With great gameplay and a cast of fun, diverse characters, Overwatch has been a smash hit and a truly global game, with characters from almost every continent in the cast. However, game developer Blizzard had remained mostly silent on the subject of LGBTQ representation (after originally claiming that there would be at least one gay character).
Lo and behold, just before Christmas, a short comic was released that revealed Tracer is in a relationship with a woman named Emily. Later, the creative team confirmed Tracer as a lesbian.
Amanda: So, Cora, here we are, back again to talk about gays in Overwatch.
Cora: Canon gays in Overwatch, no less!
Amanda: Not just in a vague, there-may-or-may-not-be-LGBTQ-characters-in-Overwatch way.
Cora: It’s not just us pretending anymore. Not just us looking at each character and going, “He’s gay. She’s bi. Bi. Bi. Trans. Gay. DEFINITELY gay…” and so on.
Amanda: It’s not the Gay Goggles. The Gay Gaze.
As everyone with an internet connection knows, Tracer was confirmed to be a lesbian by Blizzard in a move that maybe didn’t shock the gaming world but possibly delighted half of it and angered the other half.
Cora: It was done in a holiday comic, which was really cute. And she kissed her adorable girlfriend Emily! After going on a short little adventure to find her a last-minute gift.
Amanda: Which, I literally saw people being like, “No, they’re just roommates! She kissed her because she really appreciated the gift.”
Cora: I’m really wondering what kind of relationship these people have with their roommates where they come home and tongue kiss and everything’s totally platonic.
Amanda: I don’t know what you’re talking about, every day I come home with a gift for my roommates and we make out.
I feel like Tracer surprised me because—while I read everyone as queer unless explicitly told otherwise—I never thought Blizzard would go there with her specifically. She gave me a vibe, but I thought the character announced as LGBTQ would be, you know, a dude. Since dudes get the lion’s share of rep.
Cora: I thought it would be Zarya. And that would’ve been cool, because I want to see a lot of different female characters with a lot of different kinds of gender presentation. There aren’t a lot of butch women running around in fiction. But a part of me would’ve been like, Yeah, of course she is. Zarya is so queer-coded, I think I would have been delighted, but I wouldn’t have been surprised—and Zarya is a character who we also haven’t seen a ton in the animated shorts or in extra material. From the first time I read the blog post that said there would be LGBTQ characters in the game, I thought, It’ll never be a major character like Tracer.
That being said, I hope Zarya is also queer and also that we start to see her more in lore stuff.
Amanda: Tracer’s been front and center in Overwatch’s promo.
Cora: She’s the cover girl.
There’s some expectation that a cover girl type would still be available for the fantasies of the male audience. For months I feel like I’ve been defiantly calling her a lesbian, while feeling like nothing would ever come of it. I think making her a lesbian was an interesting decision and one of the better statements they could make.
Amanda: I’m really pleased, and I hope that there are multiple queer characters yet to be unveiled who are more letters in the acronym. If it’s just Tracer, that’s just one letter, and there are so many characters. I want the L, the G, the B, T, I, A—
Cora: “Looks at smudged writing on hand. ‘The….. BLT?'”
Amanda: “Ah yes, the… uh, Trans Am? Inter… section. Yes.”
Cora: While I do hope there are others, if it ends up only being Tracer, it’s still great and it’s a huge move, a huge statement.
Amanda: I just wrote an article about the LGBTQ rep in video games during 2016, and there were only seven, and most of them were footnotes. Tracer was the most momentous: a main character, the cover girl, the one I’ve seen people dressed as for Halloween. Blizzard did a big thing, and they were pretty much the only ones to do it. No other AAA release did anything on that scale.
I think it was significant that it was Blizzard, who doesn’t have a long and storied history of being great about LGBTQ rep. It makes me happy that they’re trying—and that it made so many people mad. I subsist on homophobic outrage. I stir it into my tea every morning.
Cora: In terms of broader media, in 2016, we also got a lot of dead lesbians. Just tons of queer women who were killed off in their franchises. And with Tracer, I feel fairly safe in terms of getting excited about her. I didn’t feel like a timer started ticking down somewhere.
Amanda: I mean, I die every thirty seconds as Tracer (I am a terrible Tracer), so she just pops back up. It’s the benefit to Overwatch’s lack of narrative.
Cora: And when (or if) they do introduce more of a linear narrative, I feel confident that Tracer would survive that. I mean, maybe they’ll do something edgy, but she’s… on the cover.
Amanda: I hope there are more figures in games who are like Tracer, major characters in AAA releases—I mean, we’ll be getting that with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and maybe another Overwatch character—but I’m satisfied with what Blizzard has done. They made a decision that showed a huge company with a dude-heavy player base in a dude-heavy industry can make their cover girl a lesbian and can weather the complaints of angry homophobes or people who just had their fantasies crushed.
I do think it’s tricky because of the way Overwatch is structured without much of a narrative in the game, she doesn’t come out in the game itself. The comic is secondary canon you can ignore if you’d like to.
Cora: They should give her a voice line about her girlfriend. Or, as ordained by tumblr, “Cheers, love, the cavalry’s queer!”
I’m really happy with it. This was a great decision, and hopefully a indicator of things to come. I hope people follow suit.
Amanda: Aside from how many people it angered, even more people were happy and excited. And at the end of the day, how hard was that? To make a decision like that and introduce it in secondary canon, you make people happy and make your game diverse in a way that reflects real life.
In any event, Cora and Amanda felt as though this reveal of Tracer’s sexuality was good news, tastefully done, and gave them hope for the future. They assume they speak for that delighted half of the gaming community when they say that we’re all hoping for that feeling of Déjà vu.1 upvote