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On Queering Overwatch

Do you play Overwatch? You should because it’s very, very fun.

The team-based multiplayer game has been so successful because it’s an example of how fun, inclusive, and diverse playable entertainment can be. The game constantly keeps players engaged by releasing new features and drawing out character releases while continuing storylines thanks to adorable, well made films.

One area that game developer Blizzard keeps alluding to is that one or some of the characters might fall somewhere on the queer spectrum. The conversation has been glowing recently as the big gay reveal is apparently coming very soon. Here’s what the game’s lead writer Michael Chu had to say about it, via Mic:

It’s very important for us to have diversity and inclusiveness of all types, and that includes LGBT characters. There are definitely LGBT heroes [in Overwatch] — that’s multiple heroes.

We want the stories about characters relationships — and not just romantic, but familial relationships and stuff like that — to come out in the course of stories that we feel really do them justice. So, because of some of the stories that we’ve done so far, we haven’t really had any time to shed light on that.

Oh la la: speaking our language, Chu.

But let’s keep a few things in mind: there is certainly a right and wrong way of doing this. The obvious choice for queering characters are butch Russian Zarya and quiet cutesy Mei who fans have created a lesbian fan fiction around. It would be great if they were in a relationship. However, with someone so blatantly “butch” like Zarya, the move might feel obvious, potentially playing up media stereotypes of female same-sexuality.

Moreover, there is a bit of a risk of over-sexualizing female same-sexuality, creating jack off material for straight men to ogle at if, say, D.Va and Widowmaker were same sex oriented. Again: this isn’t a bad thing but, given video games and Overwatch‘s sexualizing of female characters, this might play into an unwelcoming female culture, building on an already problematic misogynistic culture.

So how should they proceed? There is no right or wrong answer and this is obviously complicated. Zarya (and Mei) would appease fans very nicely: they should absolutely go gay. The real win here will be if Blizzard can reach the furthest for diversity and intrigue by illustrating who is allowed to be LGBT by giving an atypical character this quality. Imagine if big and burly Roadhog or the angelic Mercy or super-masc Soldier: 76 or Japanese superman Hanzo or the older Ana or Reinhardt were given the shot at queerness. Representation matters and, by going for the least obvious, everyone wins as a different aspect of the LGBT community is highlighted.

Knowing Blizzard, they will do the work and they won’t fuck it up. I have no doubts about that. This is just a reminder that it’s too easy to make a character queer “because you can.” The real work is in going above and beyond expectations, playing against stereotypes, and providing an opportunity for people to learn as a result.

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