If you follow a lot of video game-related accounts on social media, you've probably seen the above image a lot. And probably people talking about butts. Sometimes it might just be people typing the word "butts" over and over.
Because video games are art, and we who enjoy them are very mature at all times.
In all seriousness, that image has sparked a firestorm of surprising controversy leading to claims of censorship (even if it's self-enforced) and complaints that that one of the biggest companies in video games is (in the eyes of some) bowing down to pressure from a minority audience that is more concerned with political correctness than having fun.
Long story short: A user expressed concern over an in-game pose (the one above) that they thought was too sexual for the character in question. Blizzard ultimately agreed, announcing that they would be removing the pose from the game. Then other users freaked out about the removal.
But let's back up and look at everything in context.
The controversy is about Tracer, a character in Blizzard's upcoming video game Overwatch. (Blizzard, if you're unfamiliar, is the company behind World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Hearthstone.) The vast majority of clips and images of Tracer aren't nearly as, well, sexual as the image at the top of this post. For the most part, she's just a spunky time-jumping character hailing from London that's good with guns.
So that pose at the top of this post, which features Tracer with her back to the camera in a titillating position, rubbed at least one Overwatch fan the wrong way.
The user "Fipps" took to Blizzard's Battle.net forums to express concern about the use of the pose in-game. Fipps begins by praising the diversity of characters in the game and draws attention to the fact that Overwatch has strong female heroes. Tracer, Fipps says, is "fast. She's silly. She's kind. She's a good friend. Her body seems to be comprised of about 95% spunk."
Those qualities, Fipps says, don't jive with the sexual behind-the-back pose.
"What about this pose has anything to do with the character you’re building in Tracer?" Fipps asks. It’s not fun, its not silly, it has nothing to do with being a fast elite killer. It just reduces Tracer to another bland female sex symbol."
The next sentence of the post is important: Fipps isn't attacking the pose purely because it's titillating. Other Overwatch characters -- one in particular -- flaunt their sexuality with no problems.
"We aren’t looking at a Widowmaker pose here," Fipps says. "This isn’t a character who is in part defined by flaunting her sexuality."
For reference, this is Widowmaker; a character that's still in Overwatch unchanged.
One of the reasons Fipps cares, they say, is because they're a parent. "I have a young daughter that everyday when I wake up wants to watch the recall trailer again. She knows who Tracer is, and as she grows up, she can grow up alongside these characters."
The discussion thread blew up. Some posts were thoughtful and respectful, both agreeing and disagreeing with with Fipps' opinion. Others (both there are on social media) were ... less respectful.
Most of the people defending the pose, though, did so on the grounds of artistic freedom.
"Blizzard has the creative freedom to make the game they choose," one users says early on (and then again later. Multiple times). "You have the right do dislike the work of other people, but you should not impose what you think 'ought' to be in regards to artistic freedom."
"Don’t like the art don’t play the game," says another. "Don’t like sexualized images?? Lock yourself up in your room and don’t look at the paper, internet, TV."
"I do not believe blizzard needs to work towards any imposed agenda," says yet another, "but should create their art however they see fit. Again, suggestions are great, but this language implies some objective moral standard being pressed onto them, which of course is not true."
This goes on and on and on for many pages, back and forth, until Blizzard game director Jeff Kaplan enters the thread and says, "We'll replace the pose."
"We want everyone to feel strong and heroic in our community," he says. "The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented. Apologies and we’ll continue to try to do better."
Then the outrage hit.
Some fans of the game are trying to start petitions to get Blizzard to keep the pose. Comments on Reddit made jokes about political correctness and being "triggered" by sexual content. Popular YouTube critic TotalBiscuit mocked the complaint with a video about "strong animal heroes" in Overwatch.
There's also a straw poll running in which users (granted, barely over 5,000 of them as of this writing) are overwhelmingly voting in favor of keeping the pose as-is.
Earlier this week it felt like everybody related to video games was voicing their opinion on the issue, including Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson.
Others, meanwhile, noted the irony of gaming communities that demand developers listen to their player base and then get upset when a developer makes a change based on player feedback.
After social media had a good chunk of time to explode over the fact that Blizzard was supposedly pressured into removing content from their game due to political correctness, Kaplan clarified:
"Well, that escalated quickly…
While I stand by my previous comment, I realize I should have been more clear. As the game director, I have final creative say over what does or does not go into the game. With this particular decision, it was an easy one to make–not just for me, but for the art team as well. We actually already have an alternate pose that we love and we feel speaks more to the character of Tracer. We weren’t entirely happy with the original pose, it was always one that we wrestled with creatively. That the pose had been called into question from an appropriateness standpoint by players in our community did help influence our decision–getting that kind of feedback is part of the reason we’re holding a closed beta test–but it wasn’t the only factor. We made the decision to go with a different pose in part because we shared some of the same concerns, but also because we wanted to create something better.
We wouldn’t do anything to sacrifice our creative vision for Overwatch, and we’re not going to remove something solely because someone may take issue with it. Our goal isn’t to water down or homogenize the world, or the diverse cast of heroes we’ve built within it. We have poured so much of our heart and souls into this game that it would be a travesty for us to do so.
We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay. That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it.
If it isn’t, feel free to continue sharing your concerns, thoughts, and feedback about this and other issues you may have with the game, please just keep the discussion respectful."
This appeased some people who say they didn't care about the pose itself but rather worried that one outraged individual could "force" changes onto the game.
One such reply that is at least a bit more tactful than others says, "I really don’t care about the pose, but I do care if you are going to get involved into the whole politically correct, must appease, mentality when designing characters and features into the game. I believe Blizzard really should stick with what they do best, and only change things if there is a large vocal dissent against it. I feel that would work best to help establish a strong bond between development and the community."
Forget for a second that this user (along with many, many others) is essentially arguing for mob rule. "Change something if the group demanding change is large enough" isn't always the best way to govern, but that's a bigger, more complex issue.
The chief issue here is, I think, that you have a high-level Blizzard employee saying flat out, "We wouldn't do anything to sacrifice our creative vision for Overwatch," and yet some users are still outraged. Many say they don't believe Kaplan's statements and think he's just caving to the insurmountable pressure of a single person in a single forum thread.
Overwatch is still in beta. A lot of people are working very hard around the clock in an effort to make it a fun multiplayer game that entertains a lot of people. During this beta period, Blizzard is asking for feedback on every aspect of the game -- weapon balance, movement, art style and yes, characters. The fact that Blizzard is clearly listening to that feedback should be praised. Instead, some people are throwing a fit because Blizzard is reacting to a change that they themselves didn't request.
Even if the change was entirely due to a desire to be "politically correct," so what? Weren't people just arguing at the start of this mess that Blizzard should have the artistic freedom to create whatever they want? If you're going to fight for the right for developers to create sexualized characters, you have to also fight for their right to remove sexual content when they see fit. That's how the system has to work.
One player, who took a master class in hyperbole, claims, "That explanation does explain one thing - vocal minorities ruin another game."
That's a whole heck of a lot of importance to place on a single butt.