This past February, Blizzard trolled dedicated players of the team-based shooter series Overwatch with a single piece of footwear: a Greek warrior sandal. A screenshot showed the strappy shoe worn by Ramattra, an Omnic tank hero and the 36th playable character added to the game’s roster. What stuck out was not the sandal itself, which was a part of a limited event inspired by Greek mythology, but what it showed: Strapped into the sandal was a human foot, one that did not belong to a robot at all. As if the bizarre inclusion of the manicured hoof was too subtle, Overwatch’s official Twitter account posted a close-up of just Ramattra’s toes with the caption: “Poseidon Ramattra has toenails. Discuss.”
Overwatch’s character designs have long toed the line between horny and practical. But Blizzard’s tweet illustrated that the line is much blurrier in a time when all aspects of a character, not just bulging pecs or booming bustlines, can be hypersexualized. A piece of Twitter commentary from 2019 showed how many heroes in the game’s then-31-deep roster had some sort of barefoot or open-toe situation; the accompanying graphic revealed that a majority, 17 out of 31, had at least one skin where the character’s feet were visible, with six being women’s feet, seven being men’s feet, and the others belonging to either animals or robots.
In the time since that tweet, six more characters have been introduced: Echo, Sojourn, Junker Queen, Kiriko, Ramattra, and Lifeweaver. Of those additions, both Lifeweaver and Ramattra, one a human male and one a robot male, have skins that have shown their feet. Lifeweaver, the game’s first out pansexual hero, is not only wearing sandals into battle; much like Poseidon Ramattra or ninja character Genji, he dons some futuristic barely-there sandals that suggest some kind of coverage of the soles of his feet. Meanwhile, the tops of his feet are fully exposed, something that, once again, Overwatch’s social media pointed out with glee.
In fact, Overwatch’s social media accounts have a penchant for pointing out when a character’s skin has a foot-baring design. In February, Blizzard’s Twitter account for the game also shared four pictures of archer Hanzo’s feet, with a caption pointing out his sandals. So great was Overwatch’s toe titillation that people have begun to question on official forums whether staff at Activision Blizzard might harbor a secret foot fetish.
hanzo’s gorgeous beautiful vienna sausage-like toes that exude a strong yet fragrant stench that could turn any normal sane person into a drooling feral mess https://t.co/6XKdIdZNkd— Ez ⋆୨୧｡˚ (@shimassidy) February 23, 2023
And while the sheer level of footbaiting is notable, what’s also exceptional is that, unlike with other video game designs that seem completely impractical, the shoewear is both accurate and often on male feet. While we can have a lively back-and-forth about whether it’s right to give an Omnic toes, there’s no doubt that Poseidon Ramattra’s shoewear reflects a common Greek shoe.
Greek sandals serve a function apart from sending the internet into a tizzy: They were the most common sort of Greek footwear, according to the book Shoes, Slippers, and Sandals: Feet and Footwear in Classical Antiquity edited by Sadie Pickup and Sally Waite. People wore them; so did gods in depictions of their deities. Sandals are famously strapped to the feet of messenger god Hermes, and a sculpture of Nike, the goddess of victory, at the Temple of Athena in Athens shows her adjusting one of her sandals. A benefit of the shoes is that they allow for great mobility, both in and out of battle, and allowed soldiers the support they needed while traversing the rough land in Greece. The same can be said for many of the Japanese sandals that characters in Overwatch wear, some of which resemble waraji, sandals made of straw that would have been worn by warriors and commoners.
Not that being accurate matters in a game where a hamster drives a talking machine to crush his enemies, but this accuracy puts the game in a kind of win-win situation, one in which developers animate accurate shoes and the game’s social media is able to successfully turn that footwear into a sort of fetish wear.
It’s not new that video game characters have been sexualized, but the particular way that Overwatch’s social media sexualizes its characters’ feet feels like the culmination of decades of separate phenomena finally converging. It’s not just that a sexual attraction to feet is super common (it is) or that there is an entire digital industry dedicated to the exchange of feet pics for cash (there is), but the peculiar and specific ways those phenomena converge in the gaming community. In 2021, adult film site Pornhub reported that Lara Croft was the most-searched video game character on its site; typing her name into its search bar produces an overwhelming number of tentacle erotica-related results. That same year, D.Va, a tank hero from Overwatch, was the second-most-searched video game character. There’s even a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to the history of Overwatch pornography.
The foot fetish obsession surrounding Overwatch seems to be a natural progression of a long tradition of presenting video game characters without shoes. There’s even an entire page on TV Tropes, a site dedicated to cataloging recurring themes in popular culture, about video game characters who go barefoot. Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter are both barefoot, as are literally dozens of characters in games across genre, time, and intended audience. But even if there wasn’t the impetus on the part of game developers to see their characters fight sans footwear, horny gamers would find ways to compare notes about their favorite feet. Take, for instance, an official Tier Maker list dedicated to how video game characters’ feet smell, a list that includes foot fan faves like Bowser, Wario, and Sonic.
It might seem weird for a game to acknowledge the role its characters play in our sexual worlds, especially to associate it with what some people consider a non-normative kind of sexual expression. But in playing with the way that these personalities have become part of our imaginations, Overwatch’s social media understands and even acknowledges the way that its characters stick with us outside of the time spent taking, killing, or healing in-game. Just by their design, these characters have lodged themselves and their toes into our brains, even after we put down our controllers.