Tracer’s Pose & Blizzard’s PR Failure

When it comes to public relations, Blizzard dun goofed.

Earlier today, Blizzard game director Jeff Kaplan responded to a single complaint about Tracer’s pose in its upcoming game, Overwatch. The developer promised the poster that Blizzard as a studio was committed to making sure no one felt “uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented” by removing the pose.

It doesn’t matter whether anyone at Blizzard and the Overwatch development team had previously decided they were going to make the change to Tracer’s pose. When it comes to public relations, the optics are all that matter and the optics provide a single narrative, which has been repeated in perpetuity throughout the Internet: Blizzard caved to a misogynist who posted in the guise of a well-intentioned person.

Let’s be clear here: the original complaint was a misogynist complaint. It wasn’t a pro-women complaint. It was purely and simply a misogynist, sexist complaint. It doesn’t matter whether the complainant was a feminist (very likely) or a fundamentalist Christian person; they are both of the same ilk: religious fundamentalists who believe the entire world must bend to their will or be forever branded a heretic.

For all the talk about modern feminists being pro-women, most modern 3rd wave feminists are sex-negative simply because one half (male) of this dimorphic species (homosapien) almost universally has the biological imperative to seek and impregnate the other half (female) and one of the behaviors exhibited by that male half gauges some of the genetic and maternal value of the female based on physical traits and characteristics. This is not simply a human behavior, it is a universal behavior among dimorphic species.

But thanks to the progress of civilization, particularly technological progress, this has become anathema to a very tiny, yet very vocal, narcissistic cohort, comprised mostly of women. Both intellectual and technological progress have provided most of the basic human needs for people living in Western societies. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, both men and women have their physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem needs taken care of (outside of specific circumstances that tend to plague certain demographics). Men and women can breathe, have plenty of food, water, time to sleep, can poop almost whenever they want, and have sex. Even the people in the lowest rung of sexual attraction *can* get busy once in awhile, even if it requires money. Most people feel safe from bodily harm, employment is far better than it has been historically, people aren’t as afraid of losing their property than they were historically, and we are living in a near post-scarcity society where resources are so plentiful, we may as well forget about the concept of property all together. We have more access to kinship and friendship than ever before; we can get sexual intimacy and feel a sense of belonging (even if we have to pay for it). We have built self-esteem up to the point Narcissus would cringe at the realization the last two generations are narcissistic to a point almost all of us should be locked up in a looney bin.

So now people in the West are primarily concerned with self-actualization. Morality is not inalienable from religion, but they are almost always tied together (Haidt, J. (2007) Moral psychology and the misunderstanding of religion. A deep sense of morality and a desire to solve perceived societal problems leads to an attempt at problem solving through either persuasion or coercion. The complainant of Tracer’s pose was exhibiting typical religious fundamentalist behavior we more commonly recognize as conservatively Christian traditionalism and moralism.

[R]eligiosity is an enormously important fact about our species. There must be some combination of evolutionary, developmental, neuropsychological, and anthropological theories that can explain why human religious practices take the various forms that they do, many of which are so similar across cultures and eras. I will also take it for granted that religious fundamentalists, and most of those who argue for the existence of God, illustrate the first three principles of moral psychology (intuitive primacy, post-hoc reasoning guided by utility, and a strong sense of belonging to a group bound together by shared moral commitments (Haidt).

It’s not a coincidence that the more morally intuitive half would create a new religion out of agnosticism and atheism (again, spiritual belief is not a prerequisite of religion); and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the moralist behaviors of both feminists and religious fundamentalists look so similar. If some behaviors exhibited by religious fundamentalists (e.g., all women must cover up, otherwise they are being indecent) are misogynist, then the same behaviors being exhibited by other people must, as a rule, be misogynistic. If it is immoral for a woman to display sexual behaviors (it has been argued by a minority that Tracer’s pose was sexual) and they must not do so, for whatever ultimate goal the religious fundamentalist has, then it is a rule against the woman’s civic rights to express herself and dress herself in whatever way she wishes. Tracer’s pose was argued to be improper behavior in front of the boys; as a matter of fact, it was deemed immoral. This is why the argument against Tracer’s pose was crafted as a concern about the impressionability of women and girls.

The contractual approach takes the individual as the fundamental unit of value. The fundamental problem of social life is that individuals often hurt each other, and so we create implicit social contracts and explicit laws to foster a fair, free, and safe society in which individuals can pursue their interests and develop themselves and their relationships as they choose.

Morality is about happiness and suffering (as Harris says, and as John Stuart Mill said before him), and so contractualists are endlessly trying to fine-tune laws, reinvent institutions, and extend new rights as circumstances change in order to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. To build a contractual morality, all you need are the two individualizing foundations: harm/care, and fairness/reciprocity. The other three foundations, and any religion that builds on them, run afoul of the prime directive: let people make their own choices, as long as they harm nobody else (Haidt).
Letting people make their own choices “runs afoul of the prime directive,” meaning that, ultimately, “feminism is not about choice,” as neither is religious fundamentalism about choice. Women, under this new religious fundamentalism, do not get a choice. They must conform to specific behavior which does not run afoul of any of the prime directives – one which includes demolition of The Patriarchy (the modern Original Sin). When Tracer chooses to make a sexy pose, she is running afoul of the prime directive; she is making her own choice. Blizzard aided and abetted in the removal of that choice.

Yes, it sounds silly: Blizzard put her into that pose, therefore removing that pose is not the same as removing her liberty to make that pose. She’s a piece of digital art, not a human being with her own intelligence.

Yet the fact still remains that Blizzard sent a message to women and girls: you do not have the agency to be a woman. In fact, the message was that women and girls are not allowed to be human. Sometimes human beings feel bloated and slothful, and just not all that excited about anything. And in other times (sometimes the same exact day), human beings feel differently. Nobody, unless they are catatonic, acts and behaves the same exact way all the time. This argument that the pose was not in line with Tracer’s personality is a questionable argument. Is there a woman, regardless of what her story has been, who feels and behaves the same way all the time? Are women simply automatons who act and behave just one way? Or do women, and men for that matter, sometimes feel depressed, sometimes angry, sometimes cynical, and sometimes (perhaps, once in a blue moon), flirtatious?

Blizzard sent the message that women must behave one way all the time. And cover up. It’s indecent to go around nearly bare-chested (see the garrison follower Croman). It’s disgusting that women can sometimes turn around and give the enemy they just bested a mischievous look. It’s immoral that young, teenage girls, would get the impression that they can dare pose the same way as men do. They do not have that agency, do they, PR-failures that is Blizzard?