How Hero Shooters Like Overwatch Use Diversity And Representation

I’ve been playing Overwatch since the year it came out and I’m hooked on it. It’s a wonderful hero shooter with the polish any Blizzard game would get.

Overtime I’ve noticed the ever-expanding gallery of heroes of the roster of characters to choose from. From big men with guns to a talking killer robot that speak in boops and beeps to a cyborg ninja assassin, the game never runs out of not just diverse characters but diverse play styles.

One of my favorite things about the game is how it introduces and adds new characters or new back stories to existing characters. The most current example of this is the recent news that one of the most important characters in the Overwatch universe—Soldier 76, aka Jack Morrison, the former leader of Overwatch—is gay.

In a short story called “Bastet” released coinciding with the Bastet challenge in the game that released in January, it focused on another character named Ana and her interaction with an injured Soldier 76 after she runs into him in Cairo, Egypt.

In the story, Ana holds up a picture of a much younger Jack Morrison with his arm over another dark haired man named Vincent. Ana comments to Jack that she wondered how he was doing, leading to a conversation about his old flame.

Jack Morrison aka Soldier 76 and Ana in the new Overwatch short story “Bastet”

The excerpt reads as such:

“Jack laughed. ‘He got married. They’re very happy. I’m happy for him.’

Ana was unconvinced. In the early days, Jack talked about him often, floating a dream that the war would end quickly, and maybe he’d have a chance to return to a normal life.

But a normal life was never the reward for people like us.

‘Vincent deserved a happier life than the one I could give him.’ Jack sighed. ‘We both knew that I could never put anything above my duty. Everything I fought for was to protect people like him… That’s the sacrifice I made.’

‘Relationships don’t work out so well for us, do they?’ Ana said, unconsciously running her thumb over where her wedding ring used to be.”

There can be no misunderstanding that Soldier 76 had a boyfriend and was queer. Until then, Soldier 76 was only known as the grizzled, mysterious, disgraced hero. He was made into a super soldier to fight in the robot uprising called the “Omnic Crisis” and is essentially a sci-fi Captain America.  His personal life was never really touched on that much, including his dating preferences. Up until now, his sexuality was never confirmed.

 

The gay community now has had its second confirmed LGBTQ character, after Tracer aka Lena Oxton, the plucky British pilot who is the mascot of the game.

In media, representation matters, but video games offer a unique way to represent different kinds of people in new and creative ways that couldn’t be done as well in a book or movie.

Even then, Overwatch and other hero shooters have shown ways to give more diversity and inclusion in ways rarely seen in the video gaming industry. Although it is one of the best known hero shooters, there are also others such as Paladins that do the same with their inventive new diverse roster.

Representation Matters

The success of modern hero shooters like Overwatch teach us how important diversity is in those game genres. As the roster constantly expands every few months, we see more unique characters representing a lot of minorities that’s even more cathartic than a character creator. With this, characters are diverse and fully fleshed out with voice actors and back stories without being a blank slate to project upon.

My top two favorite characters to play on Overwatch are Doomfist and Lucio, two black male characters I both love and identify with as a black male. I remember a friend of mine seeing me switch constantly between the two said jokingly, “How about switching to a character who isn’t black?” and I cheekily switched to Orisa, an Omnic (sentient robot) hero that is heavily racially coded as African.

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She was made in Africa, by a genius African girl with an African accent and has African motifs in her design. I never get over that because that’s the first time in a video game I’ve had that much variety to choose so many black and black-coded characters. Being a black gamer, it’s hard to find a lot of playable black characters of popular and successful games, and that can be disheartening not to see that representation. It’s rare not to see them as a racial caricature or barely three-dimensional.

But being straight, I can never fully understand how queer people feel seeing themselves represented in media, where industries exploit, oversexualize or just ignore them. Most games have only so many playable characters that you’d have to invest in a game that has a character you don’t identify with. As a minority, that character is almost never like you. That I can at least understand.

What This Means for the Future of Inclusion and Diversity

Overwatch offers a wide variety of people and omnics that come from so many creeds, colors and backgrounds that you can barely avoid finding at least one character that fits your race, culture or sexuality.

Overwatch doesn’t have a story mode or linear storytelling, it uses that to its advantage by retroactively revealing things about characters we never knew or always assumed in a different light. It adds characters that were always there, but are only now discovered.

No one can say Soldier 76 is queer now. Soldier 76 was always queer, from launch to the end of the game’s story. He didn’t come out recently in the story, it was common knowledge in the game’s universe and we’re the only ones discovering it.

In these small comics, videos and now short stories released every few months, we get a small window into the story that is being played out in an abstract, non-chronological way. It lends itself to reversing a non-canon aspect many in the fandom took for granted.

This also gives greater representation to the LGBTQ community because of not giving this to side characters but story-centered and lore-relevant characters that are the face of the games. Two of the more popular and recognizable characters in the game are now confirmed as queer, and there are definitely more of them to come or be revealed.

Overwatch is very unique in its storytelling because it has woven a fantastic story that has neither begun nor ended. It has no rising action or finite characters. It’s a fluid, expanding universe of characters with no true traditional ending planned.

Any hero shooter can use its platform to experiment with new and diverse heroes instead of having the hindrance of publishers not wanting to invest or worrying about sales if a character does not identify with the core majority demographic. Here, games can introduce these types of characters with expansive stories and even break down barriers of negative stigmas players might have about certain minorities.

The possibilities are endless, from trans heroes to Muslim heroes and whatever more we can think of. Their presence there can only be a benefit for the inclusion and representation for marginalized gamers who want to see people like them on the character select screen.

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