Multiplayer first person shooter Overwatch blew up the internet last month, quickly becoming one of SFGN’s most read stories of the year, when their holiday-themed online comic “Overwatch: Reflections” featured iconic character Tracer kissing another woman, Emily. However, some users pointed out the comic is unreadable on the site’s Russian version.
A message displayed over the comic’s cover, translated from Russian by a Twitter user, reads: “In accordance with Russian law, we cannot share this comic with our players on territory of Russian Federation.”
In 2013, Russia passed a propaganda ban that stopped distribution of material directed at minors promoting “non-traditional sexual relations,” according to The Moscow Times and translations from Russian law. Overwatch is rated Teen by the ESRB, meaning content is “generally suitable for ages 13 and up.”
The comic itself is romantic in nature, not necessarily sexual. It opens up to Tracer looking for a gift, stopping to fight crime on the way. She’s about to find the perfect gift, a scarf, before realizing somebody else wanted it, too.
Out of time, she rushes to her destination — until a little girl she saved earlier hands her a gift. She takes it to an apartment, where she sits on the couch next to Emily. Emily excitedly sees the gift and opens it, assuming it’s for her from Tracer.
Opening the gift, Emily is grateful and Tracer is surprised as it’s the scarf Tracer had reached for. Happily, Emily gives Tracer a big kiss, and the comic moves onto the next scene.
This kiss is a part of Blizzard’s movement towards spreading more diversity within their video games. SFGN reached out to a spokesperson for comment on how fans react to content they may not be comfortable with, such as a same-sex kiss. They confirmed that Tracer’s lesbian status was a decision made from the very beginning.
“Overwatch celebrates a unique cast of diverse heroes, each brought to life by rich histories and complex personalities,” they told SFGN. “While we often use additional media such as animated shorts and comics to further explore our heroes’ stories and provide insight into their lives, reading or watching these is not required to enjoy the game itself.”
In other words: If you don’t like the content, don’t engage in Overwatch media outside of the game itself. Fans can enjoy the universe without exploring character development.
In terms of Russia blocking their content, the spokesperson added: “In this case, the elements of Tracer’s backstory explored in the comic are not referenced in Overwatch on any platform, and in accordance with local laws and regulations, the comic was not translated into Russian or published in Russia.”
The kiss between Tracer and Emily pointed to Blizzard’s previous claims that they would add more diversity into the game. Before the game even came out, Artistic Director Bill Petras claimed at least one Overwatch playable character would be LGBT.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of discussion among players about the need for diversity in video games,” Petras said at the time. “That means a lot of things. They want to see gender diversity, they want to see racial diversity, they want to see diversity along the lines of what country people are from … And we just want you to know that we’re listening and we’re trying hard and we hope Zarya is a step in the right direction.”
This claim caused fan speculation on which characters would be LGBT, leading up to the big revelation of Tracer’s same-sex kiss.
The bulk of the speculation landed on a character named Zarya. She’s bold, she’s buff, and she sports spiked pink hair. The former bodybuilder, known as Aleksandra “Zarya” Zaryanova, was considered by many fans to be butch.
“I hope it's not Zarya,” said a Reddit user. “It would be like suggesting that women who aren't dainty porcelain dolls must be homosexual.”
Ironically enough, Zarya is from Russia — the very country that blocked the comic over homophobia.
Other fans had hoped that bounty hunter McCree would come out as gay. The revolver-wielding character’s voice actor, Matthew Mercer, even spoke out toward a Twitter user asking what the big deal was about a gay Overwatch character.
“Representation that isn’t overt, or the basis of the character, in media is rare,” he tweeted back. “It’s just welcome.”
The good news is that there’s more than one LGBT character — though only one is currently confirmed.
“There are definitely LGBT heroes — that’s multiple heroes — it’s a decision that we make when we’re developing these characters early on,” said Overwatch Lead Writer Michael Chu in a Blizzcon 2016 Q&A panel. “We do feel strongly that we want these stories about character’s relationships – not just romantic, but familial relationships and stuff like that – come out in the course of stories that we feel really do them justice.”
But this may actually be bad news for some fans, who want sexuality to stay out of their games.
“I hope they don't reveal the sexualities of any character,” said a Reddit user in a discussion on which Overwatch characters may be gay. “It's completely irrelevant to anything in the game or story. Unless there is a reason to show that, it really shouldn't be said. If you need a gay character to enjoy this game, fuck off.”
Blizzard doesn’t agree, though; aspects of the characters help flesh them out realistically.
“As in real life, we feel having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe,” said the spokesperson.
Love it or hate it, character diversity is here to stay — even if it’s a sexuality fans may not like.