Overwatch’s new playable hero, Sigma, has become the subject of widespread controversy for his “asylum chic.” An astrophysicist gone mad, Sigma’s barefooted design is creating outrage among the very woke gaming press who are taking issue with game developer Blizzard for its stigmatisation of mental illness.
Beyond supposedly “stigmatising” mental health issues, Sigma’s existence as a white male character has also come into question as woke fans of the game complain about the lack of black female characters. Overwatch presently counts three black males in its growing roster of heroes.
Sigma is a mad scientist. It isn’t exactly the most original concept for a video game character. Besides that, he isn’t the only scientist character in Overwatch. He joins the ranks of Mei, Moira, Symmetra, and Winston. But unlike them, he’s the only one who’s explicitly mentally unhinged – he broke out of a psychiatric institution and has bare feet that emphasise his status as an asylum escapee.
Sigma’s designer, Qiu Fang, explains that his bare feet were a deliberate inclusion in his design to reflect the character’s origins and backstory.
“Thanks for your feedbacks! We decided to keep the feet bare to sell the ‘asylum’ look a bit more; in many institutions, patients are not allowed to have shoes because they might cause harm with the laces. While Sigma isn't necessarily in danger of that, we felt that having no shoes helped draw that connection. I also had iterations of him with shoes on, and it made him a lot more generic, so in the end we decided to leave him barefeet. That’s just what the reasoning internally was though, I’m sure we’ll be making skins with shoes on him in the future!” [sic]
Multiple publications, including Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun, and VG247 have expressed no shortage of “concern” (read: outrage) over the character design driven by complaints on social media.
“Blizzard seems to be putting its worst foot forward, adding a character that does nothing to expand the diversity of the cast while playing on harmful tropes about mental illness,” writes Bryan Lawver for Screenrant.
“The issue isn’t to do with a game drawing on real-world suffering. It’s the way it draws on suffering that society – hell, suffering that I – have needlessly contributed to,” echoed Rock Paper Shotgun’s Matt Cox in his remarks about the character.
This isn’t the first time Blizzard has tangled with controversy involving its character designs. The company’s penchant for pandering to the woke brigade with an inclusive cast of multi-ethnic and gender-diverse characters is also becoming its undoing.
To be certain, there’s nothing wrong with making diverse characters that offer representation to minorities, but the company’s engagement with the social justice mob has also made it a ripe target for spurious complaints and the subject of purity policing – the woke mafia cares more about identity politics surrounding Overwatch than the game itself.
Blizzard’s previous entanglements with outrage mongers include reducing the girth of a female character named Mei (an affront to body-positive feminists), the overtly sexualised pose of Tracer, and the list goes on. Knowing the social justice crowd, they’ll find some way to be upset at an African American female character if Blizzard ever releases one.