Overwatch has been out for over a year now. We’ve seen lots of updates and gameplay patches, tons of cosplays, and an approximately infinite amount of fanart and articles on the game’s social issues and impacts. Suffice to say, the game has been a worldwide phenomenon among many audiences. In this regard, Overwatch has executed the seemingly difficult task of being a hit with both experienced players and casual players, as well as with both gameplay enthusiasts and fandom participants (and of course, these two can overlap). It’s one of the best examples of a game that has accomplished garnering such an audience, and I’d like to explore how they’ve done this.
The argument over whether video games are art or not is pretty much over: they are. Anyone who disagrees at this point is mostly trying to be contrarian. That said, we are still refining our skills and vocabulary for critiquing games, and more rapidly than ever. This very blog uses an intersectional feminist/social justice framing when we look at video games, and even that is evolving. However, there is a fairly strong canon of social justice literature and discussion that we can draw from to observe media. Video games are difficult in that they are still a young medium, and one thing we are still working on is genre.
Fiction is a great source of escapism. And honestly, many of us have been in the mood for escapism lately. Politics have been more stressful than ever, turning on the news feels like an onslaught of depressing events, and grimdark fiction is still pretty popular. Cynicism in media just isn’t cutting it the way it has in years past. Movies like The Dark Knight, with its message that great people can turn to evil with a little push, just don’t feel the same anymore. Since so many things in the world are sketchy, I don’t want fiction telling me that it’s only going to get worse.
Luckily, optimism seems to be making a comeback. Although it comes in many forms—horror, fantasy, comedy, etc—a simple through-line no matter the genre is hope and optimism. I think that this is the commonality that brings us to escapist media. In horror, the chance of survival brings hope; in a fantasy, there’s the awe of the mystical and unknown, showing that unfamiliar things can be positive; comedy shows us that any situation can bring joy. This hopefulness is what creates the escapism, and I believe that there are some very good examples in our contemporary fiction in properties like Steven Universe and Overwatch.
Overwatch recently introduced some new characters into its ever-growing world, including a new playable hero. And while the giant centaur-like Omnic tank Orisa is an interesting addition to the fighting lineup, her creator is more interesting to me. Efi Oladele is an eleven-year-old inventor from the highly advanced African city of Numbani. Despite her young age, she’s already received worldwide attention after receiving a prestigious grant for her robotics work. After a mysterious attack at the Numbani International Airport, Efi was inspired to use her grant money to create a new protector for her city from an old OR15 defense bot. Thus, Orisa was born. Orisa is well-intentioned but still has a childlike innocence despite her many fighting capabilities, and Efi, while a genius, is also still an adorable preteen. The bot and her creator are to put it in simple terms, too precious, too pure, so I was excited to stumble upon a fic that captured that, especially since it hasn’t been that long since they were introduced.
It’s been a few years since the “are video games art” question has been raised and pretty much resolved. Yes, video games are art. But with that question out of the way, we’re left with “what’s next?” To that end, I believe we are lucky that many outlets (such as our own) are more than willing to discuss games as an art form, in a similar vein to the way we discuss books or movies. For this week’s web crush, I want to highlight Vice’s gaming division: Waypoint.
Black History Month is moving right along, and while everyone is out there quoting Martin Luther King Jr. or incorrectly talking about Frederick Douglass, I think it’s important that we look at issues surrounding our Black women, as well. Luckily, we’re slowly but surely getting more Black girls and women in our media! Unfortunately, from looking at depictions of Black girls and women in media, such as last year’s scandal over Riri Williams, it’s easy to see that Black (and darker-skinned) women tend to be more sexualized in nerd media than their white (and fairer-skinned) counterparts. This creates a culture where darker bodies are seen as inherently more sexual, and thus more acceptable as targets of objectification and sexual violence.
Let’s face it, 2016 was tough, and 2017 doesn’t look to be much easier. So let’s delve into some of our favorite geeky romantic pairings to help us cope! Yep, it’s Valentine’s Day, that sickeningly sweet holiday when our authors nominate and then vote on ships for our Top 20 Romantic Couples in Geekdom (10 Canon/10 Fanon) list. It is now my duty to present to you the super cute and sexy ships of 2017!
I’ll be candid with you, reader: it’s been a tough few weeks for me. Like many others, between winter blues, the political climate, and the often negative nature of nerd critique, I’ve been in a bit of a slump. In times like this, I like to look at some of my favorite media that resonates with me on an emotional level.
I appreciate sincerity and vulnerability in media. In my opinion, that has been a common through-line in a lot of viral fandoms in the past few years. There is definitely room for being a badass, and admittedly, that’s an enjoyable trait to watch play out in a story. However, I think many of us are craving a sense of vulnerability in our characters, not just physically, but also emotionally. We want to be be able to empathize and connect with the characters by knowing how they feel, what their aspirations are, and what they’re thinking. Of course in superhero media, the protagonists are relatively invincible, but are they people under all that? In the past couple years, I’ve seen some really great uses of emotional vulnerability, and I think they illustrate the benefit of creating these character traits.
Minor spoilers for Steven Universe and major spoilers for Undertale after the jump!
Cheers, love! The cavalry’s queer!
If you haven’t already heard, Blizzard Entertainment revealed to the world last month in their holiday comic Reflections that Lena “Tracer” Oxton, the mascot character for its acclaimed multiplayer game Overwatch, was a lesbian. Given how omnipresent she is in the game’s marketing, it was awesome to see this first step for queer representation within the game’s universe.
Within the statement that followed the comic’s release, in which they clarified that Tracer’s particular flavor of LGBTQ-ness was the L, Blizzard also confirmed that Tracer would not be the only character in Overwatch who identified somewhere within the alphabet soup of non-hetero sexualities. This, of course, led to immediate speculation about who else in Overwatch was queer.
In these discussions, Aleksandra “Zarya” Zaryanova is a frequently heard name. Indeed, Zarya’s bulky build, pink hair, and overall aesthetic seem to fit the common idea of what a butch lesbian looks like. That, however, is exactly where the discussion becomes tricky.
A few weeks ago, vice president-elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton and the internet got into big fights over it. No surprise there. While there is no need to retread the controversy itself, or get into political debate, Pence and his party’s politics are well known. This event got me thinking, though, why would he want to see that musical? Was Pence unaware of the racial and social issues inherent in the musical? Maybe. Surprisingly enough, this made me think of many online multiplayer games in which we can see the same phenomenon happening. In games like Overwatch, people sometimes behave in a racist or sexist manner even while playing with a very diverse cast of characters. But I started to notice that this behavior is more prevalent when characters’ identities aren’t reflected in stories.