTube, clear your schedule, and get to watching. They are always entertaining, insightful, and educational, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Their regular show covers any number of gaming related topics, while they also have additional channels that look at game design, games you should try, and even a series that looks at specific historical events. Seriously, these guys are awesome. Go watch.

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