Female character design in video games has always been a hot-button issue, so today I’m going to take the time to talk about examples of GOOD character design: that of Overwatch.
Currently, the game has nine female playable characters (including the upcoming Ana), with more almost certainly coming soon (I will either update this post accordingly or make a part 2). All of them, for the most part, are examples of female character design done RIGHT. They all have unique faces, body types, and costumes that fit their personality and gameplay. Let’s take a look at all of them individually. (All images from the Overwatch gamepedia. I’m also going to focus on their canon designs and not their alternative skins.)
This is a great example of the ability to give a woman big, bulky, non-sexualized armour. It shows that she’s a force to be reckoned with and means business. The eagle motif shows that she fights for justice and bravery. The whole design shows that she has a military background and is proud of it. Overall, the design shows she is a soldier not here for your BS.
Tracer’s slender build, fitting clothes (with flats!), goggles and perky haircut show she is an agile, free-spirited, cheerful woman who knows how to use her powers to her advantage and befitting her occupation as an adventurer. You can tell she’s spunky and energetic and befitting of being the de facto mascot for an action game.
When I first saw this character, my first thought was “Oh my god, she’s so cute!” And honestly? I’m so happy they made a heavier set female character who is also cute. You don’t see that a lot. Her lovely smile and gestures can tell you she’s earnest and enthusiastic about her passions (in her backstory, she writes about how her job may sound boring, but she does her best to make it entertaining). Of course her outfit perfectly fits her motif of having ice-based powers and skills, and I like how she’s not afraid to add a little more bulk to her already bulky body. In short, she loves ice and her body, and doesn’t care if anyone else doesn’t.
This is the only design I’m a little skeptical towards. More than anything, while the skintight catsuit is appropriate for her job as an assassin, I feel like having a plunging neckline with no bra would be counterproductive when you kill people for a living. And it kind of fits into the ‘evil women are more sexual than the good female characters’ trope. However, one of Widowmaker’s main character traits is that she no longer has any sense of feeling or caring; thus, her costume could reflect the fact that she doesn’t particularly care about appearances or how well her outfit fits and is more concerned with carrying out her task. The blue skin and hair do a great job of designating her as mysterious, beautiful, but deadly and her special visor fits her spider motif. Not the best design, but it does have its merits.
D. Va is the youngest character in the game, and the design shows her youthfulness without sexualizing her too much. The jumpsuit is appropriate befitting her role operating a MEKA suit, and the headphones and patterns on her face show her more playful side. I also love how she has her MEKA suit a bright pink, mixing femininity with deadliness. It shows that she’s a young, petite, feminine woman who is a combatant genius, which is awesome.
Whoa, a big, muscular, scarred, butch woman who isn’t demonized! That’s incredible! This designs hows that she is a strong, proud woman who can believably deliver a powerful blow. You believe it when the game tells you she’s ‘one of the world’s strongest women’ and has been through war. She’s another lady who is proud of her body and isn’t afraid to show it.
I raved about this character before, but basically, I love how she’s an older woman who has aged gracefully and can still fight. Her clothes and eyepatch show she has been through a lot in her life and has traversed the world in secret to do good. You can also tell that she’s Pharah’s mother without copy-pasting their faces and adding just a few tweaks.
This costume is simply magnificent. The angel motif fits her as a healer, it has enough armour, awesome wings, and overall has a very spectacular look. My only gripe is that the armour around her breasts is a little bit snug, but overall, she looks fantastic.
And finally, my personal favourite, the lovely Symmetra. I think the important thing to note while talking about her design is that the character is very strongly implied to be autistic, and that could certainly factor in how she dresses (a lot of autistic people are sensitive to certain fabrics and textures and can’t wear certain things). The outfit is lightweight and predominantly blue, which fits her light motif, and I like the use the visible Bindi (which shows that she is indeed of Indian heritage). But of all, I love how she’s a beautiful dark-skinned woman. Light skin is seen as a more ‘desirable’ trait, and a huge problem in a lot of parts of the world (including India) is spreading the idea of light-skinned women being more beautiful (and sometimes more intelligent) than dark-skinned women, and even introducing skin-lightening cream. But Symmetra proves that dark-skinned women can be beautiful and intelligent, and while some aspects of this character (mainly the Devi/Goddess skins) may have its concerns, I think this aspect is truly great.
Overall, the key to good character design is to clue the audience in on a character’s personality, personal history, and purpose, as well as culture, and Overwatch uses it brilliantly here. A lot of pieces of media show that only certain types of women (young, thin, usually white, and always sexy, with a personal history with a man) are worth rooting for, but Overwatch shows that any woman can be beautiful and powerful, no matter their race, age, ability or body type, or backstory. And that’s why this game deserves to be popular and beloved, and probably will be for years to come.