Northeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - “The World Needs Heroes”: Intersections of Gender and Tradition in Overwatch (2016)

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Gulmohar, First Floor

The massively popular online first-person shooter Overwatch (Blizzard 2016) was first marketed under the slogan “the world needs heroes” describing an alternative cyberpunk future-reality filled with robot monks, hackers, time-jumping adventurers, and cyborg ninjas. It is a world where everyone was represented. The cast of playable characters includes Queer, Asian, Hispanic, African, Arab and Female characters—as well as the industry-traditional White male characters—demonstrating Blizzard’s commitment to creating an all-inclusive and welcoming community. The character diversity subverts normative “cybertypical” representations of gender and race found throughout the video game industry, instead promoting new discourses as to what is a “hero”. Through transmedia narrative techniques Overwatch engages its audience of 35 million players through computer and console gameplay, comic books, and cinematic animations.


As part of its continued maintenance and development of the game and game community Blizzard held the “Year the Rooster” seasonal event in Overwatch, coinciding with the Lunar New Year. During this event Blizzard released special in-game material of stickers, “emotes”, victory poses, dialogues and new “skins”—digital costumes for characters—designed to celebrate the holiday. However, while the normal characterizations of its heroes challenged industry standards, the new seasonal event representations of the heroes utilized traditional culture artifacts to re-instill conservative values. Progressive messages were replaced with “exotic” and positive orientalist imagery as traditional “Asian” culture was used to subtly react to the early game material. This paper aims to explore how gender is used to co-opt and flip gender-normative ideations while tradition conversely reifies normative understandings of gender. 

William Dunkel

University of California; Irvine, United States

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3 - “The World Needs Heroes”: Intersections of Gender and Tradition in Overwatch (2016)



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