Blizzard on damage control over female character design

On Friday (22 November 2013), RPS published an interview conducted at BlizzCon 2013 with game director Dustin Browder about Blizzard’s new MOBA, Heroes of the Storm.

RPS journalist Nathan Grayson asked Browder about the sexualised nature of female character design, and his response kicked off a storm of controversy over the weekend.

Below are the questions and responses for full context. Note that RPS indicates Browder was being pressed for time by his PR rep as no doubt they had a busy interview schedule.

RPS: You have some interesting alternate outfits for heroes. Roller Derby Nova, especially, caught my eye. On its own, that’s totally fine – just a silly, goofy thing. A one-off. But it got me thinking about how often MOBAs tend to hyper-sexualize female characters to a generally preposterous degree – that is to say, make it the norm, not a one-off at all – and StarCraft’s own, um, interesting focus choices as of late. How are you planning to approach all of that in Heroes?

Browder: Well, I mean, some of these characters, I would argue, are already hyper-sexualized in a sense. I mean, Kerrigan is wearing heels, right? We’re not sending a message to anybody. We’re just making characters who look cool. Our sensibilities are more comic book than anything else. That’s sort of where we’re at. But I’ll take the feedback. I think it’s very fair feedback.

RPS: I have to add, though, that comics might not be the best point of reference for this sort of thing. I mean, it’s a medium that’s notorious – often in a not-good way – for sexing up female characters and putting them in some fairly gross situations.

Browder: We’re not running for President. We’re not sending a message. No one should look to our game for that.

RPS: But it’s not even about a message. The goal is to let people have fun in an environment where they can feel awesome without being weirded out or even objectified. This is a genre about empowerment. Why shouldn’t everyone feel empowered? That’s what it’s about at the end of the day: letting everyone have a fair chance to feel awesome.

Browder: Uh-huh. Cool. Totally.

[PR says we’ve run over, tells me I have to leave]

RPS: Thank you for your time.

In a 24 November post on the Heroes of the Storm website Browder has since responded to the issues raised by RPS and the subsequent negative PR frenzy:

In a recent interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I responded poorly to a statement the interviewer made about over-sexualized character designs in games, and I want to apologize for that. This is a serious topic and I don’t want anyone to think that I, or anyone else at Blizzard, is insensitive about how we portray our characters.

It takes work to make compelling characters, but it’s important to take a step back to ensure that we’re not alienating our players. We have an amazing roster of heroes and we will always strive to make sure that everyone can have a hero that they identify with and feel powerful using. And at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. A great game where we can all have fun battling for glory and maybe some bragging rights.

On the stage at BlizzCon, I spoke about Heroes being a collaborative project, shaped by the passion, love, and support of gamers like you. We’re building this game together, we’re listening, and your thoughts are valued.

I would like to thank Rock, Paper, Shotgun as well as our players for their feedback on this important issue. We want to do better, so keep the feedback coming and thanks for the continued support. We’ve got some pretty amazing things in store for you and we’re looking forward to seeing you in the Storm.

Nathan Grayson has also weighed in with a column on just why the over-sexualisation of female game characters is a big issue that can’t simply be dismissed out of hand.

So what do you think – in a world where games are ever more culturally significant, do game developers now have an added responsibility to consider how their design choices impact the zeitgeist?

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Blizzard on damage control over female character design

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