Where do game developers cross the line between creativity and cultural appropriation? A new character skin on Overwatch has sparked controversy due to its Afro hairdo.
OVERWATCH has unveiled a new legendary skin for Mei as an MMA fighter.
However, it is facing controversy for alleged cultural appropriation since the character Mei is Chinese and the skin features cornrows, a Black hairstyle.
The first-person shooter game currently is on week 4 of the Overwatch League and is also celebrating the May Melee tournament which is why its developer, Blizzard, created the MMA-themed skin for Mei called MM-Mei.
“Since the May Melee is the first Overwatch League tournament of the year, we wanted to design a skin that represents the peak of competition,” they said. “We felt combat sports like boxing and MMA embodied the theme well and used this to begin designing the Legendary skin.”
Mei’s thick winter clothes are then replaced with a red MMA robe, gloves, and a belt. Still following the MMA-theme, she is not wearing her glasses and her hair is on a cornrow.
Cornrow is a style of African braids in which the hair is braided very close to the scalp.
A few players have called out the company for cultural appropriation, which refers to a use of objects or elements of one culture in a way that is disrespectful.
Other players, however, have pointed out that the skin was inspired by the Chinese MMA fighter Zhang Weilli who is only one of the many women in MMA who wear their hair in cornrows.
Women athletes, including MMA fighters, often wear their hair up so it would not get in the way, not get pulled, even accidentally.
“This is something that’s fairly regular for people in MMA with longer hair since it helps keep everything together in one place. It’s more for functionality than style,” a player explains in the Blizzard forums.
Hardcore Overwatch players remember that back in 2019, Overwatch director confirmed the inclusion of a black woman hero named Sojourn in an upcoming game, Overwatch 2.
The game sequel has no announced release date even now and some players speculated that the MM-Mei skin could have been planned for Sojourn originally.
Intentionally or not, Blizzard’s decision to give Mei a tough MMA look is making players talk and bring back conversations about the game’s lack of diversity.
Tags: #videogames, #Overwatch, #culturalappropriation