LGBT Characters in Video Games: Why Good Representation Matters

On January 7, 2019, Overwatch confirmed that yet another character in their large cast of twenty-nine playable heroes was gay in their most recent short. Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard reported over $1 billion in revenue during the first year of its release, and had more than 40 million players after two years, as well as many game of the year awards and accolades. This game is one of the most popular in the genre, and reaches a massive audience, as well as the lore that the team creates.

The aforementioned short, Bastet, is the most recent piece of lore released outside of the game, and reveals that one of the most popular heroes to play as, Soldier 76, is gay. In the short, Jack (Soldier 76’s alias) talks about a boyfriend he had before apocalyptic war, and how he hopes that he is happy today. He joins another fan favorite character, Tracer, as part of the LGBT representation in the game, who was revealed to have a girlfriend in a Christmas comic two years ago. 

This is important, not just because there’s another gay character in the game so that players seeking representation is given it, but because of the type of representation. Typically, LGBT representation in video games follows decades old stereotypes, as well as placing these characters in side or background character roles. Catherine, a critically and audience acclaimed game from 2011, included such treatment. In the game, there is a character named Erica, who is a trans woman. Most characters speak kindly of her; however the “protagonist” of the game constantly makes unprovoked transphobic comments about her.  And a lot of times, the characters aren’t specifically identified as part of the LGBT community, just implied because of heavy stereotype use, like Persona 4’s “cross-dressing” Kanji. However, lead Overwatch writer, Michael Chu, confirmed that Soldier 76 is gay through a tweet.

 

This is a step in the right direction. While it doesn’t completely revolutionize the types of representation seen, it does help liberate the community and give a sense of hope for the types of representation we can look forward to. There are plenty of online listacles that let those looking for LGBT representation in a video game find it, but those follow the same limitations mentioned before. Because of this, the community is asking- no, demanding- for better and more frequent representation. With a rise in more prominent and publicly identifying LGBT gamers, the conversation comes up more often.

Video games are different from other types of massive media consumption because it requires the input and participation from the player. For a lot of people, it's how they live out the fantasies they can’t be part of in real life. Whether that be something as large as saving the universe over an entire series, or something as personal as seeing people reflect marginalized groups in a brighter light, it’s all relevant and important as long as there are people who ask for it. With a growing demand for better LGBT representation in all forms of media, it makes sense that the most personal type be reevaluating how its done its job in the past, and how to improve for the future.

There are those who believe there is no place for sexuality in video games, and say that Blizzard is trying to pander to their audience with their latest announcement. However, the majority of the online reaction was positive, with many praising the writers for delivering on a fan favorite theory, and others just plain excited to have the representation.

It's taken Blizzard two years to reveal its second gay character. Early on, the creators had said many characters fell into the LGBT community, but have been hesitant to reveal exactly which characters. This is most likely due to the many toxic corners of the gaming community, but that model could be changing. Hopefully it doesn’t take another two years, but for right now, we get to witness a really cool moment; both of the most commonly played character of one of the biggest games in the world are irrevocably, undeniably gay.