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Orisa's Overwatch Arrival Challenges Female Character Design - Two Left Sticks
Orisa Character Overwatch

Orisa’s Overwatch Arrival Challenges Female Character Design

New Arrival

This week Blizzard announced Overwatch’s newest hero, a tank character named Orisa. According to her ability overview, Orisa’s “main weapon is her rapid-fire Fusion Driver, an automatic gun with good range and accuracy even at a distance.” With a personal defense boost called Fortify and a deployable Supercharger that buffs her allies within its range, Orisa is a formidable character.

With Ana, Sombra, and now Orisa added to the game since its launch last May, the overall number of characters is 24. Although all of the post-launch characters are female, they each occupy different classes. Ana is a mid to long range support sniper, while Sombra is an offensive stealth character. Orisa, is a tank, a front line hero that specializes in protecting allies and disrupting the opposition.

Overwatch character
Photo credit – VGU

A Different Direction

Game Director Jeff Kaplan explained their decision to add a new tank in a recent developer update video. Kaplan spoke of the different characters already in this class like Winston and D.Va, saying that their particular form of defensive play was much more dynamic and “disruptive.” When looking at what Orisa could bring to the game, the team looked closely at Reinhardt and his particular “anchor tank” skills.

Orisa may not be the only female tank character that Overwatch features, but she’s an example of how Blizzard are using character design to challenge standards of representation. When compared with the other two female tank characters, it’s easy to see the changes the team are trying to make. D.Va’s state-of-the-art mech might size up next to the other tanks, but the character herself is a petite girl in a tight jumpsuit. Zarya challenges typical gendered representation, but she’s still not as powerfully built as some of the male tanks (although Winston is a gorilla, so that might not be a fair comparison.)

Zarya Tank
Photo credit – GameSpot

Womanly Doesn’t Mean Weak

These size differences may not have an impact on actual abilities. However this kind of design reinforces certain ideas of body image and gendered representation.  Developers need to challenged the idea that females have to be smaller or weaker. In the video introducing Orisa, Kaplan spoke about the design difficulties that making such a character presented. The team wanted her to be “visually challenging.” They wanted a character that combats the notion that female characters have to be “limited in their size and appearance.”  The Reinhardt comparison is even more relevant. As a large and visually compelling character, the team wanted to make Orisa just as captivating.

Of course, it’s easier to create a character less tied to gender bias if that character is a robot. But at least steps are being made in the right direction.

Overwatch championed diversity from the outset, with a cast of characters from all over the world and with varied backgrounds. Blizzard even revealed Tracer, the Overwatch poster girl pre-launch, to be gay. This was an interesting move, considering this didn’t have any bearing on gameplay. But it signals encouraging movement of LGBT representation further into mainstream media. Even Orisa’s creator Efi, a young, African girl, although not a playable character, demonstrates Blizzard’s attempt to include new perspectives in its game.

Photo credit – Tec.Mic

New, But Not The Norm

Orisa’s design as a visually impressive but still suitably imposing tank character is sadly not the norm. Just look at League of Legends. Another game with a large cast of characters, League of Legends falls short on representing diversity of the female form. Female tank characters can come covered in armor, but they still have unrealistic and overly-feminine figures. Even Overwatch has its overly sexualized female characters.

Similarly, games like Soul Caliber and Mortal Kombat will hardly win any prizes for diverse female representation. Of course there are exceptions. But if you like heavy hitters with lower attack speed, it’s unlikely that there will be a female option.

Overwatch has proved yet again that there’s room in video games for all different types of characters. By challenging the norms of character design, they’re not only providing new experiences for gamers, but also pushing boundaries in game development as well. Gamers will want to keep an eye on what the “heroes of the future are going to bring.”

PC players can test out Orisa on the Overwatch Public Test Region (PTR) server right now. There’s no word yet on when she’ll be officially available.

Jess Barnes
Jess is a gamer and a writer with an alarmingly large book collection, and is addicted to all things Sci-Fi. She's also started a novel, because she's mad and apparently hates free time.

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