Millions of women came together across the world during the Women's March on January 21st, just one day after Donald Trump's inauguration into the White House. Protests in the United States quickly caught the media's attention, thanks to the enormous turnout supporting gender equality, in what was the largest protest in US history. But a surprising twist has come from the Women's March in Seoul, South Korea. Apparently, Overwatch's teenaged mech eSports star, D.Va, has become a feminist icon: her emblem was flying high in the sky during the March.
Polygon broke the story after news spread across Twitter. According to Allegra Frank, the South Korean National D.Va Association is a feminist organization "meant to galvanize female-identifying and genderqueer gamers who could use some self-empowerment." Women's rights has been a contentious issue in South Korea over the past few years, and the National D.Va Association gives feminists in the country the opportunity to band together and raise their voices.
"[The National D.Va Association] first started off as a feminist gamer group, gathered to voice our opinions about [ex-]President Park Geun Hye. After the President's resignation, we decided not to disperse, but to keep fighting for gender equality."
- Association member Nine
There's a bittersweet reason why D.Va is the Association's figure: South Korean gender inequality means an eSports legend like D.Va wouldn't be able to succeed in the current social climate. In fact, Polygon reported that one female eSports player, Gegury, was accused of cheating in Overwatch because "opponents refused to believe a teenage girl was capable of [winning] without illegal help."
Blizzard Korea cleared Gegury, but the controversy's misogynistic ramifications linger on in South Korea's gaming community nonetheless.
"The reason [D.Va] became our mascot is because we thought that in a sexist country like ours, it would be impossible for a person like her to appear, especially after the case of Gegury," Nine explained. "So we decided to act for feminism under her emblem, so that in 2060, someone like D.Va could actually appear."
It's only in the past year or two alone that a character like D.Va has been able to emerge in video gaming. Back in 2007, when the classic team-based FPS Team Fortress 2 first came out, the entire game featured no female playable characters. And while fans speculated that the Pyro may be a woman, the idea faced controversy in the community itself, with many players arguing against the idea that a multiplayer FPS could possibly feature an anonymous female character.
So when Blizzard unveiled the diverse gender representation in the Overwatch roster, feminist players started getting excited. And once the game landed in the public's hands, people across the world fell in love with D.Va for what she represented: a young, ambitious, and tech-savvy warrior capable of looking out for herself on the battlefield. She wasn't just a carbon copy of the game's male tanks; she had her own personality on the battlefield, making her feel lifelike and relatable. Not to mention, her South Korean nationality was not lost on players -- especially those with Korean heritage, or players from South Korea itself.
Blizzard has always understood how important it is to create realistic and meaningful characters in their games. But Overwatch's D.Va has clearly opened players up to a new idea: female characters can be political emblems for movements. Which means D.Va isn't just an FPS character from a popular video game; she's become a role model for South Korean feminists.
It's hard to say whether the National D.Va Association will inspire other feminist video game political movements. There's a very real possibility that similar Associations could arise across the globe, or chapters could emerge across countries. It's hard to say at the moment. But clearly, the Association itself is already impacting the South Korean political discourse for the better. Let's hope developers across the world take note: video games are a good source for female empowerment, too.
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