Nick D. takes a look at the reveal that Overwatch’s Tracer is gay and the controversy that still surrounds the announcement.
Recently, Blizzard released a comic revealing that one of their characters in the smash hit e-sports game Overwatch was gay. They had been hinting about having LGBT heroes in the game for a long time; however, the actual identity of said person/people had been a complete mystery. The reveal came, not from the game, but from a holiday comic featuring the character exchanging a kiss with her girlfriend after some holiday hi-jinx. The reveal sent waves across the internet with numerous articles and forum threads both praising and decrying the decision as well as how Blizzard chose to do it. Unfortunately, most discussion quickly devolves into attacks both against the LGBT community and against those who aren’t comfortable with the idea, with many being unjustly called homophobes. Through this chaos, however, there is a very real need to see exactly whether Blizzard is making good decisions with its universe or if it’s fumbling the ball.
First and foremost, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that this announcement is a major milestone for LGBT representation in video games. The character that was revealed to be gay is Tracer, who has been Overwatch’s chief mascot in all promotional materials and even makes up the logo for Blizzard’s league. There has never been a gay character that has been front line in such a massive mainstream game (not even Ellie from The Last of Us reaches this level). For Blizzard to pull this trigger matters, whether some people agree with it or not.
That being said, the way Blizzard made the announcement has been seen as problematic by many people. Though some are simply angry due to LGBT content (such as the ban in Russia), many feel betrayed for different reasons. I would like to address these non-homophobic issues and comment whether I believe them to be valid or not below:
Sexuality has nothing to do with the game
One prominent argument that has irked people is the accusation that Blizzard is shoving Tracer’s sexuality in people’s faces and that a character’s sexuality has no reason to be in a game like Overwatch. The main thrust of this complaint doesn’t as much stem from people who hate gay people (though those exist), but mostly because people don’t want to get involved in gender and sexual politics while playing a poppy arcade shooter. There is a real argument that some people just want to relax with the game and leave the politicking to the real world while they unwind.
There are a couple of issues with this line of thinking, however. Firstly, there are no sexual politics in the game. Blizzard wisely (or unwisely depending on your point of view) revealed this information through a comic that is not even available in-game. Indeed, Tracer makes no comment of her sexuality in the game, nor does it factor into gameplay, loading screens, or remarks made between characters. It’s completely absent from the game. The only way to know about it is to read the comic, or, of course, read the news because it was trending everywhere. Still, the game remains clear of this kind of politicking. Sexuality should have nothing to do with a game that is about people shooting each other to capture a point. And it doesn’t. The background lore, on the other hand, is something else in my opinion. Therefore, it’s a decent argument, but not one I believe is triggered here.
A comic is a terrible way to announce this
This is almost the converse of the above argument. Some people actually wanted this announcement to be in-game and don’t think that shoving it off to a comic was a smart decision. The point here is that Blizzard chickened out. Instead of being proud and open about their now gay mascot, they shoved the reveal into a comic that people would hear about second hand and could immediately pretend it didn’t happen.
Similarly to above, there is a legitimate argument here, though perhaps the zeal is misplaced. Blizzard has to balance those who will celebrate this announcement and those that don’t want it shoved in their faces every match, similar to how other character’s relationships and sexuality are kept off the discussion table in the pre-game. While it may be tempting to say that Blizzard shouldn’t shy away, it’s important to remember how much of a landmark decision that this is in general for LGBT representation in video games, even if Blizzard didn’t make it a cornerstone of the game itself.
That’s not my Tracer!
The next argument relates to the lore and how this new addition has bothered people. The key issues here are that Blizzard ran a bait and switch, and should’ve been open about Tracer’s sexuality from the very beginning and they’re just doing this to fill representation quotas (more on this later). Also, people are accusing Blizzard of making up the lore as they go along instead of having a defined plan to follow. Thus, Tracer’s sexuality was almost picked out of a hat. Blizzard knew they wanted gay characters and Tracer just happened to be the one they picked. It could have just as easily been Zarya or Genji.
It’s incontrovertible that nobody knew Tracer was gay from the very beginning. It’s also true that nobody knows really anything about the Overwatch cast. The game’s lore is barebones at this point, and Blizzard has been slowly developing it over time, focusing instead on giving people the gameplay that we all love. The lore is definitely in active development, and it’s possible that Tracer wasn’t meant to be gay originally. However, that doesn’t really matter. Blizzard is free to develop and grow their own lore. Most writing evolves over time, and evolving the characters is not a mistake. Vitally, Blizzard didn’t retcon anything. Tracer’s sexuality, like most characters in the game’s, was not revealed at all. Revealing it simply grows the backstory of the character and doesn’t destroy anything.
This is political correctness run amok
This is the big one. The most pervasive argument levied against this announcement has been that Blizzard is pandering to the LGBT community by throwing in token representation. At the same time, they are ruining their own writing by being constrained by representation. It’s indisputable that Overwatch features a very diverse cast. People argue that this is diversity for the sake of diversity and cheapens the whole thing. At the extreme of this argument is that Blizzard chose to announce this right before Christmas to court a certain crowd and make sales.
Does Blizzard make characters in order to fill representation slots and thus make a diverse game? I don’t think that’s the right question. The right question is whether diversity, even just for diversity’s sake, is a bad thing. Blizzard’s been pervasive enough that we can’t accuse them of tokenism. The story certainly hasn’t been affected negatively. After all, it makes sense that an international team of heroes would involve people of many different spectrums. Would the game be strengthened if the cast was full of white straight men? Or would it be the same?
Having a diverse game on its own definitely brings advantages outside of the game. Representation is very important to groups who are regularly excluded from pop culture. Though many decry the act of making extremely diverse products as political correctness run amok, the fact is that, at worst, diversity doesn’t hurt anybody. At best, it can make a difference in the life of someone who isn’t used to seeing a gay person or Chinese woman kicking butt.
As for the accusation that Blizzard is using the LGBT community to make a quick buck, this is a conspiracy theory-grade argument. The LGBT community or the often cited SJWs and feminists are not some great power block that will make or break a game’s sales – an already multi-million dollar selling game. Appealing to them isn’t going to make Blizzard money, especially since there are many groups and even countries that will be outraged by this announcement and will boycott the game. At best, you can argue that Blizzard drummed up publicity for the game as it hit all the news sites. However, Overwatch is incredibly popular already, and if Blizzard really wanted to make waves, they’d have done a lot more than releasing a side comic without initial comment.
The way they did it in the comic was wrong
The final argument I want to tackle is that the actual way Tracer’s sexuality was revealed in the comic was poorly handled. The main point here being that leading into a kiss to reveal her sexuality is cheap and cliche. Some people say it’s too overt or that it’s even distasteful, comparing it to people jumping into bed with each other for the reveal. Others argue that it is a total poorly done fabrication to invent a brand new character just to use as Tracer’s girlfriend instead of using a pre-existing one.
There’s a lot of opinions here, and not all of them are on the same level. Simply put, the distasteful argument holds no water. It was a simple, one panel kiss between girlfriends. This wasn’t some lewd exploitation. As for whether the writing of the scene was good, that’s a little more up to debate. It’s clear that Blizzard wanted to use this comic to do the reveal, which meant that it can be considered somewhat abrupt. The introduction of a new character doesn’t bother me too much, since it would be considerably more awkward to start shipping in-game characters together (even if that’s what a good chunk of people want). Though the comic isn’t stellar writing-wise, it’s also harmless – which is the point. It’s a small holiday tale that gives snippets of different characters’ backstory, with the Tracer reveal being only one of several bombshells that are revealed in it (despite the fact it’s the one with the most obvious impact). As a comic, it makes not egregious sins, and I find it hard to condemn it
There are, of course, more arguments levied against this decision, but these are the core ones that I’ve noticed develop since the initial announcement. I should note – these are the core ones that aren’t entirely based on homophobia, because those exist and they aren’t worth delving into. In the end, I really can’t fault Blizzard for their reveal. Some people would have wanted it to be more overt. Others would want it more subdued. Some would like it in-game. Others want it relegated to lore. There’s no answer that will satisfy everyone. As it stands, Blizzard’s announcement certainly shook some people up on both sides of the rail, and I’m certain that they will learn much about how they want to do this the next time they pull the trigger on something like this.