Opinion: Why Blizzard’s Overwatch Decision is Not Censorship

By | 7 months ago 

With Blizzard stuck in a quagmire of controversy over the decision to change an Overwatch victory pose, one writer explores why the developer has not suffered from censorship.

The notion of censorship has long been a contentious issue in video games. After all, it seems as though games have been hit with bans and cut content for as long as the medium has been around. In recent years, European and Australian South Park fans were dismayed to find that certain scenes had been cut from South Park: The Stick of Truth, in order to pass stricter ratings systems in those regions. Meanwhile, Left 4 Dead 2 was even temporarily banned in Australia, with the game deemed too violent for release until Valve created a softer version of the title.

Once more, the issue of game censorship has reared its head, but this time the cause of cut content is far away from a powerful government-supported ratings board. Blizzard’s upcoming multiplayer shooter Overwatch has been the subject of massive debates online, after the developer decided to make slight content changes based on comments from forum users. The change in question? The removal of a sexualized victory pose for the game’s Tracer character.

The argument against the inclusion of the pose revolved around how it affected the overall character of Tracer. Overwatch player Fipps cut right to the core of Tracer’s persona, explaining that the sexual pose had little to do with the humorous, fun character that Blizzard had created up to that point. As it turns out, Blizzard agreed, and decided to made amendments to the character’s victory pose repertoire.

Overwatch Controversy Over Sexualized Pose

However, there has been a severe backlash to Blizzard after the developer decided to tweak the content in question. In spite of Blizzard’s statement, which made it clear that the developer agreed with the comments that had been made and were not “entirely happy with the original pose” in the first place, the cry of censorship rang out across the web. Among certain parts of the gaming community, Blizzard had been bullied into taking this action by an unfair overreaction.

Whether or not Blizzard felt pressured by a section of its fan base, however, the idea that Blizzard has been censored is not correct. Traditionally, censorship relates to the actions of a governmental body or major institution to suppress the freedom of speech or expression, rather than criticism from a group of individuals. In modern times, there is a compelling argument that online communities could also act as groups capable of suppressing speech, but even then the idea that Blizzard has succumbed to some kind of censorship is skewed.

Overwatch Beta Delayed - Deal With It

This is because of Overwatch’s status as a game currently in development. The multiplayer shooter is still a long way off being a product that Blizzard is happy to release commercially, instead sitting pretty with closed beta testing. The game is not due for release until May 24, with an open beta running from May 5 through to May 9.

Because of this, the fact of the matter is that Blizzard has responded to fan concerns about content that has only been released during the game’s development process. The developer has seen fan responses to potential final product content, and has instead decided to reconsider exactly what should make it into the retail release of the game. Rather than censorship, Blizzard has instead used fan feedback to improve its product.

Traditionally, the notion of beta test feedback has been used to optimize performance, tweak gameplay mechanics, and improve graphical quality. This was certainly one of the main aims of the title’s second beta testing period. However, with this case, Blizzard has stepped away from the more technical standpoint of user feedback and instead used this crucial development process to focus on both the characterization and thematic issues of the game.

Overwatch Roster Promo Art

It’s a refreshing attitude to have from a developer, particularly so late in the development process, and at a time when priorities would most likely be placed in multiplayer gameplay improvements and stress testing. However, the decision to openly discuss not only its awareness of fan concerns, but also the final decision to amend the game’s content also speaks volumes about the relationship that Blizzard wants to have with users regarding Overwatch. In fact, this communication, where the developer has openly addressed user criticism and acted upon it, is exactly the kind of relationship that the gaming community should be striving for in the modern market.

All too often, publishers and developers take their consumer base for granted. Notoriously, Batman: Arkham Knight was released for PC in a completely unfit state, resulting in anger from fans of the franchise and eventual Steam refunds. However, anonymous QA testers have since revealed that publisher Warner Bros. Interactive, who farmed out the PC port to developers other than main studio Rocksteady, knew about the issues with the PC version for months before releasing it anyway.

With this slight change to a minor part of Overwatch, Blizzard has taken the opposite approach, instead communicating with fans to try and create the best potential final product for the fanbase. However, rather than receiving plaudits from gamers for this, certain sections of the community have instead cried censorship, with the objective positives of the situation seemingly ignored. Had Blizzard made changes relating to a balance issue, or the removal of a map that simply did not meet user standards, then it is unlikely that such accusations of censorship would have appeared.

Blizzard Overwatch Screenshot - Tracer

After all, this is far from the only time that Blizzard has made drastic cuts to content that has not been up to scratch. Indeed, the developer has even axed an entire game because it was unhappy with its progress. For years, Blizzard was working on an MMO titled Titan, before it was unceremoniously discarded by the developer, citing that releasing a half-baked title would “damage the relationship” with its user base.

Rather than Blizzard falling for unfair fan pressure, then, it’s much more likely that the developer quite simply agreed with the criticisms. Recently, Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett discussed the need for a diverse range of video game characters that do not fit traditional tropes, and by removing the requirement for a ‘sexy’ pose for each female Overwatch character, Blizzard may be attempting to add a unique feel to the characters in question. As game director Jeff Kaplan stated, the developer wants every user “to feel strong and heroic” when playing the game.

As such, it’s highly unlikely that censorship is the reason behind this decision by Blizzard, with the developer taking matters into its own hands to try and improve user experiences. The idea that Blizzard has felt censored, given that the tweak was of its own doing without any kind of threatened impact from users or external bodies, is at best misguided and at worst shows a lack of understanding of the creative process. Whether or not this controversy is easily forgotten, however, remains to be seen.