Tag Archives: Overwatch

A Comprehensive Timeline of Overwatch and Playable Black Female Characters (And Why It Matters)

While the Overwatch League, Blizzard’s high-profile international esports endeavour, is well underway (#RiseTogether), casual players who are in tune with the ebb and flow of the game’s content await with bated breath. With the end of the month fast approaching, history dictates that sometime within the next week or so a new hero will be announced, with the latest addition to the roster going live close to the end of March (see: Orisa and Brigitte’s respective release dates).

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A new hero is an exciting prospect for a number of reasons, with competitive players hoping for a chupacabra to finally kill the GOATS meta and lore fiends longing for something, anything, to forward the molasses pace of the universe’s story. It’s also an opportunity for a particular contingent of fans to ask, once again, when the award-winning shooter will finally create a playable Black woman.

Similar to my breakdown of the character of Ned Leeds in Spider-Man: Homecoming and his relationship to Ganke Lee from the comic books, I will be creating a thorough chronology that highlights select dates in Overwatch‘s history, as well as the public outcry for a Black female hero. Unlike the earlier article, however, I will also be providing my own commentary on why this is so important to some (and perhaps should be to everyone).


November 7th, 2014: Overwatch is announced at BlizzCon, an annual gaming convention that celebrates Blizzard Entertainment’s games and their countless fans, marking their first original IP in 17 years. While a cinematic trailer spotlights four key players in the universe’s lore, a gameplay trailer focuses on the 12 heroes currently available at that time.

Notably, even at this early stage the roster featured a surprising amount of diversity, with the Egyptian combat-armoured Pharah and Indian light-bending Symmetra.


lucioMarch 10, 2015 to November 6, 2015: The remaining nine heroes are announced, rounding the final hero count out to 21.

Lucio (as seen on the right), a world-famous DJ-turned-freedom-fighter, appears to be Afro-Brazilian (and originates from that country).


December 7, 2015: In one of the very first (and soon-to-be heavily memed) Developer Update videos, game director Jeff Kaplan discloses that all future content for Overwatch
(“additional maps and heroes that we’d like to add to the game”) will be free, indicating that the number would not stay 21 for long.


May 24, 2016Overwatch is officially released. Continue reading

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Who Did It Better? Coming Out with J.K. Rowling and Overwatch Lead Writer Michael Chu

It’s the Year of Our Lord 2019 and storytelling is still important. In some cases the stories are the same, like the age-old tale of good triumphing over evil, but they’re being delivered in increasingly more novel ways. Comics are drawn and fan fiction is written and YouTube sketches are filmed, and sometimes the collaborators aren’t even in the same city, let alone country. In other cases the stories, while nothing new, are finally being given the opportunity to be told. The idea of finding yourself isn’t an original one, but the narrative of coming out as gay or lesbian or transgender or any other identity has only recently found a foothold in popular media.

rowlingchuStorytelling and identity are crucial building blocks to our culture, and both are heavily intertwined (as are all things, these days) with the internet (it would be remiss of me not to mention that I chose to do so in a podcast I co-hosted). This is certainly as true for a multi-award-winning online first-person shooter as it is for a series of books that wrapped up a dozen years ago. The Overwatch and Harry Potter universes are like ours in that they are populated by a myriad of different characters, some straight and some LGBT+, but I want to delve into how the similarities, and ultimately the differences, of their respective coming out stories (in both cases the term “coming out” feels accurate, as none of the characters discussed were initially introduced as being anything other than straight).

“Yer a Gay Man, Dumbledore”

Before touching on her approach to revealing one of her characters’ sexual orientations, it’s worth making note of how the billionaire author has reentered our collective conversation. Two years ago a BuzzFeed writer was one of the first to report on a shocking revelation found on Pottermore, a site Rowling created for her legion of fans to learn more about the Wizarding World. Most people online will have come across this by now, but the page in question was about the Chamber of Secrets, and explained that wizards once vanished their excrement in lieu of using toilets. It resulted in one of my favourite Tumblr posts:

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The user has since deleted their blog, so no direct link, sorry!

This caused a minor hubbub and then faded away, as all news does. Fast-forward to exactly a week ago, when the Pottermore Twitter page decided to unearth this particular trivia tidbit to an internet that had somehow managed to survive the hellscape that 2018 wrought.

Among the many, many “Tweetus Deletus” gifs was one response that both roasts this (very bad) piece of worldbuilding and helps set us back on topic:

Van Arendonk is clearly addressing the stomach-turning topic at hand, but this was far from the first time that the author had chosen to elaborate on her universe after the Harry Potter series had wrapped up. A decade before the original “Chamber Pot of Secrets” debacle Rowling announced during a Q&A at Carnegie Hall that she “always thought Dumbledore was gay.” She went on to explain that the character had fallen in love with wizard Hitler-stand-in Grindelwald, which turned out about as well as you would expect. At the time of this writing that remains the full extent of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s coming out.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been opportunities to depict him as having been actively romantically involved with other men. Last November’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald featured both the genocidal sorcerer and school headmaster as young (by comparison) men, with many fans assuming this was the time period that Rowling had been referring to.

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Dumbledore and Grindelwald as (actually) young men.

The screenshot above is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, not from the aforementioned Fantastic Beasts sequel. As many fans have noted, the two wizards actually share no scenes with one another. If only they had taken Jude Law, the actor portraying him, at face value when he said several months prior to the film’s release that: “(they’re) not going to reveal everything all at once.” Potterheads would discover that this meant no references, explicit or otherwise, to his being attracted to men. Currently the film series’ is slated for release on November 20, 2020.

“We’re All LGBT+ Now”

This past Monday lore-starved Overwatch fans were surprised by the delivery of “Bastet”, a short story penned by lead writer Michael Chu that progressed the game’s treacle-slow narrative, the kind of rare occasion that results in the generation of dozens of “i owe you my life” memes. Although it focused on 60-year-old Egyptian sniper Ana Amari, what really set the internet ablaze was a conversation she has with her fellow vigilante-in-hiding Jack Morrison, AKA Soldier: 76.

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Illustration by Arnold Tsang.

After finding a photograph that he’s been keeping all of these years, she brings up the young man he has his arm around, asking about what could have been.

“Vincent deserved a happier life than the one I could give him.” Jack sighed. “We both knew that I could never put anything above my duty. Everything I fought for was to protect people like him… That’s the sacrifice I made.”

“Relationships don’t work out so well for us, do they?” Ana said, unconsciously running her thumb over where her wedding ring used to be.

Given an earlier passage that highlights his inability to convince Ana that he’s pleased about Vincent’s present marital status (happily married), it doesn’t take much to arrive at the conclusion that he’s gay, or at the very least was romantically involved with a man. Some might read them as simply being very good friends, which, I mean, c’mon.

While this may seem like the dictionary definition of storytelling, this falls more in line with Rowling’s approach when Chu, after waiting a few hours for people to have read the story, took to Twitter to respond to what is very likely a deluge of tweets demanding confirmation:

Faithful readers (I’m “back”, did you miss me?) will remember when I briefly mentioned a similar coming out story in December 2016, touching on an Overwatch comic called “Reflections” which featured face-of-the-game Tracer kissing another woman named Emily. As he did earlier this week Chu once again came forward on Twitter to clarify for fans who might have been confused about their relationship.

In addition to that, a Blizzard representative provided a statement to IGN, which has to at least be on par with comments made on the head writer’s personal (his bio says: “Opinions are my own. Unreliable narrator.”) Twitter account.

“Tracer is a lesbian on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world. As with any aspect of our characters’ backgrounds, their sexuality is just one part of what makes our heroes who they are.”

The narrative of Overwatch deserves a multi-part series of blog posts in and of itself given the varying opinions on the rate, method, and quality of its delivery, but all I’ll say right now is that there is no readily apparent progressing story within the game itself. Gameplay consists primarily of six-player teams going head-to-head to (violently) accomplish objectives, and both heroes and villains can be chosen regardless of whether or not they would ever canonically team up. There is a seasonal event which thus far has provided a way of playing through past missions, but as far as “current events” that take place in Overwatch‘s present nothing currently exists.

That said, there are details within the game that provide evidence of both Soldier: 76 and Tracer’s respective same-sex relationships.

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The Soldier: 76 spray “Jack and Vincent” and the Tracer spray “Emily”

As seen above, there are sprays unique to each character which depict significant others, both past and present. When playing on the King’s Row (London, where “Reflections” partially takes place) map Tracer has the chance to utter one of several voice lines, one in particular being “Wonder if I have time to visit Emily? … No, better stay focused…” Another has her responding to an invitation from another character asking about her and her girlfriend.

It’s a far cry from seeing these relationships play out in-game, or have any kind of significant impact, but these acknowledgements are there.

When Did It Happen? (And a Lot More How)

Without having seen any evidence to the contrary, both J.K. Rowling and Michael Chu are straight, as both have spouses of the opposite sex (the latter was married just last October). To be clear, I firmly believe that anyone can write for any character (the time and effort and sensitivity needed varies). It does bear mentioning, however, that their personal orientations mean that neither are writing their respective stories from a place of personal experience. I should also state that I’m choosing to think the best of them.

In other words, I have no intention of entertaining the idea that either writer, to use a few buzzwords, lazily shoehorned in LGBT+ characters into their work in order to pander to the SJWs (my thoughts on that last word here). The alternative is to consider their intentions to be pure, which begs the question of what their intentions were, exactly.

A straightforward response would be that they’re simply providing backstory, fleshing out characters that their respective fanbases already know and love. The differences to highlight would be the way that Harry Potter and Overwatch told, and continues to tell, their stories, as well as when these characters came out relative to their creation.

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Dumbledore, as portrayed by Richard Harris in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Albus Dumbledore was first introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) over 20 years ago in 1997. The film adaptation of that book was released in 2001, with sequels and corresponding movies dropping in subsequent years. With Pottermore still a twinkle in Rowling’s eye (limited registration began in 2011), books and film were the author’s primary means of crafting her universe.

To simplify things, Dumbledore was “born” in 1997 and “came out” in 2007. This event also took place 91 days after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the septilogy, was published. At that point there were still three films left to be made, with the seventh being split into two parts, though none followed up on the knowledge that Rowling had shared.

As far as its timeline is concerned, the Overwatch beta, open to a limited few in order to test the game before its wide release, began on October 27, 2015. The game was officially released on May 24, 2016. Tracer “came out” in December 2016 and Soldier: 76 did the same just this month (January 2019).

As mentioned, and for better or for worse, there is no currently existing, consistent, effective in-game storytelling in Overwatch. That said, the game’s narrative has, since its announcement at Blizzcon 2014, taken the form of cinematics (as seen below), comics, and most recently, with “Bastet”, short stories.

Overwatch also launched with a website that provides for each hero, in addition to their abilities and difficulty level, a short bio (here’s Symmetra’s, one of my personal favourites). From the beginning the team behind the first-person shooter has taken a multimedia approach to worldbuilding, though admittedly not on a schedule that many appreciate. As an online game Overwatch also continues to be patched with content (typically in the form of new maps and heroes) and as such has no easily discernible “end date.” This is a story that continues to be told.


Both Harry Potter and Overwatch are reigning champions in their own right, having amassed awards, accolades, and millions of faithful fans. A number of those fans identify as being LGBT+, or haven’t yet. They have family members or loved ones who are members of the LGBT+ community, or who don’t yet know any at all, possibly even as a personal choice. The point is that queer stories matter and have always mattered. The fact that these two fanbases are able to see gay characters in beloved media is a very special thing.

How those characters come to be, however, is another matter entirely. In Rowling’s Wizarding World coming out is magical. Words are spoken and changes occur, but not all of them can be perceived by the eyes of the untrained and ordinary. In Overwatch coming out is the future. It’s both imminent and right now and, to paraphrase a scientist cautioning a young genetically enhanced gorilla, not accepting people at face value and daring to see yourselves reflected in them.

2016’s Cultural Battleground – Evan’s Account

EDITOR’S NOTE: We end each year by each taking a look back and picking our five best posts, explaining both their importance to us and to the world we currently live in.  Clicking the banner images will link you to each post, so as 2016 comes to a close join us in remembering how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.


To directly quote my co-writer, “**** this year” has been an increasingly common sentiment as the days tick by, but even given the relentless, overwhelming flood of bad news that 2016 has embodied what’s particularly depressing to consider is how little some things have changed. It’s also telling that in spite of us collectively writing more blog posts than last year I’m left feeling like I wrote less, and that what was written is generally of a lower quality as well.

With that in mind and given the handful of bright spots I managed to find I decided to address this year and my coverage of it a little differently by using the “sandwich approach”. Instead of being presented in chronological order below are two positive aspects to 2016 that bookend what amounts to one singular, continuous problem, and one that I take very personally.

tf2overwatchThere’s something beautiful about the way a team can run like a well-oiled machine, each of its separate components working in unison to efficiently accomplish a shared goal. While not always my experience with Overwatch those moments, especially when with friends, have been highlights of my year.

With this post I took a closer look at Blizzard’s latest FPS that, since the time of this post being written, has grown the number of playable female characters to roughly 50%, and its place as part of a growing push in video games to expand beyond the male-only titles of the past.

kimmyasianUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a high point of 2015, a Netflix-exclusive sitcom with an unassailably positive young woman at its core. It even took up one of my slots in my last year in review post, where I praised them for including an Asian love interest while scrutinizing how much they truly valued the verisimilitude needed to portray them correctly.

One tragedy of 2016 is that I was never able to make it past the third episode of its second season, the reason being that Tina Fey et al. created twenty-some minutes of television that dragged those who value Asian American representation before running them over with a steamroller, and then putting it in reverse. Friends assure me that it gets better, but how could it not after falling to such great depths? Continue reading

The Swinton-Cho Letters, Part 2: Putting Down a Resurrected Argument or: When Isn’t Art Political?

I began the first installment of this two-parter making note of the long and ultimately wearying experience it has been, starting with Doctor Strange going into pre-production and continuing on to the recent exposure of the Swinton-Cho Letters. While I spent time describing the ups and downs of casting news what I neglected to mention, and what I’m going to focus on today, is the outset and ultimate resurgence of an argument in defence of whitewashing.

That’s right, an argument defending what Wikipedia helpfully defines as “a casting practice [. . .] in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles.” The very faint silver lining is that the justification here does not revolve around star power and A-list draw, or the idea that “the best person for the role” was hired, the latter of which rarely ever swings the other direction. In spite of not being deeply rooted in these ways of thinking, however, the argument is remains deeply flawed.

Before we get into that, however, we should probably get to its origin story.

Like I Said Last Time, “It’s Always Podcasts”

Having to hit all of this again it’s important to be thankful for small blessings, with one being that I don’t need to hear C. Robert Cargill’s voice again due to already having done the research for another post. The person in question was one of the screenwriters for Doctor Strange, and dropped in on the  Double Toasted podcast mid-April to answer a few questions about it.

Eventually, and unsurprisingly, the issue of the Ancient One’s casting was brought up. Cargill’s response, as transcribed by CINEMABLEND’s “The Blunt, Yet Difficult Reason Doctor Strange’s Ancient One Isn’t Asian”, is as follows:

“The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet [. . .] If you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”

In essence Cargill chalked the reasons for the casting decision up to politics and economics, implying that having the character played by a Tibetan would cause Marvel Studios to lose out on Chinese box office sales. He also suggests quite strongly that, conversely, having a Chinese actor play a Tibetan would cause a large amount of controversy. This was picked up by sites from IndieWire to ScreenRant to The Hollywood Reporter, with several using words like “reveal” in their headlines, as if a longstanding mystery had finally been solved.

The justifications he laid out were to become the go-to response for every commenter looking to defend the Swinton’s casting, and why not? After all, as one of the screenwriters of the film Cargill should be a direct and dependable source. The answer to that hypothetical starts with what happened a few short days later- Continue reading

We Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Yet Another Millennial Throws His Peers Under the Bus

I don’t think you need to subscribe to a Judeo-Christian worldview to come to the conclusion that people are generally horrible. To be more specific, I find that many of us [myself included] tend to believe we deserve more than we really do, that a good portion of our wants are in fact needs or rights. It was the crux of my post on leaks last year, and recent events have once again brought this issue to light.

The first has to do with Overwatch, a game I informed you has been eating up all of my free time. On August 2nd, after a few mistimed reveals over various platforms, game studio Blizzard officially announced their first seasonal event, the totally-not-the-Olympics Summer Games.

summergames

As a playerbase no one really expected this. Yes, there was the expectation of new skins coming down the pipeline, but not new skins and a slew of other cosmetic items, as well as a wholly unique brawl [that, let’s face it, is just Rocket League]. However much of the initial excitement over the upcoming content turned to ashes in players’ mouths when they realized that they would not be able to purchase any of it.

To elaborate, Overwatch is not an F2P (free-to-play) game, which don’t require your purchase and instead support themselves through various optional microtransactions. Blizzard was upfront that Overwatch, after being bought, would be releasing new heroes and maps for free, promising to support the game moving forward. In other words, everything that is essential to playing would cost nothing.

With that in mind, all Summer Games items are exclusively unlocked, from August 2nd to the 22nd,  through loot boxes that you can earn by simply playing the game. In contrast, all standard items can also be purchased with in-game currency, which is earned in the same way. Loot boxes can also be bought with cold hard cash. Upon finding out that their means of acquiring these Summer Games items were thusly limited people flipped out. Continue reading

Why TF2 Doesn’t Have Female Characters [And Overwatch Does]

I’ve played 31 hours of Overwatch to date. Now that pales in comparison to the 322 I’ve clocked on Team Fortress 2 [often shortened to TF2], but the former has only been out since late May and I’ve had the latter for several years now. There’s time to even the scales, is all I’m saying.

31hoursNow those 31 hours may not communicate this this very well, but I am all about this game. As a self-proclaimed Blizzard [the studio behind the game] fanboy who has spent actual cash money on every one of their recent releases save for World of Warcraft I’ll admit that I was already primed for it, but where Diablo III: Reaper of Souls languishes half-finished I don’t see any excitement drop-off in sight for Overwatch.

Counting herself as a fellow member of the game’s 10 million or so players, Polygon contributor Susana Polo’s interest stemmed from a different place. To wit, the presence of so many playable female characters was a huge draw for her in spite of not being “a big shooter fan”. While as a whole the its roster is startlingly diverse [it ostensibly only has four Harveys; see here for an explanation of the terminology] it’s Polo’s perspective, primarily her comparison between Overwatch and Team Fortress 2, that I want to focus on.

Comparing Apples Blues and Oranges

Her article has its foundations in a conversation she had with a former co-worker, namely regarding the fact that “It’s shitty that Team Fortress doesn’t allow you to play as a woman”. As another class-based shooter with a focus on objectives over kills juxtaposing the two only makes sense.

Team Fortress 2 was released by Valve in 2007. The game offers a total of nine different classes to choose from, most of them White, all of them male [as far as we know]. While there has been much speculation about the Pyro [who is fully masked] being a woman there has been no confirmation from developers at this point.

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Overwatch has 21 heroes, with Blizzard already teasing another on the way. Of these characters eight of them are female. While not as close to 50% as the actual number of women in the world, it should be noted that of other 13 two are Omnics [robots] and another is a hyperintelligent gorilla.

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Now what we could do is chalk up the creative decisions made by the studios as simply matching the current climate surrounding consumer expectations. While female gamers have always existed it’s within recent years that they’ve become more vocal and made their presence more known, something which the industry appears to have tuned in to.

Given that TF2 was created nearly a decade ago maybe we can cut Valve a little bit of slack for merely keeping up with the times, such as they were. Having made that decision let’s instead change gears and ask a different question: “Why hasn’t Valve added female skins to TF2 in the nine years since it was released?” Continue reading