The Complex Politics of Tracer,Overwatch’s First LGBT Character
12/21/2016 by Dylan James Harper
Even before it was released, Overwatch took the video game world by storm. Blizzard’s multiplayer masterpiece has won a slew of awards and critical praise, and the sales figures to match. One of the remarkable aspects of the game is that it’s virtually plotless. Instead of a central story that gives players all the exposition about characters, the audience is forced to stick together bits and pieces, ranging from details left on maps to randomly triggered voice lines between characters. In addition to the subtle in-game content, Blizzard has also released some short ads and comics to help pump up the game, and give players precious details that’ll allow them to understand more about the characters they play as. It’s the most recent one of these comics that’s thrust the game’s plot into the political limelight during an extremely precarious time, as the most recent comic revealed that one of the game’s most well known characters has a same-sex partner.
Tracer is the closest thing Overwatch has to a main character. She was the first hero (all the playable characters in the game are referred to as heroes) revealed, and was on the cover of the game’s box. That and her consistent level of utility in the game has lead to her being extremely popular. That popularity, in turn, has lead to controversies, which have been surrounding the character long before anyone even knew she had a girlfriend.
First, there was the notorious issue with a post players could unlock that seemed to make her butt it’s primary feature (Blizzard later changed the pose). Then, there was the fact that Pornhub, a popular porn website (if that wasn’t obvious), revealed that she was the most searched for character, at least prior to Blizzard cracking down on copyright claims. Still, none of that apparently deterred Blizzard, who had long promised that multiple characters in Overwatch were members of the LGBT community, from making the game’s most well known character the first one to be revealed as such.
Almost as soon as the comic was released and news spread, the backlash began. There were of course many people extremely upset that a character in their favorite game was, as one commenter put it “a gay.” There were also those, such as the already prominent and controversial figure in the gaming community Jonathan McIntosh, who felt that Blizzard’s mistake wasn’t giving a character a same-sex partner, but giving an attractive female character a same-sex partner. His main assertion was that Blizzard was playing into the ‘hot lesbian’ stereotype, and that they were taking the easy way out by adding LGBT representation in a way that still catered to a presumed straight male audience.
There is some truth to this of course, although it ignores that the immediate backlash made clear that many are deeply uncomfortable with the fact that Tracer has a girlfriend. The reaction of many on the left has been a little too overjoyed. This representation is hugely important, but it’s not as if a single, conventionally attractive woman kissing another woman is the final battle for better LGBT representation. It’s likely that many will view this as an excuse to stop pushing for more, or a point to defend Blizzard against any accusation of wrongdoing in the future. In that same vein, it’s not as if Blizzard being particularly brave in this case; similar to the issue with JK Rowling revealing Dumbledore was gay in the Harry Potter series, it’s a lot easier to reveal a character is a member of a marginalized community after you’ve already set sales records. Some cynicism isn’t unreasonable.
The main issue many seem to be taking with the cynicism, and rightly so, is that the fact that this move by Blizzard isn’t absolutely perfect will be used to prevent people from celebrating what is certainly a representation victory, however small. There’s a bit of hot take culture on the left where many are quick to try and explain why actually the latest is trend is problematic. This wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t often feature a tone of ‘…and if you like it you’re wrong and bad’ which it often does.
The Tracer issue, like many, is one that should be celebrated, but cautiously so. Blizzard is still far from perfect, LGBT representation in Overwatch, video games, and media in general is still horrendous, and it’s still going to take a lot of effort to improve the situation. This minor victory shouldn’t be an excuse for complacency, but it is a victory, and if the last year is any indication, the left is really going to need to learn to appreciate the small victories.
Dylan James Harper is the Chief Political Editor for CSuiteMusic
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