Blizzard Entertainment has announced a new playable hero for Overwatch: a “mad scientist” codenamed Sigma who can control gravity through the manipulation of black holes. Also, despite most depictions of the character featuring him in an otherwise-full powersuit, our boy is barefoot. This struck folks online as a little bit odd, and the reason why Sigma is barefoot doesn’t do much to normalize it.
Over at Polygon, Patricia Hernandez found out why. It turns out that people were able to reach out to Sigma’s principal designer, Qiu Fang, through a fansite, and they have been pretty forthright with why an astrophysicist with a suit that lets him withstand the tidal pull of a black hole just sorta forgot to put shoes on.
Fang says that the bare feet are included because it is a part of the character’s backstory. They explain:
”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.”Patricia Hernandez, “Overwatch artist says Sigma’s bare feet meant to ‘sell the asylum look,’” Polygon.com, July 24, 2019
Boy howdy, this sucks!
Mental health issues have regularly been stigmatized in public, both in popular media and in public discourse. The result of this stigmatization is clear: people don’t seek appropriate treatment for their issues, their friends and family often mishandle them based on misconceptions or downright falsehoods, and as a result, their quality of life is substantially lowered.
What folks with mental illnesses need is less poorly-researched, stereotypical depictions of barefoot “mad scientists,” and more positive representation. We need less “they don’t let you wear shoes in asylums because you might hurt someone or yourself” and more of a deeper understanding of suicidal ideation, not to mention just like any fucking understanding of the wide array of illnesses underneath the “mental illness” umbrella at all.
As someone with a couple mental illnesses knocking around, I don’t love this shit. And I know a lot of folks for whom this would absolutely fall flat, as “dangerous crazy person who can’t be trusted with shoes” absolutely doesn’t speak to their experiences as folks living with and handling mental illness.
Also, a bland, white elephant in the room: check out what Fang had to say about why they chose the barefoot design from a stylistic angle.
“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.”Patricia Hernandez, “Overwatch artist says Sigma’s bare feet meant to ‘sell the asylum look,’” Polygon.com, July 24, 2019
Sigma is the 31st Overwatch hero to be introduced to the game. There are no black women heroes in Overwatch. People have been asking Blizzard to add a black woman hero to the roster for literal years. If your character looks so generic with fucking shoes on that you have to denigrate people with mental health issues to justify his existence, you’ve got a problem — one that you could have easily solved by simply adding one (1) black woman to your game.
There’s literally no need for Blizzard to rub salt in the wound for one group of fans that would love to connect to the game more directly, while also opening up a fresh wound with a whole new community. But when your parent company is raking in billions over your competitive esport, I guess you can find room to ignore the more marginalized among your consumer base.
Fuck sake, do better, Blizzard.