Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Overwatch: FPS, PVP and WLW

Description: In a style parody of the cereal box for "Cap'n Crunch Oops! All Berries",
Tracer from Overwatch appears in place of the Cap'n, bearing the name "Oops! All
Lesbians" with the tagline "All the time, forever" beneath it and the legend "Contains all
women loving women".
For most of its history, the first person shooter (FPS) genre has been dominated by male protagonists. Doom Guy, Master Chief... even Valve's team-based FPS Team Fortress 2 has nine class characters and all nine of them are men (yes, even Pyro, according to the series trading cards). Conversely, of the 22 character's in Blizzard's Overwatch, 9 of them are women. Unlike the cookie-cutter grizzled white guys or male-gazey fantasies of other games, each woman in the game has wildly different identities, roles, and even body types.

So perhaps it's not much of a surprise that Blizzard's foray into the team based FPS field has garnered lots of attention and devotion from a large fanbase of women. Especially prominent has been the large, joyful and vocal fans pairing up the game's women in various couples, across fanart, fan music videos, animations and fan fictions. My personal favorite power couple name is PharMercy, a pairing of the two healers Phara and Mercy.

However, all the of the women loving women content has been made by enthusiastic fans only. In an interview with Kotaku, director Jeff Kaplan had this to say:
The only stated relationship actually that we’ve even ever mentioned in the backstory is between Amelie who is Widowmaker and her husband who was brainwashed and assassinated. That’s the only reference we’ve ever made to a romantic relationship. It’s not that our characters don’t have romantic relationships and don’t have sexual identities or whatever, but the stance that we’ve sort of taken on the team is that we’re not going to talk about that stuff just to pander to the topic that when it comes out for game play or story reasons, that’s the right time for it to come out.
Tumblr user hattersarts, creator of the Sapphic Overwatch fanzine, had this to say about the idea that explicitly saying a character in Overwatch is gay is pandering:
“There is the problem where people say ‘Well, we don’t want to make it about them being gay.’ Well no, we want that, if I’m honest. I want to know they’re gay! I want that, I want you to shove that down people’s throats. Until we get to a point where the world doesn’t care, I want it. We need to care.”
Blizzard's coyness on the issue might be more than just well-intentioned fence-sitting. In a discussion of recent talks from DC Comics writers about Wonder Woman's sexuality on Metafilter, user rokusan had this to say:
 I've been involved in (the periphery of) Hollywood projects working from source material featuring characters who are either straight or of unspecified orientation, who are then deliberately cryptoqueered in the adaptation. They're not made gay, explicitly, but there are deliberate attempts to both raise and muddy the question just enough ... It ends up possible to see the character(s) both ways, or multiple ways...

But it's not a social agenda effort, clever or offensive or otherwise. It seldom comes from the creatives at all. Rather, it's a calculated marketing trick from on high... The logic is that by toeing such a line, they can attract a wider audience, each of whom uses some kind of identity consumerism to see the thing they wish to see in the character(s). Double the sales, the thinking goes.
What do you think, readers? As long as fans keep up the shipping, does it matter what Blizzard says? Or are unambiguous acknowledgment of gay or lesbian characters in Overwatch just as important for fans looking for representation and the series lore?

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