Soldier 76 is gay. Blizzard has now revealed both of what would be considered the “primary” Overwatch characters to be LGBT+. The first reveal was Tracer being in a lesbian relationship in a comic, and now Soldier 76 through the short story Bastet. Tracer is the face of Overwatch – she’s on the box when you buy it and was the primary good guy of the very first Overwatch short. And Soldier 76 is the grizzled veteran who is who you control when you boot up the tutorial in Overwatch and is considered to be one of the easiest and most basic characters to introduce you to the game.
Blizzard has been very inclusive with Overwatch with characters of all different races hailing from all different countries. Aside from the continued controversy over a lack of a playable black female character, the representation has been wide enough to include most everyone. So it’s no surprise that some of the characters are LGBT+.
But the question I pose with this article is: is Overwatch gay enough? Is Blizzard taking the right approach to sexual representation in their game, or is this more of an appeal to the masses for good press?
The short story Bastet came out on Monday and centers primarily on Ana and Jack (aka Soldier 76) as they hide out from authorities. The focus in-game is mostly on Ana – you can get some new sprays and a new skin – but the internet was mostly focused on the reveal that Jack seemed to have a relationship with a man named Vincent. The writer of the story later clarified that yes, both Jack and Vincent are gay, just to make sure there wasn’t any question about it.
This, of course, queued up all sorts of internet arguments. There was the usual “why you gotta bring politics into my game” and “why you gotta make characters gay just to satisfy the PC crowd” which I’m not going to acknowledge here beyond a good ol’ thpppppbthhhhhhh. There was also the conspiratorial arguments – after all, Blizzard had just recently been dealing with an Overwatch-related controversy that ran the gamut of sexism, internet outrage, harassment, and players faking Grandmaster-level accounts. So why not get some good publicity by being more inclusive?
And that’s where the biggest problem lies in Overwatch. The way the game exists in its current form – there’s really no room for story. It’s a multiplayer focused 6v6 team shooter. Aside from random co-op story events (usually under the Archives banner that happens once a year) there is almost no story doled out in game. And that’s partly because the teams can be made up of whoever, so despite the fact that Reaper and Soldier 76 are enemies, Lucio and Symmetra are rivals, and Doomfist punched out Tracer – they all end up on the same team working together if you’re in Quick Play since nobody ever plays as a Tank.
Story is drip fed to us through motion comics, CGI shorts, regular comics, and short stories like Bastet. Occasionally these stories will end up being referenced in the game in some way (for example, Tracer got a spray of her girlfriend after the comic came out) but in general the story content that Blizzard produces for Overwatch is completely divorced from the actual game itself.
So does Blizzard deserve credit for making their characters gay despite barely having the game acknowledge it at all? On the one hand, I feel like they’re doing a pretty damn good job of being inclusive and making sure everyone has representation in this game about secret global commandos fighting off a robot uprising. On the other hand, it feels almost J.K. Rowling-esque where they’re playing this game of “Who are we gonna reveal as gay next? Stay tuned for our next story short in 6-7 months!” and that just feels disingenuous.
The backstory is created so slowly. It wouldn’t be hard for them to record new pre-battle conversations hinting at sexuality or just outright establish which characters are attracted to what. They don’t have to turn the payload into a pride parade (although that would be awesome) but just make an attempt to have LGBT+ things as a regular part of the game instead of a once-a-year surprise story reveal.
Overwatch is my favorite multiplayer game of this generation and is up there as one of my favorite multiplayer games of all-time. I’m getting back into casually playing on the PC and am really psyched for Overwatch League in February.
But how Blizzard is handling story updates (and game updates in general) is starting to get frustrating. PTR patches and balances changes are rolling out slower. Events are starting to repeat without any new content other than skins (to get through purchasing loot boxes of course). They’re sticking to their “one new character every four months” and “one new stage every four months” cycle and it’s starting to bum players out. And then on top of that we get barely any lore – characters like Lucio, Symmetra, Zarya and others have gotten hardly any background in relation to Overwatch.
Yes, it’s great that Soldier 76 represents LGBT+. And I’m all for the excitement and Twitter memes that have resulted from it. But it’s hard to give them a cookie when in the grand scheme of things they can still do way better than they have been.
It IS 2019 – maybe this is just the start of an awesome new initiative at Blizzard to rise Overwatch above all the rest. I guess we’ll see.