Widowtracer: The Queer Ship Breaking All the Rules

Overwatch

[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 confirmedqueer 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!)

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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.

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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.”

Overwatch

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.

Gif made by yuzu-maki
GIF created by yuzu-maki
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10 Comments on “Widowtracer: The Queer Ship Breaking All the Rules

  1. That seems less confirmed and more big company being vague to apprase both the lgbtq community and the endangered male pride.

    Honestly this reads rather baity as well. “Confirmed lesbians!!!”
    “Probably not queerbaiting”
    “I’ll spend money on scraps of officially-confirmed-but-no-official-word representation because hype”

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    • Oh, I totally 100% get how this ship might ultimately end up as fanservice/queerbaiting. That would be super disappointing, and I don’t fault anyone for being wary. I mean, we have plenty of experience getting our hopes up, only to have them crushed. (Linked to an old piece of mine up there where I talk at length about that.)

      Not sure whether a fan of something can, in fact, queerbait (this was more an attempt to celebrate something I was excited about), though that’s an interesting angle I hadn’t considered! I’ll need to do more research on that, however.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Like

  2. It feels like click-bait cause you literally say Blizz “confirmed a queer ship” when there’s been zero confirmation. Basing confirmation off of the brief time they’ve been shown on screen together is nuts. I’d love for them to be cannon, but when I read the title (and got excited), to then read the article and find out it was just about their interactions in the “Alive” animated short and the cinematic trailer, I was actually pretty pissed off. And majorly disappointed. So yeah, a bit baity mate.

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    • Hey there, Rach! I sincerely apologize for upsetting you—that wasn’t my intention, but I definitely see how the title/initial sentence came off baity now that you put it that way. This is a learning experience for me, and I’ll be sure to really tailor my language in the future to hopefully convey what I intended a bit better.

      Thank you, though, for taking the time to comment! I appreciate the help on that.

      Like

  3. Pretty sure that Widow had a husband before the.. brainwashing and reprogramming stuff.. happened. And a part of that was drastically slowing her heart rate so she can’t feel human emotions. Like she mentioned at the end of “Alive”. This is also why she’s so blue. She has really bad circulation.
    I love the ship, but I don’t think there’s a way to make it canon. At least not without un-mindbreaking Widow, which would kinda ruin the ruthless killer they want her to be in the game.

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  4. she had a husband so she can’t like women…. have you ever heard of bisexuality ? And honestly, they’re so much potential with widowmaker. Even if she gets her memory and feelings back, she can’t be Amélie anymore, because you can’t erase the years she spent killing like a machine as widowmaker. She will have to move forward, neither Amélie nor window, and she might “never be normal again” but that’s okay cuz we’ve got some pretty colorful characters in the game. Plus we would get more intel about talon. I really hope Blizzard will do something with widowmaker and i hope it will involve tracer bein unsufferably hopeful about helping widowmaker. Just because Amélie is gone doesn’t mean widowmaker is not worth saving.

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    • Yeah, I’ve been to one of those Launch Parties, and in the dev interview one of the guys said something about making the game and characters evolve or something like that. It was not about a specific character and it was very vague in general, but it did give me hope they would explore the Widow lore some more.

      I don’t remember what he said exactly, but Widow was my first thought when he mentioned it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • this is honestly really exciting, bc Blizzard have a history of some pretty extreme character development. you could say a lot of it has been negative but i think compared to their other competitive games maybe Overwatch is a property with a lot of room for happy endings.

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    • Hi, i think the previous person just meant that Widowmaker had a husband so she couldn’t have been romantically involved with Tracer without cheating on her husband (which i dont think she did)

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  5. Ah, how I wish. But unfortunately, the ship was shot down. For another gay ship. Tracer has a different girlfriend, but still, she’s gay.

    Like

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