It turns out that a second character in Blizzard's Overwatch can offer players some LGBTQ representation, as Soldier: 76 has been confirmed to be gay. Soldier: 76 is the game's second queer character; Tracer's sexuality was similarly detailed in a comic two years ago.
Lately, Overwatch has been in the news for less than ideal reasons. Not long after Ellie, a female player, left minor-league team Second Wind due to the harassment she received, it was revealed that Ellie was a fabricated persona made up by streamers as a "social experiment." The strange situation transpired amid the backdrop of broader issues at Activision Blizzard, the studio behind the popular team shooter. So Overwatch, along with the company guiding it, has been in a bit of a touchy place.
Polygon reported on "Bastet," the short story that revealed 76's sexuality. At one point in the story, 76 is with Ana, and he looks through a collection of old photos. Ana sees one of the photos, a depiction of 76 with another man, at which point 76 tells her about Vincent - the man in the photo - and the relationship the two shared in the past: "Vincent deserved a happier life than the one I could give him...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.” Following the story's publication, Michael Chu, the story's author, tweeted an explicit confirmation that 76 identifies as gay.
Thanks for all the messages about “Bastet”!— Michael Chu 🎉💼 (@westofhouse) January 7, 2019
Jack and Vincent were in a romantic relationship many years ago. Both identify as gay. ❤️
Expansions of Overwatch's lore don't come that frequently, so they're meaningful when they do appear. In that sense, learning more about 76's past is a welcome addition, as is the fact that he's queer. But in another sense, there's something unsatisfying about characterizing 76's sexuality outside of the game itself. It resembles J.K. Rowling's proclamation that Dumbledore was gay, in that it seems like a move made to score political points rather than to elaborate on the inner workings of a carefully considered character.
It's pretty interesting how Blizzard is diversifying the Overwatch cast's sexuality, but I can't say I'm a fan of the Rowling-style "actually this character was like this all along I just didn't put it anywhere you could see it" style of diversification.— Imran Khan (@imranzomg) January 7, 2019
Ultimately, though, this latest piece of lore has the potential to do more good than harm. However, there remains tension between Blizzard's willingness to increase the diversity of the game's cast and the way that diversity operates in the actual playing of the game. The latest scandal surrounding Ellie, the fake Overwatch player, highlights how far the game's professional scene has to go before it can genuinely be considered inclusive. So while the gesture of upping Overwatch's representation is both positive and appreciated, Blizzard has a lot more work to do if it wants its game to be inviting for all of its players.