Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kotaku's Fave Is Problematic

Much of the drama around video games (and other nerd/geek culture) drama these days stems from self-proclaimed critics viewing entertainment through the lens of critical theory. Critical theory is, in theory, a tool for critiquing societal and cultural circumstance using the disciplines of sociology and the humanities. In practice, the aforementioned modern critics use critical theory to nitpick games, movies, comics, music, and television and paint them as society-destroying crimes against the oppressed.

Recently, Kotaku (home of many such cultural critics) celebrated the announcement of a new character for Blizzard's upcoming Team Fortress 2 knock-off, Overwatch. The article was typical Kotaku fare: name-checking Anita Sarkeesian, complaining about how all female characters are “svelte,” having an actual word-count of a Hallmark greeting card, consisting mostly of graphics taken from Blizzard's actual promotional materiel, and unsurprisingly missing the point.

But then, criticizing Kotaku is like taking candy from a baby (satisfying and all-too-easy), so instead I'm going to use critical theory (or at least, misuse it in the same way modern cultural critics do) and nitpick Blizzard's 'attempt at diversity':
  • Zarya is Russian. She's also a) a soldier and b) a power-lifter, perpetuating two cultural stereotypes. 
  • Zarya has pink hair. Pink is a gender signifier. 
  • Zarya has boob-plate armour. Boob-plate armour is not designed for functional purposes, it's only designed to draw the attention to the breasts, thus sexualizing the character. 
  • Zarya may have a large and muscular physique, but she has pixie same-face that could easily be swapped out with a number of other female characters without looking out of place. 
  • Zarya's armour has bare arms. This is a common gender signifier for women as well. 
  • Zarya has a body type that is difficult if not impossible for most women to attain. 
  • Most damning of all, Zarya is literally Ms Male Character, practically being a gender-swap of Team Fortress 2's Heavy Weapons Guy.
Do I sound like an asshole right now (moreso than usual, at least)? Absolutely. There's critical theory for you. It's a great tool for attacking anything you don't like or aren't personally invested in. The most amusing part is that, despite Kotaku's enthusiasm for Blizzard's apparent embracing of cultural critic-bourne diversity, their readers took the route I took above, only with a great deal more sincerity.

In all honestly, I rather like Zarya. She is different from a great deal of (male and female) characters that are often presented in games. She's got a striking silhouette, and a ton of personality shoved into her design. Best of all, she's visually based off of an actual Blizzard employee. But anyone with a mind for critical theory, ie Kotaku's main demographic, will compulsively attack. Especially something presented to appease them. Especially if it means they can ignore actual diversity and progress that they should be applauding.

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