Where is Efi Oladele, the genius African child inventor of 'Overwatch'?
In late March, Overwatch added Orisa as its 24th playable character — the third it's added since the game launched in May 2016. While Orisa has brought a lot to Overwatch in terms of gameplay (everyone really wanted a new tank), she also has an interesting origin story that's unfortunately fallen by the wayside.
In February 2017, Blizzard introduced us to an 11-year-old African girl named Efi Oladele via an in-universe announcement that she had won a genius grant from the Adawe Foundation. For numerous reasons — but especially because of her age — it was pretty much accepted that Efi wouldn't be a playable character. (Blizzard would never allow players to shoot a child with Mei's icicle.)
As a young African girl who is one of the smartest people in the Overwatch universe, Efi is distinctly significant. It feels like a missed opportunity to limit her character in this way.
So instead of being the new hero, Efi created the new hero, Orisa. But the African inventor remains significant. She's a robotics prodigy and one of the smartest people in the Overwatch universe. Keeping her in the background feels like a big opportunity, and it leaves one big question unanswered: What does Blizzard have in mind for Efi Oladele now that Orisa has been released?
Efi Oladele is a huge missed opportunity for Overwatch
Efi is, in a word, amazing. She has the potential to help Blizzard fight back against a variety of prejudices — all wrapped up into one adorable, brilliant preteen. Making Efi a technological genius, for example, is a perfect response to the difficulties that young women — especially young black women — experience when attempting to enter the fields of science and technology. Exploring her ethnic background through her body art — white dots drawn from the Yoruba cultural practice — and her name — also Yoruba — offers a direct rebuke of the stereotypical image of African culture as tribal and primitive.
Efi's characterization is a direct rebuke of the stereotypical image of African culture as tribal and primitive.
It's a recurring and unsettling narrative in media that a person of color can only become educated, liberated or powerful when they adopt American values and give up their native culture. In one high-profile example, an American Apparel ad from 2014 showed a Bangladeshi model, who was apparently raised Muslim, showing her bare breasts. The underlying message, explained in a blurb of text at the bottom of the ad, was that the model had become more liberated upon embracing American values and in distancing herself from her Muslim upbringing.
Thankfully, Efi didn't get this treatment. Her characterization is timely, too: The Yoruba body art featured in her design were recently highlighted by Beyoncé in her visual album Lemonade.
But after all that work, what's next?
Efi is one of the most developed non-playable characters in the Overwatch universe. In fact, that's one of the only real critiques of her character — but it's a big one. Despite how deeply involved Efi is in the lore of Overwatch, the game is still lacking a playable black female hero, or one from sub-Saharan Africa. That's a problem.
'Overwatch' is still lacking a playable black female hero.
There are also plenty of Overwatch players who see the game's lore as irrelevant; they just want to play the game and, as a result, don't know about Efi at all. For a game that takes diversity seriously, that's also a problem.
I've written before about how Blizzard sometimes seems to almost get representation right but falls short with characters like Symmetra. Now the company seems to be doing the same thing with Efi.
Efi exists in the game only through some of Orisa's voice lines and sprays. While I'm always happy to look at beautiful illustrations of this child prodigy, it would be quite upsetting if this turns out to be the extent of her representation within the game itself.
It's understandable that without some weird time travel component, young Efi will probably never be playable. However, this is a type of character that we need in the game. Not just a token black woman, but a black woman like Efi: a genius who is supported by her community, a problem-solver working toward solutions for the people around her.
Given Blizzard's track record with Overwatch, I have faith that the company will eventually introduce a playable black female character. I just hope she can live up to the high bar Efi set.
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