Blizzard recently added a new character to its roster of Overwatch heroes called Sigma, a mad scientist-type whose mind has been torn apart by a black hole-related experiment gone wrong. Now, fans have taken issue with the character and how he portrays mental illness.
The introductory story trailer for Sigma shows the character dressed in a lab coat and conducting what looks to be a dangerous experiment. The experiment results in an explosion, and the character ends up handcuffed to a gurney, presumably admitted into a mental hospital.The trailer then cuts back and forth between past, present, and future scenes of the character while he seems to slowly unravel.
According to a new report from gaming site Kotaku, the response to the character’s backstory has skewed negative. While people enjoy the playing as Sigma, they take issue with Blizzard’s portrayal of the character, which seems to rely on outdated tropes about mental hospitals and living with psychological disorders.
The controversy began last week when a concept artist responded to fan questions regarding why the character didn’t wear shoes. According to the artist, the team intended it as a way to “sell the asylum look a bit more” stating that mental patients “might cause harm with the laces.” This instigated a response from mental health professionals who explained that they no longer use the term “asylum” and that patients usually wear shoes.
Blizzard pushed back against these interpretations of Sigma. Its lead writer described the character as eccentric and tried to steer the conversation away from mental illness. He said that the character’s focus was on the black hole incident that tore his mind and body apart, not on mental illness. He sees the character as a victim of scientific catastrophe, not mental health issues.
Overwatch fans seem unconvinced and worry Blizzard doesn’t even realize the harm it’s doing. And in the eyes of a lot of fans, the company confirmed as much when they released a new skin for the character that features straps similar to those found on a straight-jacket and a restraining mask. The skin is called Asylum.
Beyond the quote from the lead writer, Blizzard has not commented officially on the issue. The company shares a strong relationship with its fans, and usually listens to their feedback.
In the mean time, fans continue to enjoy playing as Sigma on Overwatch’s Player Test Range. No word yet on when the character will be made available to the rest of the player base.
Overwatch is currently available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.