[Author’s Note: Months after writing this, Tracer was confirmed to be queer.]
A major studio pretty much just confirmed a queer ship involving two women. Let me repeat that for those of you sitting in the back: a major studio just confirmed a queer ship involving two women. That’s an enormous, thrilling, and unheard of step forward not only for the games industry, but mainstream media at large.
I’m referring to the babes Tracer and Widowmaker of Overwatch fame, of course, who have all but effectively taken the Internet by storm. It’s rare for a ‘femslash’ ship to catch fire like this, though there are many, many reasons for that particular phenomenon. (Mostly thanks to the fact that men are categorically written with more nuanced stories, therefore strictly ‘slash’ ships have traditionally been more popular.) But that’s not why I called you all here today.
All of the backstory and lore related to the game is easily accessible for any would-be fans looking to join the fray. It’s available on Tumblr, and you don’t even have to pre-order Overwatch to join the fun! What’s more, if you want a comprehensive overview before committing, the team over at Her Story Arc broke it all down for us in their piece “Why ‘Overwatch’ Gives Me Hope for Diversity in Gaming” using a point system.
So why is all of this nothing short of revolutionary? I’m very glad you asked! Let’s take a short trip down memory lane. (There will be a brief spoiler from The Walking Dead in regards to Dr. Denise Cloyd. Don’t continue if you haven’t watched yet!)
This tragic, horrifying trend isn’t exclusive to the television industry, either. It’s a widespread issue across all forms of the entertainment we adore—one that receives little to no media attention—and games are some of the worst offenders. Even when queer women are confirmed in games, they’re sidelined, relegated to DLCs, or killed off completely. (Life Is Strange, anyone?)
That the Overwatch team actually spent time and money putting together an animated short exclusively featuring Tracer and Widowmancer is … basically unheard of for any major studio to date. If you think that sounds pretty basic representation, well, you’d be right. The fact that fans of The Good Ship Widowtracer even have anything tangible to cling to—particularly a narrative devoid of men, dedicated to telling their developing story together as people—is kind of ridiculously awesome. I’ll take it, Blizzard. I’ll take it.
(But give me more, please.)
Speaking of their stories! Both women featured in the animated short are actually allowed to be flawed characters. This isn’t merely fanservice or the ever-popular queerbaiting tactic only intended to boost sales. (At least, I certainly hope it’s not, though it doesn’t feel that way to me personally.) It’s so rare that women are given permission to be people that Overwatch achieves something in barely six minutes that most games have never achieved across several titles. And you can bet the fanbase has taken all six of those minutes to create something truly magnificent: headcanons.
Look, I’ve been an avid fanfiction reader, fanart admirer, and occasional RPer since middle school (though it was more likely before that, if you count all the notebooks I filled with my theories). I get it. For the queer community, it can be very difficult to put all your faith in a ship when, statistically, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be confirmed, and if they are, they’re doomed to die. I have trouble getting my hopes up like anyone else out there, but I honestly feel like the Overwatch team is trying very hard to get it right this time.
And if you don’t understand the value that fanfiction (and related works from fans) has, particularly for queer kids growing up without anyone to support them, I’d recommend that you read The Establishment’s very eloquent take on it. In brief:
“Fanfic communities are a safe place for young, queer writers to navigate their identity. […] Fanfic communities offer a network of people who share a mutual understanding, even if not mutual lifestyles or backgrounds.”
That’s why Widowtracer is so important. That’s why I’m choosing to get my hopes up for their potential romance. Because as glorious and inspiring as unconfirmed ships can be in terms of encouraging a safe community among fans, it can sometimes (okay, all the time) feel like your voice is bouncing off the walls of an echo chamber. Think about it—when your very existence is tied at the end of a string and constantly waved out of reach, it hurts. It conveys a very clear message: you aren’t a human being worth representation in media. You’re not normal. You’re wrong.
However, the Blizzard team seems to actually be listening—and responding to—valid criticism. Not too long ago, they removed an unnecessary, oversexualized pose that added nothing to Tracer’s character. In fact, it was rather out of character for her, which was why the team ultimately decided to take it out. Jeff Kaplan, director of Overwatch, had this to say regarding the change:
“We’ll replace the pose. We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated, or misrepresented.”
I didn’t care much for Overwatch when it was initially announced. Sure, the game looked super colorful and had the potential for a fun time sink, but that was about it. Now? Blizzard can have my money. All of it. Because the only way we can ensure that queer representation continues in so positive a vein is to support the initiatives where they do exist.
And because I absolutely couldn’t help myself, behold: the Widowtracer GIF to rule all GIFs.