Overwatch's LGBT characters are 'educating' gamers

By Michael Baggs
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, Getty Images

The first two characters you meet when you play Overwatch are Soldier: 76 and Tracer - and now both of them have been revealed as LGBT.

Soldier: 76 is the latest to have been confirmed as gay in a short story by Michael Chu, the lead writer for the online game.

He's one of the most popular characters in the online shooter, which has millions of players worldwide.

Tracer, who players meet alongside Soldier: 76 in the game's tutorial, was confirmed as a gay character in 2016.

Ed Nightingale, a gay gamer from London, hopes representing a "very macho, typically masculine character" as LGBT will help promote acceptance of LGBT people in other gamers.

"Gaming is a really powerful way of educating people," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"When you're playing through a game and not just watching or reading it, you are actively involved in it and therefore actively involved in a character that is so different from yourself - that has really great educational benefits."

Image source, Blizzard Entertainment
Image caption,
Soldier: 76 was available to play from Overwatch's launch and is the character played in the game's tutorial

In late 2018, a group of gamers were given a permanent ban from Fallout 76 after they were filmed "hunting" LGBT gamers and using homophobic language on voice chat while playing.

And since the newest digital comic was published, homophobic slurs have been posted on social media regarding Soldier: 76's newly revealed sexuality.

Ed says incidents like these are why LGBT representation in mainstream games like Overwatch is important.

"People want to play games online and they want it to be a safe space, and I think gaming is typically seen as the domain of straight white men and anyone outside of that norm is unfortunately vulnerable to attack.

"It's really sad that these things happen, but online, on social media, on Reddit, these things sadly do continue."

Figure caption,
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Many players have celebrated Soldier: 76's news, but others think revealing him as LGBT nearly three years after the game's release feels like an afterthought.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

"Is it too much to expect a developer to have thought through their character from the very beginning?" Ed says.

One person pointed out on Twitter that publisher Blizzard Entertainment may have been hinting at Soldier: 76's sexuality since 2016.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

While some just hate his sandals.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The sexuality of Overwatch characters is only explored in comic books and doesn't impact on gameplay, so Soldier: 76 being LGBT will likely pass by casual players who just want to grab a controller and shoot things.

And while Blizzard has been praised for the inclusive approach to their creations, the company was criticised in 2018 when developers introduced a hamster in a giant ball as a playable character before a black woman was available to play.

Newsbeat has contacted Blizzard Entertainment for a statement.

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