Last month, popular online pew-pew factory Overwatch added a new baddie to its character roster: Sigma, a Dutch super scientist whose quixotic quest (yes, that is a windmill reference) to control gravity created a black hole that gave him strange powers, but also fractured his mind. Pretty standard mad villain stuff, but his portrayal and backstory have caused some concern in the Overwatch community that Blizzard is perpetuating stereotypes about the mentally ill. After all, Sigma's look is a constant reminder that the biggest threat this supervillain poses is to himself.
When Sigma was released, players noted that the heavily armored "eccentric" scientist was missing a vital piece of equipment: shoes. But any notions of him being some free-spirit old hippie were squashed when concept artist Qiu Fang made the implication very clear: His shoes were taken away so that he wouldn't hang himself with the laces.
Given Sigma's backstory (he spent some time in a padded room in a government facility), Fang decided they wanted to "sell the 'asylum' look" -- a hardcore choice for a game of bright colors predominantly played by teens. This was met with consternation from players and even mental health organizations, who didn't like yet another example of the mentally ill being seen as dangerously unstable and inherently violent.
But Blizzard and head writer Michael Chu pushed back against this, assuring players that they "never intended him to be an example of someone who's going through mental health issues" ... right before releasing new skins for Sigma, one of which was literally called "Asylum" and makes him look like a floating Hannibal Lecter, complete with bite-preventing muzzle.
Now, subjectively, there's nothing wrong with having mentally ill characters, even in a game about stomping people into the ground. In fact, the mad scientist is an old and venerated trope in superhero storytelling. And this is isn't even new territory for Overwatch. According to Blizzard, Symmetra is on the autism spectrum (and there's no way that McCree doesn't have some sort of obsessive-compulsive streak about timekeeping). But Symmetra doesn't have her condition emblazoned into her costume, or even have it noted in her official backstory. Sigma does. Man, remember the good ol' days, when gaming controversies amounted to "That darn space marine from Doom is killing way too many demons on Mars"?
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