Overwatch’s Impact: LGBT Representation and Diversity in Gaming
Introduction: The Overwatch Phenomenon
What is Overwatch? Overwatch is an online multiplayer first-person shooter that’s usually made up of teams of 6v6 created by Blizzard Entertainment back in 2016. Blizzard has also created other games, such as World of Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo. When Blizzard created Overwatch, it also created a huge stepping stone into a more diverse and opened-minded gaming industry. Diversity in games is incredibly important because while games are usually fictional and fantasy, representation in media is always important in reflecting real life.
The Power of Representation in Gaming
According to a Huffington Post article on representation in media, in a study about television’s effect on children’s self-esteem, Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison of the University of Michigan found that children of color often had lower self-esteem after watching shows compared to white children — who often felt good afterward. Martins also brings up “symbolic annihilation,” which was coined by ____ in ____, and it is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you begin to believe you must somehow be unimportant. This idea is why it’s so important for there to be diversity in gaming, which is something often consumed by a wide range of people of any age. Gaming is a very accessible media right now, and with so many different people playing games, it’s really important for people to be able to see themselves within these games.
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This topic is important to me as someone who’s been playing Overwatch for almost two years now and still actively taking part in its community. The topics discussed are just a handful of reasons why this game is so important to me and why I continued and even started playing it.
LGBT Representation and Advancements in Overwatch
As of right now, Overwatch has 28 playable heroes. [Picture of the cast] Of these 28, 13 of them are female or female-presenting; 11 of them are people of color, and 1 of them is confirmed LGBT, with others being hinted at being confirmed in the future. An article from Polygon compares these numbers to Street Fighter 2 from 1991, which, in a cast of 14, only had one woman and one African-American.
The same article quotes Jeff Kaplan, a lead designer on Overwatch, in saying that they wanted to create a universe where people could expect anyone from anywhere to be the next hero. They want to normalize the idea that anyone could be seen instead of it always being a shocking surprise when someone from a marginalized group is revealed in a game. Blizzard showed this type of normalization when they presented their hero Tracer as gay in a 2016 holiday comic where she’s seen kissing her girlfriend.
She was later confirmed by Michael Chu, senior designer on Overwatch, to indeed be a lesbian. This was such a monumental moment for LGBT people in gaming, as according to another Polygon article, Tracer has been known as the face of Overwatch even before the game was officially launched for play, and once it was out, she’s the first hero you ever see before you play the game. Many games include LGBT characters and stories nowadays, and most games are more open-minded with your romancing options, but it’s so significant for the main face of a game like Overwatch to be a part of the LGBT community.
The Push for Gender Equality in Gaming through Overwatch
Alongside that, though, she’s also a woman, and Overwatch has taken many steps to change the gaming industry for women, whether intentionally or not. Overwatch currently has 13 female characters, but one of them, in particular, has stood out since the beginning. Their Korean hero named Hana Song, also known as D.VA is a 19-year-old pro gamer in the Overwatch universe. South Korea is known for its huge place in professional gaming, but it’s a very male-dominated industry everywhere, including South Korea, so making the one professional gamer hero a woman was a huge step all on its own.
D.VA has gone on to inspire many, though, and she’s even the face of a South Korean Women’s Rights movement known as the National D.VA Association. They were seen holding flags of her symbol in a peaceful protest earlier this year. They’ve been quoted as saying, “The reason [D. Va] became our mascot because we thought that in a country like ours, it would be impossible for a person like her to appear, especially after the case of Geguri.”
Well, you’re probably asking, who’s Geguri? Geguri is a 19-year-old Korean woman who was part of a huge scandal in 2017 of people claiming she was too good of a player to be a girl and that she must be cheating. These claims were disproven by Blizzard themselves, but she still went on a live stream to prove she did not cheat. She has moved passed this now and moved on to become the first woman signed into the official Overwatch League.
Geguri herself does not want to be known for being the best woman tank but instead just the best tank. She doesn’t want to be known as the woman part of her identity, but in a society still just starting to become more open-minded, it’s hard not to focus on her being the name of such a big step forward. She and other women alike look forward to the day when we no longer have to label people as “the first woman of” anything. Blizzard’s game Overwatch has helped push the gaming industry in the right direction for something like that.
- Blizzard Entertainment. (2016). Overwatch. https://playoverwatch.com/
- Martins, N., & Harrison, K. (2012). Racial and Gender Differences in the Relationship between Children’s Television Use and Self-Esteem: A Longitudinal Panel Study. Communication Research, 41(3), 338-357.
- Polygon. (2018). Diversity and Inclusion in Overwatch and Beyond. https://www.polygon.com/2018/6/28/17512952/overwatch-diversity-inclusion-lgbtq-blizzard
- Kaplan, J. (2017). Overwatch Community Q&A – March 9, 2017. Blizzard Entertainment. https://playoverwatch.com/en-us/news/20464895
- Michael Chu. (2016). Reflections: An Overwatch Comic. Blizzard Entertainment. https://comic.playoverwatch.com/en-us/tracer-reflections
- Blizzard Entertainment. (2016). Overwatch: Tracer – London Calling. https://comic.playoverwatch.com/en-us/tracer-london-calling