Why Blizzard revealing LGBT+ Overwatch heroes is so important.

Last year, Blizzard confirmed that one of their Overwatch characters was LGBT+ and that they would soon have their own “coming out”. This moment had the gaming community discussing the role that video games can play in progressing LGBT+ equality, but, for members of a London-based gay gaming group, this discussion has been happening for years.

London Gaymers is a community for LGBT+ gamers and their allies to meet like-minded people to network and play games both offline and online in a safe and inclusive environment. Our popularity has grown rapidly in just a year, showing that there is a large, untapped target audience of gaymers that the video game industry has historically overlooked.

But you don’t have to look very hard to find out why such a group would be so popular amongst gaymers. First, there’s the historic lack of LGBT+ representation in video games. Many gaymers would have lived their whole childhood lives playing video games without ever coming across an identifiable LGBT character. Fast forward a few years and this same gaymer population found itself playing video games online only to be often greeted with the homophobic (as well as racist, sexist and outright awful) language that has become all-too-familiar with online gaming.

“Many gaymers would have lived their whole childhood lives playing video games without ever coming across an identifiable LGBT character.”

However, things are changing and Blizzard’s announcment of an LGBT+ character in Overwatch is testament of that. Just before Christmas 2016 a new overwatch digital comic was released telling the story of Tracer — the British time-jumping adventurer — desperately looking for a last minute gift for her girlfriend Emily, who she is seen kissing later on in the comic.

By having a visible LGBT character in such a popular title, Blizzard is sending the gaming community a message that its games are for everyone — including gaymers. On top of that, their withholding of Tracer’s identity has been welcomed by the gaymer community as it’s allowed people to appreciate each character before considering their sexual orientation or gender identity — combating the historical portrayal of LGBT+ characters that were defined solely by their sexual orientation or gender identity. Think Dumbledore from Harry Potter — who’s character wasn’t dictated by his sexuality or coming out, it was circumstantial.

“…it’s allowed people to appreciate each character before considering their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

There are a growing number of games that feature LGBT characters as part of their storytelling, and plenty of role playing games now enable you to choose the partners you wish to romance. Most notable are Bioware with their Mass Effect and Dragon Age role playing games which allow you to pursue meaningful LGBT relationships (with very real consequences if you choose to betray the trust of those you love) and similarly Bethesda with Fallout 4. However, as is the nature of an RPG, the player is left to decide what gender to take on a date. The very important distinction with Overwatch is that a main, playable character is being defined as LGBT. And of such a popular, big budget blockbuster game, it really highlights the commitment Blizzard have to opening minds and normalising LGBT characters and heroes.

But the other reason why this is such a fascinating announcement is the deep level of storytelling that has been weaved throughout the fabric of this game. Blizzard have created such wonderful narratives for all their characters in Overwatch which are being told through a series of beautiful, Pixar-quality shorts and supplimented with detailed digital comics.

Could one of the Shimada brothers be the next LGBT+ hero?

We know that Tracer is only the beginning. Blizzard have confirmed we will discover that there are “multiple” such heroes in the game and with many characters still awaiting their turn, It’ll be interesting to see if an LGBT backstory features. Whether overtly about their sexuality, or a simple hint at their same sex parter via a photo kept in a wallet. Imagine if their decision to join overwatch was due to a romantic LGBT backstory!

Even while we wait with anticipation on the next character reveal, it’s great news to see the the video game and eSports industry continue to grow in tolerance and diversity. Let’s hope that more developers follow Blizzard’s lead in being inclusive of LGBT characters and storylines. But until now, all we can do is speculate.

Our money is on McCree!

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