There’s a phenomenon within the Overwatch group that has continued by the unique recreation’s 2016 launch, its gradual decline, and the launch of the sequel. This phenomenon is an attention-grabbing one, a type of “IYKYK” scenario that requires membership in a particular group to be able to acknowledge its members: in Overwatch, lots of queer gamers select to play as healers. Possibly you haven’t observed this—possibly you’re straight (I’m sorry) and may’t spot an alphabet military soldier in your foyer, however when you’re within the LGBTQIA+ group and play Overwatch 2, you recognize precisely what I’m speaking about.
Mercy mains with rainbow participant icons, Moira one-tricks sporting her Bowie pores and skin, two-stacks who instalock assist with some iteration of “-ussy” of their gamertag—when you listen, you’ll see that the gays are in every single place in Overwatch, and more often than not they’re enjoying healer.
However that is all anecdotal proof, proper? Absolutely gays don’t gravitate to enjoying healers that disproportionately, do they? After lots of of hours logged in Overwatch 2 comp , most of which I performed as a healer, I felt a burning need to delve deeper into this phenomenon and determine why I stored encountering fellow gays within the assist position. I had my theories: queer individuals are used to supporting their discovered households in the actual world, assist roles are notoriously much less poisonous, lots of the healer characters are femme or androgynous—however I wanted extra.
So, I put out a name for “homosexual folks” on Twitter, I interviewed gamers and friends, and I spoke to a queer-identifying counselor, all in an try to correctly examine Overwatch’s homosexual therapeutic agenda. The result’s an interesting have a look at a subculture inside a subculture, one marked by real-world social queues, kink play, emotional connections, and, sadly, a irritating lack of scientific analysis.
Picture: Blizzard / Nico D.
The obvious reply (and one of many extra frequent ones I obtained on Twitter) as to why queer folks play healers in Overwatch is that the characters themselves are homosexual icons. Despite the fact that the one two overtly queer characters are each DPS heroes, the lineup of assist characters seems lots like the road exterior of Happyfun Hideaway on a Saturday evening: the uber-feminine and mushy Mercy, the muscular and daring Brigitte, the candy however sturdy Baptiste, the spunky and sarcastic Kiriko, the calm and picked up Zenyatta, the androgynous and tall Moira, the soothing and maturely attractive Ana. In comparison with your typical FPS lineup, and even many of the different Overwatch characters (save for outliers like Zarya and Mei), the assist squad on this recreation feels demonstrably queer.
Overwatch participant and freelance author Nico D. echoes this sentiment through electronic mail, saying the characters “are designed in such a strategy to be fascinating to queer communities—Moira is a REALLY good instance of this, however I additionally know lots of queer ladies or different queer people who find themselves drawn to ladies that love Mercy, Ana, and Brig.” Nico suggests this has to do with the futuristic, sci-fi fashions depicted within the recreation “that additionally occur to be on characters with sometimes queer-coded appearances like barely extra atypical physique varieties/silhouettes/haircuts.”
That undoubtedly describes most Overwatch assist heroes. And although Mercy is slim and white and historically enticing (Blizzard does, in spite of everything, traditionally have an issue with portraying ladies’s our bodies), she nonetheless doesn’t really feel as aggressively sexualized as somebody like Widowmaker, whose impossibly lengthy legs and large tits scream The Male Gaze everytime she runs (in heels) throughout the display screen.
Others who determine as queer and play Overwatch predominantly as healers inform me that the assist characters are “homosexual icons” whose presence/vibes counsel queerness though it’s not outright said. “They really feel queer” is a sentiment that, whereas scientifically unimaginable to show, is persistently echoed in each messages to me and Overwatch group areas. However “feeling queer” is a helluva lot completely different than being canonically queer—so why doesn’t it appear to be members of the group play Tracer and Soldier: 76 as a lot as they play healers?
Enterprise into the Reddit or TikTok trenches in quest of a solution as to why homosexual folks play healers and also you’ll doubtless stumble throughout the “I can’t purpose” meme. Like many web fables, this one is considerably rooted in actuality. Evie Might Barber, author and narrative designer, tells me through Twitter DM that when she performed Overwatch, she mained Lucio and Mercy as a result of she finds healers in FPS titles “require much less precision and extra technique,” whereas the DPS characters’ effectiveness are largely rooted in accuracy.
A need to keep away from roles that require accuracy could possibly be a facet impact of conventional multiplayer FPS titles being largely unsafe areas for ladies and non cis-het males—it’s laborious to really feel comfy or competent in these roles when the abilities it’s essential excel at them ought to have been honed at nighttime and scary servers of Halo three or CS:GO, throughout a time when the mere trace of “otherness” was met with viciousness, slurs, and threats.
The boys’ membership of FPS titles might not exist in such severity in the present day because it did within the early 2000s, however its results linger. “There was a meta-analysis performed that had a number of outcomes, particularly about Overwatch,” says Dr. Sarah Hays, a queer-identifying counselor at nonprofit org Sport to Develop and director of programming at Queer Girls of Esports, throughout a video name. “After all, it was on a gender binary, however male esports opponents are seen as extra aggressive than feminine opponents. Feminine gamers consider assist to be the best place to play and like to play it as a result of they don’t need to be blamed for not doing nicely.” She pauses. “That meta examine has a complete bunch of information. I simply hate that it’s performed on a gender binary.”
“Non male-identified folks have a tendency in direction of selecting a personality that they will really feel assured in. In order that they cut back harassment…they’re not going to obtain flack for being one other ignorant non-dude. Which sucks. Nevertheless it’s true” — Dr. Sarah Hays
It’s clear that the shortage of enough analysis round LGBTQIA+ avid gamers and the roles they select to inhabit in multiplayer titles frustrates Dr. Hays. “My plea is: ‘folks, let’s do analysis on this as a result of it’s so cool,’” she says earnestly earlier than returning to the meta examine, combing by it to try to discover some extra connections to the idea at hand: “Non male-identified folks have a tendency in direction of selecting a personality that they will really feel assured in. In order that they cut back harassment they usually cut back a few of that enter. ‘It’s simpler to play assist as a result of I’m not getting as a lot shit, I’m not getting blamed for that.’ That’s one thing we’re seeing each based mostly in analysis and customarily: folks need to look and feel and appear like they know what they’re doing, in order that they’re not going to obtain flack for being one other ignorant non-dude. Which sucks. Nevertheless it’s true.”
Dr. Hays doesn’t say this phrase throughout our chat, nevertheless it lingers overhead: toxicity. “I believe queer people pattern towards assist because it feels just like the least poisonous position or not less than one which has much less toxicity related to them,” says Threshold Video games’ group supervisor Colin Cummings in a DM. So, a part of the explanation queer-identiying avid gamers could also be selecting healers is to keep away from the rampant toxicity that comes with enjoying aggressive FPS video games. However how a lot do real-world experiences exterior of gaming tie into selecting the assist position?
Picture: Blizzard / Nico D.
I’m happy when one in every of my theories is echoed by a couple of fellow healers: queer folks, so typically compelled to guard themselves as a result of the federal government gained’t shield them, so related to discovered households made up of supportive mates, would naturally gravitate in direction of characters who present security and safety.
“I don’t suppose that it’s a far stretch to think about that the fantasy of assist or healers is interesting to teams of people that require communities round them for security and affection,” Nico writes.
After I point out my idea in a DM with Eric Ravenscraft, product author and reviewer at Wired, he’s on board, too. “Truthfully, that wouldn’t shock me an excessive amount of,” he writes. “Help may be very a lot herding cats, retaining your valuable infants alive whereas they’re getting chased down by a imply dude with a hammer…many of the LGBTQIA+ people I do know reside in a really found-family kinda house that turns into very protecting of out of doors threats. Each single individual I do know in that house is aware of what it’s like to guard their mates—and even randos—from a bigoted guardian or establishment or whathaveyou. That kinda mindset maps fairly cleanly onto retaining 4 randos you simply met secure on-line.”
“I don’t suppose that it’s a far stretch to think about that the fantasy of assist or healers is interesting to teams of people that require communities round them for security and affection.” — Nico D., freelance author
This social connection between assist roles IRL and in Overwatch is one thing Dr. Hays “loves” throughout our chat—it clearly sparks her curiosity, and I can see her cogs turning on our video chat as she begins pondering the bigger ramifications of this concept. “I’m wondering if there isn’t a correlation between oppressed identification and feeling higher as an individual within the place of healer, as a result of it signifies that you get to keep away from the blame, but additionally you get to be bolstered as somebody who’s useful and supportive, and simpler in that position? Yeah, due to the best way that our real-life experiences have catered to that, as nicely.”
Whereas Dr. Hays is clearly impressed by these concepts, she reiterates that there’s simply not sufficient analysis about this type of stuff to supply us with a lot concrete proof. She does, nonetheless, convey up a scientific examine that leaves my jaw on the ground.
I’ve used this picture 3 times on Kotaku.com.Picture: Blizzard / Kotaku
After I wrote about how Overwatch 2’s shorthand is a particular model of twisted, the slang time period for Moira’s therapeutic (pee) was on the prime of my thoughts. So when Dr. Hays begins speaking a few scientific examine about Overwatch’s “healsluts,” I’m, as the children say, gagged—the connections are there, drawn collectively by queer gamers who’re, the truth is, little freaks.
Assuming the position of a healslut, in response to the examine from Finnish tutorial journal Widerscreen, “[invites] gamers to deploy parts of BDSM kink and sexuality not merely inside the vocabulary and design of the sport, but additionally in a communal paratext surrounding the sport involving boards, voice chat, and viral fan-designed photos.” Kotaku already wrote about this kinky phenomenon virtually eight years in the past—a r/healslut moderator instructed Kotaku author Luke Winkie that healsluts take traditional dominant and submissive roles which are synonymous with conventional BDSM and apply it to the roles specified by Overwatch.
The tank (dom) protects and compliments the healers (subs), sometimes scolding them in the event that they fail. Healsluts have one major responsibility, and it’s to guard their doms (DPS characters are thought of darker, extra violent variations of tanks, which is smart when you’ve ever tried to pocket heal a Genji). Although a lot of the writing about this group was revealed a number of years in the past, I can verify that r/healsluts remains to be an energetic subreddit.
In lots of circumstances, the Venn diagram of kink and queer communities is a circle, with kink enjoying an necessary position in Delight occasions and within the historical past and legacy of LGBTQIA+ folks. Kink play in Overwatch is a “a manner for resisting ‘masculine-normative hegemonic fandom’ in video video games,” in response to the aforementioned examine, and it persists even after Overwatch 1 was sundown rather than a free-to-play sequel.
So whether or not it’s due to cishet-y FPS strain making assist a extra enticing position, social roles inside discovered households that translate to video games, the indefinable however nonetheless considerably tangible queerness of the healer characters, or a preternatural have to heal large, dommy tanks, it’s very clear that there are lots of LGBTQIA+ folks enjoying assist in Overwatch 2.
I might fortunately unpack this phenomenon in one other 2,000 phrases, however possibly I ought to simply go away it at what Kaitlin Jakola, managing editor at The Hint and former Gizmodo worker, needed to say about it:
“I assume all of us heal as a result of gays like to be each extraordinarily highly effective and woefully unappreciated in our personal time????” Work, bestie.