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Overwatch 2 needs to treat its queer characters with more respect

Overwatch has received a lot of deserved praise and justified criticism for its growing cast of characters, two of which have been confirmed as members of the LGBT community. Tracer, the game’s cover star, is a lesbian whose partner has featured in the universe a number of times, while hardened marine Soldier 76 is also homosexual. This diversity is welcome, and a step above many other games out there, but much of the queer discussion surrounding Overwatch is pushed to the sidelines.

Tracer and Soldier 76’s sexuality were confirmed in comics and other supplemental materials, and you’d struggle to see them mentioned in the game itself with the exception of a few small inclusions. Emily, Tracer’s girlfriend, is an optional spray, and the time-zipping agent will mention her briefly in a piece of dialogue in King’s Row, but beyond this it’s slim pickings for the gays in Overwatch. With the sequel set to focus on narrative to a significant degree, I sincerely hope Blizzard does a better job of embracing its queer characters instead of treating them like a dirty little secret.

It could be argued that Overwatch doesn’t need to waste time focusing on this stuff, pushing an “agenda” that simply takes away focus from actually playing the game. But it should, its queer characters deserve more than just a passing mention to keep us satisfied. Explore these stories, show that Overwatch is worthy of the awards and nominations it has received for doing the bare minimum for representation. Two cisgender white homosexuals feels like a sanitised definition of diversity. Where are the POC, transgender characters, and those who refuse to fit into neat little boxes? The universe is only growing with the coming sequel, and its grasp on representation should do so along with it.

The thing is, Overwatch pitches itself as a lovingly inclusive universe where all manner of people, robots, and other living beings can co-exist in harmony. Much of its lore explores past conflicts and moments of history, but the sequel intends to focus on the present. If Blizzard can take time to flesh out talking animals amongst its cast, I’m sure the queer characters also deserve a spotlight.

Sexuality is a defining part of your identity, and the passion amongst fans to see this explored in the games is evident, but I will admit it remains drenched in heteronormativity. I committed the cardinal sin of searching for ‘Tracer and Emily’ in Google images and was greeted with far more than the comic introducing their relationship, with crudely animated porn primed on the male gaze being pushed more than anything else.

This is a result of Blizzard gently touching on the queer nature of its characters before running away and never mentioning it again. Fans are forced to draw their own conclusions, and the post-launch announcement that some characters are gay simply feels like performative nonsense. Was this the plan from the start, or did it seem like an easy diversity win when writing the next comic?

I really hope the initial intention was pure, but the aftermath leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The community has done a better job of portraying queer stories in the Overwatch universe than Blizzard has themselves. Pairings have emerged from chemistry found in the game’s dialogue that its creators failed to capitalise upon, which is the sign of an excellent universe filled with potential. Now, Blizzard just needs to build upon it and treat its canonical queer characters with greater respect.

With a sequel, major characters will likely be reintroduced for a new audience, especially the likes of Tracer and Soldier 76. There’s no need to scream and shout about being queer from the rooftops, but just make that aspect of these characters clear in their history, and how it matters beyond a tick in the diversity box. I care about the relationships and dynamics of queer people, especially when I can see it in games like this, so the last thing I want is to see it shoehorned in and immediately shied away from whenever the situation calls for it.

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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously head of gaming content over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.

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