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Blizzard on Overwatch hero design, mental health and baby-soft feet



Overwatch gets three new heroes each year. Their release has a routine and a rhythm, especially for the heroes announced outside of BlizzCon. The social media are tickled once or twice, and then we see an animation that introduces us to the character as well as a character and finally there is a kit revelation. Sometimes these revelations are good and I am pleased or fascinated by the newest member of the cast. Sigma, Overwatch's Hero 31, was far more of an intestinal stroke. His original animation is an ambitious work by the team of Overwatch ; It's about nonlinear storytelling, an abstract account of Sigma's thought process, and a healthy dose of cosmic horror. It borders on the Lovecraftian or is inspired by a plot tool like Warhammer 40k's Warp.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

I've been struggling with mental illness all my life, including inpatient hospital stays. Today, my health is in better shape, and I take a cocktail of medicines and see a variety of professionals to make sure it stays that way. But if you've spent your entire life in the mental health system, it's easy to see how parts of that experience have developed into common cultural tropes and archetypes.

Padded rooms, abandoned asylum houses and straitjackets are all revealing images used in the media. It is a convenient acronym for unpredictability, violence or loss of control that creates a primitive fear – and unfortunately can contribute to the real stigma associated with mental illness. He is reserved in Sigma's original video. The entire narrative uses generously floating equations reminiscent of the representation of a mathematician who deals with schizophrenia. When I had the opportunity to settle for three. Overwatch As a developer, including lead author Michael Chu, I asked about the animation and whether it was an intended presentation of a mental illness.

"It's interesting because I can see how people in the community identified with Sigma as having problems or dealing with mental health issues," Chu said. "But with the idea of ​​the character, we never wanted him to be an example to someone who has mental health problems." He should really focus more on this very specific thing that happened to him, that his body and mind were literally torn apart by the temporary exposure to a black hole.

"With other aspects of his character he certainly should be eccentric. The idea behind it is rather that he sees the world a little differently. We loved the fact that he had this connection to the music. For example, he thinks about the universe, gravity and physics through this prism of music. Experience shows that when talking to physicists and especially theoretical physicists, other things that are not literally just equations or mathematics have influenced the way in which they interpret things. And that's the direction we went with him.


  Overwatch - Sigma's Origin animation shows him in a medical stretcher and a space suit.

Blizzard Entertainment

Is Sigma a "villain"?

According to Blizzard, Sigma is "unaware" that he is "being used as a living weapon". Instead, he works mostly off-site in a lab Talon has granted him. It's a dynamic similar to the one Symmetra shares with her boss at the unethical Vishkar Corporation. Symmetra is also on the autism spectrum, as suggested in a comic and confirmed by game director Jeff Kaplan. It's an awkward dynamic to work with, and it may go awry.

With Sigma, it's easy to read the nickname Blizzard uses as a general tropic of mental health, even if it was not intended during production. When viewed as unstable and ill, the dynamic between him and Talon is inherently exploitative.

That is not without example. Talon kidnapped Widowmaker, brainwashed her until she killed her own husband, and then underwent a genetic change that made her heart slow and her skin turn blue. But Widowmaker is so extreme, so incoherent with real life, that it's hard to imagine being in the blue, cat-loving, murder-loving, mysterious assassin.

I had a strong reaction to Sigma's origin animation because I saw myself there. The stretcher, the shackles, the artificial light and the confusion were all well-known features of my experiences on psychiatric wards. It's a powerful imagery, but one that may be unintentionally dealing with a dangerous shorthand based on the stigma of mental illness. He wears his Overwatch uniform in the game. Sigma is surrounded by the other Talon members. "data-upload-width =" 8000 "src =" https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/YgsS5MjiotlJ3P9r7zRXvaE36g0=/0x0:8000×3400/1200×0/filters:focal(0x0:8000×3400):no_upscale()/cdn .vox cdn.com / uploads / chorus_asset / file / 18369093 / Origin5.png "/>

Best Foot Forward

Sigma's foot was one of the biggest fans after Sigma's original animation and gameplay. Some of these dialogues were amazed (or slightly cool) about Sigma's bare feet and long toes. Others were more concerned about what Sigma's feet could mean for the general presentation of mental illness in Overwatch .

A Blizzard character artist, Qiu Fang, wrote that Sigma's bare feet helped "sell the asylum" "Look a little bit more", citing the policies of hospitals and institutions that pull shoelaces away from patients, to reduce the risk of self-injury.

When I ask the assembled developers about their thoughts on how the fans reacted to Sigma's release, the subject of feet naturally comes up.

"The foot thing reminds me of some funny stories because I remember when Jeff [Kaplan] was like & # 39; he swims. Why does he have to wear shoes? "Chu asked." It's something he felt strong about, and it was like … OK, that makes sense. He is swimming, he does not need shoes. Jeff was also like & # 39; It … it's going to be a thing & # 39; what … [laughs].

"The other thing was from Alyssa [Wong Overwatch writer] " Chu continued, "She said – and I can not remember how she heard this story – but when she was in Space is there and there is no gravity, do not use your feet the way you do, and the bladder and cornea and things just fall off. "

There is a moment of conversation with Chu and Joshua Noh, in which the Both confirm that Sigma actually has soft feet and this influences why he swims. "Chu credits concept artist Arnold Tsang with his" continuing interest in shoe and foot design. "


  The new hero Sigma hovers in the desert map Petra in a screenshot of Overwatch

Blizzard Entertainment

Equations and Conclusions

No Overwatch hero is responsible for a developer at Blizzard, Sigma went through his development several iterations, including a period in which the developers thought the character might be Mauga, a Talon character from Baptiste's past. His kit was finally developed as a prototype, and the rest was based on this kit and the idea of ​​a gravity-based hero.

The origins of Animation and Sigma are based on established cultural insights on mental illness. He is described as a brilliant yet eccentric pioneer whose ambition made him suffer "severe mental damage" that "broke" his mind. Afterwards he was "quarantined", "unsure" and "isolated".

For many people, this is not a sci-fi experience, but a futuristic experience. It is an event that many people experience that have to do with the mental health system. The end result is that it seems that Blizzard either did not know the real parallels to Sigma's story, or did not even think about investigating it. He does not ruin the game for me, but he is an unpleasant sliver in the premise of the game.

Overwatch was sold as a futuristic, inclusive world that is at best a utopia and, in the worst case, worth fighting for. When I look at Sigma's Origin animation, I see a representation of a personal, painful experience I've been through. I see a system that abandons people who struggle and sees illness as inherently dangerous.

There is a lot to do and it raises questions. How can a game like Overwatch based on the core experience of a team-based shooter, be complex and multi-faceted characters with inner conflicts that could be similar to those of real people?

"I think we thought this character would meet the people and they would be like & # 39; Whoa! OK, that's a lot to consider! "Chu says." That was very intentional. "


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