Why Tracer's sexuality matters more than you'd think.
Overwatch’s newest comic, Reflections, wasn’t just an adorable holiday special. Instead, it gave us some surprising new background for one of its heroes. The short comic confirmed that Tracer wasn’t just gay, but in a relationship with a woman named Emily. This will either bring two main reactions (not counting the Alt-Right guys that get mad when any form of diversity exists): excitement that this was confirmed or apathy.
You might not get why this should matter, and I understand that. Someone’s race, gender, or sexuality shouldn’t be such a big deal. But there still can be a backlash over people trying to add a bit more inclusivity. You can say that it’s just the internet being the internet, but it’s messed up that people can get furious over stuff like this. But this is still positive even with the possible backlash that may or may not happen. So why is it awesome that Tracer is confirmed gay?
For starters, this is the one of the riskier characters to make gay in a video game. This isn’t just any character being gay, it’s Overwatch’s mascot! Can you imagine other games doing that, let alone one as large as Overwatch? It’s almost impossible. You don’t see someone like Mario coming out as bisexual. There’s a stigma, even if it’s lessened over the years, that homosexuality isn’t “general” and only for adult fiction. You can see a man and a woman kiss, but two men or two women kissing might be seen as deviant. Overwatch might not be a children’s game, but it’s safe to say that it’s for a wider audience than Call of Duty. Even with that stigma, Blizzard chose to confirm that Tracer has a girlfriend. The comic is now banned in Russia for confirming this, and that takes serious brass to do something unpopular enough to get banned from a country.
But the thing that makes this stand out is how it isn’t fetishistic homosexuality. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but having a lesbian character in a game has been frequently used as titillation first and characterization second. I mean, look at the rather NSFW elevator scene in Fear Effect 2 (or don’t if you aren’t interested in a game’s softcore porn). You don’t look at that scene and go “Ah, yes, this shows the type of flirtatious problem solving the protagonists are known for”. You’re more like to think “Well, those two are necking and removing their clothes”. You don’t think that mechanically, but the focus is more on the action than the purpose. It has a purpose, but the purpose is mostly the action than its point in the plot.
In “Reflections”, the focus is on their relationship. They aren’t gay for the sake of somebody’s arousal. They’re gay just because they’re gay, and that’s where the difference lies. People don’t need some underlying reason to be gay, they just are. It’s not just representation, but normalized representation. That’s what matters so much about Tracer’s identity. Representation helps people know that they aren’t abnormal just because of the culture they’re in or the people they care about. It’s how I felt when Symmetra was confirmed as autistic, and I bet there are some people who feel a little more okay in their skin because of this comic.
Is Blizzard perfect with representation? No, there’s still a lot you can criticize about Overwatch. But for a triple A company as beloved as Blizzard to take a risk with making their most prominent character a lesbian? That’s a big deal, and I’m happy that they chose to take this risk. It’s a sign that companies are trying harder to make games inclusive for more people. If such things help more people play games and feel comfortable in our community, I cannot argue with that.