Overwatch releases a new short story and confirms that yes, Soldier 76 is gay

    
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this isn't sad at all alexa play dogsong

Poor Ana, she got a bit short-sold on her own short story. Yes, Overwatch’s healing sniper gets her own bit of short fiction, but the biggest takeaway from the story for many fans has been the fact that Soldier 76 is most definitely gay. The story specifically mentions his relationship with a man named Vincent which he had to leave behind, and lead writer Michael Chu took to Twitter to clarify that Morrison himself specifically identifies as a gay man.

The game has also put up a new update on the test server for players to explore, which features quality-of-life features like improved kill information when spectating, including new types of kills and the status effects of the heroes you’re spectating at any given moment. You can also have the spectator camera stay locked in position and disable hero voice lines if you wish to. All good changes, although they’re likely to be overshadowed by the fans happy to hear that the cast has another confirmed LGBT member.

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Jack Kerras

I hear a lot of stuff about how this doesn’t matter, and that’s cool.

It’s fine that it doesn’t matter to you, and this kind of thing has no requirement in terms of engagement; it makes no difference in-game, you don’t need to know it to play and enjoy yourself.

The thing is that for some of us it really does matter.

The number of gay or trans or bi or non-binary characters in video games just isn’t that high (even though the incidence of LGBTQ folks in gaming, both consumption and development, far exceeds national averages). When we’re growing up, we have few role models that specifically say ‘this person is like you, and they are a hero’. When I was growing up, it was essentially none.

One of the reasons for my favorite movie – despite being from the 60s and having some aging problems – is that T. E. Lawrence was a bit of an odd character himself. It’s explored to some degree in the movie. It comes out very clearly in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence of Arabia spoke to me because the main character, rather than being a big snarly badass, is an unusual, fey, off-the-beaten-path sort of individual, and no matter what else happens with or about him, I looked at him and said ‘wow, this fella’s a hero, but he’s odd like me’.

Maybe I’m not broken after all.

Again: there are other problems with the movie, but Lawrence stood out to me like crazy while I was still trying to understand who I am. He was a foothold. He gave me something to search about, to investigate, to ask about in search of myself.

(then came Le Guin; Earthsea was a great read, and I saw some of myself in Ged despite knowing he looked quite different from me. Left Hand of Darkness was more personally relevant by far, though.)

It’s a huge, huge deal for folks to see themselves in a literary or media character. It’s amazing for gay folks to go ‘holy shit 76 is my dream daddy’ because it means they’ve made a positive connection with someone whose gayness isn’t purely tragic, as it so often becomes in media of all stripes.

The importance of representation in this sense – for gay folks, or non-binary folks, or trans folks, or literally anyone who has very little of that in popular culture – cannot be overstated. The amount of ‘understand myself’ I would have had in my younger years (it’s now been 20 years since I was still ‘growing up’) would have been drastically different if games with Overwatch’s representation mores had existed when I was a pup. They didn’t, so it took me deep into adulthood to work a lot of things out which folks in their teens or even earlier are starting to understand.

‘You are not alone’ is unbelievably hard to find. Your parents can say it, your brother or your friend can say it, but when you know you’re not like them, you feel like you have a secret, always. Like there’s something no one will understand, always.

I understand. Someone at Blizzard understands, and is pushing to make that clear. We’ve been there, you’re not an alien, you’re not a changeling, there’s nothing about you that means you’re dissolute or evil or corrupted because you like a certain thing or you are a certain way.

Thirty million people play Overwatch. One and a half million of those – a minority to be sure – are statistically likely to be LGBTQ in some way. That’s not even mentioning folks who are, for example, missing a limb and resonate with Junkrat or McCree as a result, etc., etc. The impact may go beyond just the playerbase, since Overwatch is such a phenomenon.

A lot of cultural forces want us to feel bad about who we are, to look to the Church or the state or what-have-you for validation of our lives and ourselves.

People need to see things like this. It is, honest and truly, hand to God, a matter of life and death for some of us.

Even when it’s not about us – our own experiences, the reflections we see in literature or media, etc. – normalization of people who aren’t straight/cis/white/male etc. is really important. The more heroic non-white folks you see in literature and media as you grow up, the less likely you are to carry prejudice your parents may have had, even when you’re living in a place where that kind of prejudice is common. Seeing more of humanity and different culture in life used to mean travel; now it’s showing up more often in an accessible format, so even people who are environmentally predisposed towards prejudice are growing up with a lot of those edges rounded off.

It’s… a profoundly big deal to see so much of this. Again, it’s totally okay if you don’t care; you have your heroes and I have mine, you have your influences and I have mine. You are who you are in part because of the heroes you admire.

I tell you what, though: I cannot tell you how much I needed this when I was young, and it was not there. I am overjoyed to know that newer generations have a chance to miss the isolation and heartbreak that I knew.

I spent north of a decade thinking something was fundamentally wrong with me, keeping a secret, feeling I could not confide in anyone, trying every single day not to think of how nice it would be if I could just… stop being. And I have a wonderful family that loves me and accepts me despite all the twists and turns I’ve thrown their way! That is not common (literally zero of my friends were as fortunate), and I am extraordinarily lucky to have made it to adulthood.

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Armsbend

I really enjoyed reading your eloquent perspective – it sincerely made me rethink mine a bit.

This very day in fact I listened to a retrospective on why Nina Simone wrote ‘To be young, gifted and black”. Basically because no one was telling black kids they were worth a shit.

I see your point.

if you’d like to see her interview (I think she is brilliant in every way possible) here is the song live and an interview to go with it.

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Jack Kerras

From having read some of your other replies in this thread – no rancor, I get it – this response was extremely affecting.

Thank you.

Watching this video right now.

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IronSalamander8 .

Heard about this on NPR today, very good thing to know.

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Armsbend

If you’ve never heard her other songs she is one of the most talented people ever born that the mainstream hardly ever talks about.

i was listening to the same broadcast likely at the same time. I was a fan of hers when I was in college and hadn’t listened to her much since (long time). re-ignited a fire in me.

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Alex Willis

Bravo for that post.

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Jack Kerras

Appreciate it. :)

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Arcanum Zero

Here’s to survival, Jack; and to those who didn’t.

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Jack Kerras

For real. I know a couple folks like me who weren’t so lucky.

Thinking about them a lot is why I go and write thousand-word articles in response to two-hundred-word articles sometimes.

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agemyth 😩

Thank you for taking the time to write that.

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Jack Kerras

I could say the same to you, for reading it. And I will! Thanks. <3

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Bruno Brito

Cheering for you, buddy. Break a leg in life.

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Jack Kerras

Thanks dude! Workin’ on it. Just bought my first house. ^_^

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Bruno Brito

Ohhh! Selfcare!

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IronSalamander8 .

A solid post. Honestly I do believe it matters. For example; Paladins really got some love when they announced Imani as a strong black, female character as they’re aren’t many of them in games like this. I showed a friend of mine her and she was elated to see her (she’s African-American).

I do agree that representation in such things like games, books, and movies are important. When I state that it’s not an issue to me it comes off more dismissive than I want it to perhaps. We do need diversity in our game heroes for sure. A more accurate statement of my position is that the sexuality of a character doesn’t matter to me when I play; if I like a character I’ll play them, if I don’t I won’t regardless of gender, skin color, sexuality, and other such factors.

I apologize if I came off dismissive in my post earlier, my intention was more of a ‘fine with me’ rather than ‘I don’t care’.

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Jack Kerras

It’s all good; I don’t take any offense to things like this, because it’s right and proper to be largely unaffected when something that doesn’t directly concerns you goes down.

A lot of folks feel it’s somehow a detriment to the rest of the game (see: Tuor of Gondolin above), and I don’t completely understand that.

My thinking is that it’s less about personal bitterness or anger and more about fundamental ignorance; not always a refusal to learn, but a lack of opportunity, interest, or investment in the process of coming to understand folks who just don’t seem to make an impact on one’s everyday life.

I mean, I know for a fact that’s silly; there are TONS of LGBTQ folks in gaming, as I said earlier, because escapism early in life for not-cisgender-and-hetero folks (I don’t try to speak to brown-ness much, being white, I just don’t have the experience) can be immensely important to making it through the rough times and to the good times.

In any case: it’s not my intent to shame anyone or shout anyone down. I’m really only interested in being heard, and I’m aware of the fact that there’ll be folks who hear what I say, digest that information, and return to their normal lives thinking that I’m no more than a Godless heathen whose dalliances are directly responsible for earthquakes. :)

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sophiskiai

Beautifully articulated, thankyou for writing this in such eloquent detail.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of folk singer Grace Petrie, but parts of your post reminded me of her wonderful song “Black Tie”, which still makes me cry (in a good way) every time I hear it:

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Jack Kerras

I had not, and now I have.

I really liked this. Thanks a lot! :D

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Eliandal

If I could give this 100 thumbs up, I would! Thank you!!!

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Jack Kerras

Thank you.

I really appreciate all the response to this; you spend a lot of time shouting into the void when it comes to stuff like this.

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Serrenity

I don’t really play very often, but this still means a lot to me too. Having a hero who’s gay (and not hopelessly caricatured and stereotyped) is a big deal.

Maybe I’m biased, but this doesn’t feel forced to me. It feels just enough of a “this is part of who he is … ” but not a “this is the entirety of who he is.” My favorite / most appreciated representation of gay characters are those characters where it’s part of who they were, but not entirely and it’s not a Things. Where you can openly talk about someone’s sexuality and it not be a huge Thing (see: The Bright Sessions). This feels along those lines – it fills in the blanks for who he is.

and it made my day.

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Jack Kerras

I’m glad you feel that way. :) I don’t play all that much, either, I just can’t help but champion for the kind of person I was once: someone who really needed someone to say ‘you’re not broken’.

I don’t think it feels forced, either. A lot of folks complain about how their ships are broken or how it’s just a useless piece of trivia or what-have-you… but you can pretty much tell that those folks haven’t had the kind of issues that would have been solved, or at least salved, by seeing themselves in a character that’s admirable.

Gay folks in popular culture so often come down to ‘flamboyant comic relief’ or ‘bad guy who has a weakness’ or ‘tragic gay who needs to be avenged’, or what-have-you. There’re plenty of tropes and most characters fall into them; 76 is just as he’s always been, instead of dropping into one of those well-stuffed pigeonholes.

He’s a fighter, he takes care of his squad, he’s a great shot, and he has a strong personal moral compass. He’s gay, and to some of us, that means that one more hero (not a tragic figure, or a figurehead, or a caricature) has felt the things that we feel, known the things that we know.

It’s important, even if Overwatch is not your game.

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K38FishTacos

Thank you for helping me to understand something better today, Jack Kerras. In this context, it means thank you for helping me to grow as a person.

I have to admit that when I read the headline, my knee-jerk reaction was to scoff and think “Who cares about how a video game avatar *identifies*?” Now I see that my reaction was a flaw in myself that showed a narrow-mind and that I still need to grow always keeping my mind open and not taking it for granted. I of course have paid lip-service to that truth, but because of your taking the time to write this post, I experienced a realization and understand that I’ve been complacent. So, thanks again for helping me to understand myself and my fellow human beings better.

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Jack Kerras

I don’t think that initial reaction is even remotely your fault, and I’m glad I could help you work something out about this weird, rough subject. I work pretty hard to try and get a basic understanding across on this score: innocuous statements in one ear can be as good as death threats in another, and the way that we look at the world can mean drastically different experiences from a given set of stimuli.

I really appreciate that you took the time to read what I wrote, and even more that you were able to take a look at yourself and your responses afterwards. It’s extremely gratifying to hear that my writing had such an impact. Thank you for your open-mindedness, and well done for being able to stop and look within; that is no common thing, and it’s of greater value than many would have you believe.

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Bree Royce

Thank you for sharing your story, Jack. You just made my “ug 225 comments on the Soldier76 post” 8am reaction turn into “this is why I love our commenters.”

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Jack Kerras

Hey, that’s really something, coming from one of the staff! I appreciate that, and of course you’re more than welcome. :)

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Schmidt.Capela

As I said in another post, I dislike it when this kind of inclusiveness is poorly done; characters that feel underdeveloped or shoehorned just for the sake of representation, that don’t feel like they belong in the lore, that give off the vibe that they only exist, or only represent a certain group, so the dev and publisher can brag about how inclusive their game is. IMHO this kind of lazy approach towards representation can be worse than not representing those groups altogether.

Blizzard, thankfully, seems to be approaching the issue with more respect than that, though it does feel like they are doing this in a way that can avoid issues (or even fines/bans) in less open-minded countries by just filtering which parts of the game’s backstory they publish there.

(And then there’s the times minority characters are added in a way I can only think of as a joke. Like making Heimdall the most visible black Asgardian in Thor, when in mythology Heimdall is the Asgardian god with the whitest skin of them all.)

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Jack Kerras

I like it when characters are poorly done in general, and that’s a huge swath of video games; few have a motivation that isn’t some ultra-hackneyed ‘revenge’ situation, many are thoroughly one-dimensional, and across the board writing in games is just -poor-.

It’s not really anyone’s fault, honestly; I feel that story and gameplay are at odds unless they’re truly designed, from the ground up, by the entire team, to serve one another.

Mostly, I don’t care about the actual narrative of games. I’ve read too many fantastic books to think most game stories are groundbreaking or even remotely worthy. Even the ones that are really good feel like you get to read a half a page of story, at which point you have to go out and chop some wood, and then you can have another half-page. I’m fucking interested. Don’t drip-feed me. I’ve been chopping virtual wood and carrying virtual water for twenty years, just unload ferchrissake.

In any case: yeah. Blizzard has a panel of folks that help consult on these kinds of issues and avoid doing things that are incredibly gross, which plenty of companies have done in an attempt to be inclusive (or just show inclusivity, as detractors will decry Blizzard for attempting). Blizz -actually- seems to give a shit about it, since they pull folks in on the clock to sit down and go over their writers’ intent with LGBTQ+ characters.

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Freddy

Well put

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Jack Kerras

Thanks much. :)

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Grave Knight

Overwatch, progressing lore at a glacier’s pace. It’s two and a half years since Old Soldiers. Two years since Reflection (when they said there were other LGBT+ character but then never said who). One and a half years since Searching, the last lore comic.

Overwatch, progressing lore at a glacier’s pace.

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Melissa McDonald

everyone is entitled to their opinion, nobody is “right” or “wrong”. My opinion is that sexual preference is completely irrelevant in a game without sex. It would matter in Second Life. Most MMOs, not one whit. YMMV.

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Jack Kerras

This is similar to the issues with taking trans protections (and, in fact, gender-inclusivity as a whole concept) out of federal rules and regulations by the current administration.

That doesn’t really change anything for the vast majority of us, even trans folks, in and of itself.

What that change did, however, is embolden the folks who think they’re right to exclude, abuse, and deny us access to things that other folks get just for being human. Things which other-ize us aren’t just bad for us in the specific case of a single rule or ruling; losses on this score they help to worsen our entire environment.

The above change has had effects on trans and NB folks despite pertaining specifically to government posts; even if none were affected directly by the ruling (and some have been), it would still be a win for the folks who think we’re not people, and it could still represent a tipping point between an apartment complex manager saying ‘eh, I don’t wanna die on this hill’ or ‘no trannies allowed, no exceptions’.

I don’t think everyone will ever accept me. But the more people who deny my existence or imply, explicity or implicitly, that I am subhuman or inhuman or abhuman, the better my chances of getting fuckin’ murdered become.

So: while 76’s preferences have no bearing on gameplay, that is not to say in any way whatsoever that they have no bearing. They may have none to you, but the difference to me is pretty significant, as evidenced by my vigorous, attentive responses to this thread as a whole.

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Jack Kerras

Sexual preference isn’t just about sex, though. If it only mattered in the bedroom, then folks wouldn’t get denied loans or fired from jobs or beaten and murdered in the street for having sex with the wrong configuration of genitalia.

This is another perennial problem with LGBTQ+ stuff; it’s roundly considered ‘sexual content’, IE not appropriate for children, not okay to talk about in polite company, etc., despite the fact that relationships between men and women are routinely explored in conversation to a much deeper degree of intimacy.

Just taking progress pics of your transition and posting them is enough to get banned for ‘adult content’ on some platforms. Talking about being gay gets you squelched, because whenever you say ‘I’m gay’, the thing people instantly think is ‘I slam men in the ass with my big gay cock’, and that’s, like… that’s exists, we’re adults, almost all of us are interested in sex stuff (with exceptions for ace folks or null folks et al.), and in America, our intense sex-prudishness counts ten times as much when it’s gay couples or poly folks or tons of other things, even when there’s nothing pornographic about the depiction.

So, I mean… again, a lot of folks figure it doesn’t matter, and I roundly disagree with that, not because it’s my opinion, but because wider visibility and acceptance makes the world actively less hostile for me and the people I love.

This isn’t really a matter of opinion, to my mind. For straight cis folks, it makes no difference. For me, it adjusts the incidence of my being abused, excluded, assaulted, etc.

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Armsbend

Well if nothing else – this one should defo make the most popular articles list in 11 months :)

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Jack Kerras

And I helped! \o/

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Bryan Correll

The attached image is a panel from the same comic that ‘outed’ Tracer. So there is evidence that, at least as far back as that comic, 76’s relationship with Vincent was a planned part of lore.

Soldier 76 Remembers.png
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Roger Melly

I don’t know much about Overwatch but if Soldier 76 is a playable character and given the rampant homophobia in WoW I suspect this he will be one of least played characters in the game .

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Jack Kerras

He is a playable character.

He is, in fact, basically the ‘default’ character; one of his things is that he can sprint at will (which no one else in Overwatch can), the other is that he gets crazy aimhacks as an ult, he can fire a missile at folks, and he can plant a healing beacon.

He’s an all-rounder who has an answer to almost every situation; picking an attacking Phara out of the sky easily with his rifle, wearing down shields with sustained fire or damaging tanks to soften them up for a finisher, knocking folks around with the plasma helix or dealing real damage to hit-and-faders, being able to get to objectives (or return to objectives) more quickly than almost any hero in game…

He’s ‘default’ in the sense that he is The One Who Feels Like CoD. No weird special jump abilities, no shield to project, nothing to do but heal himself and his buddies, shoot guns and rockets, and hustle hard. He’s also the tutorial character, as I recall, and a recommended starter hero for anyone new to the game.

76 is a big deal, although many consider him first-order optimal and grow out of him quickly despite his being a usable, functional multirole character. Most want to hit harder (and go Reaper) or snipe (and go Widow) or flank (and go Tracer), but his toolset is like 85% as good as the best character’s in any given situation… in every situation.

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PurpleCopper

Damn it, I was totally expecting Zarya to be the gay one, not Soldier 76.

Oh well, third times the charm?

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Jack Kerras

Whooooof.

A) I would love that; gay, trans, etc., I’d take anything they’ll give me about Zarya, I love her. Scarred-up soldier ladies are my fucking jam.

B) Russia would be Profoundly Mad. If any of them were sufficiently in the know, that’d probably be banworthy. Having a gay person in a game is bad enough; having a deviant who is a Russian hero is probably a bridge too far.

I definitely want it to happen for selfish reasons, and I’m… a little okay with Russia banning that if it means that more people are going to fight their fucking terrifying government and push back on gay issues. Pussy Riot’s pretty much got ‘lifetime hardass’ status on lock, but… even more is clearly needed.

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rafael12104

Wow, this really spawned quite a lengthy commentary. I’m a little surprised actually because it wasn’t totally out of left field.

So my take is simple. I’m glad that some are finding some validation the fact that OW has revealed another gay character. I can understand why it is important.

For me, it is a slightly different perspective. I find the detail as woven into the story as natural. Was I looking for it? No. Had it been otherwise I, frankly, wouldn’t have counted it a missed opportunity. But such as it is, it is significant and I’m glad it is part of the story.

The strange thing about OW is that the story of each character and the events that transpire in that universe are separate from gameplay. And yet the story is a big part of the fandom as has been proven time and time again.

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Bruno Brito

Honestly, if you tell me the entirety of OW cast to be LGBT, i wouldn’t really find that to be bad. It fits their narrative for a more progressive story and i honestly would be ok with the attempt at normalizing said features.

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people are against minority exposure being used as a marketing ploy, when heterosexual powertrips and sexualization is used all the time and no one bats an eye.

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Schmidt.Capela

I’m against it when it’s not properly done. When authors introduce LGBT characters that don’t fit the story or scenario, when a character that never gave any indication of being homosexual is declared as such without a proper backstory for context, when characters are replaced with someone from a minority or discriminated group just to fill some quota. For example, I see the most recent GhostBusters movie as the textbook definition of how to do this wrong on all accounts (and in particular in how the movie made the Janine Melnitz replacement a dumb blond that the other characters only consider useful as eyecandy).

When it’s properly done, though, I’m all for it.

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Jack Kerras

Whether these things are done properly or not is never so closely scrutinized as it is when the person being replaced has been viewed as a Standard Human (cis, white, male, straight) and the person they are being replaced with is an Other (black, gay, trans, NB, female, etc).

Every inclusion of a gay character in any literature at this point needs to reach a bar unbelievably higher than any straight character would ever require to be considered a worthy addition of a game. The goalposts constantly move, and frankly, tragedy is such an easy out for LGBTQ+ folks that it’s super uncommon to find a healthy, happy, well-adjusted gay couple anywhere in literature or media.

So, I mean, while I respect the ‘let’s keep an eye on quality’ thing in a vacuum, this perspective is weaponized more often than not; it’s yet another tool to ensure that LGBTQ+ folks remain shut out.

I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting five one-dimensional nuance-free straight white male characters who get the girl at the end, and even when they’re the main character, not a single one of them is as well-written as even the bit-in’est bit part in Overwatch.

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Vincent Clark

“…them saying look we have a gay character now just comes across as that its shining a light on something simply because its there not because it added something or achieved something its just pointing it out”…this statement makes me cringe. We live in a world where gay people are still discriminated against, beaten, and killed simply for being gay. No other reason. Simply because, they are.

For the record, the UK is not the world. Just because you perceive everything to be “all grand” for gay people in the UK doesn’t mean it is for the thousands of gay people living around the world. Representation is important, regardless if you deem it irrelevant.

God, sometimes I hate the internet.

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Dankey Kang

How about giving us WoW 2 or a real successor to Diablo 2, Blizzard? Should be easy with the trillions your sitting on.

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BalsBigBrother

Reading some of the comments below I just want to say its possible to have thoughts about a subject as it relates to a game on a personal level and also thoughts about the subject of diversity and gender identification as a whole without compromising either.

So you could on a personal level say that Soldier 76 being gay has no personal meaning to you. That doesn’t stop or negate the fact that you can still appreciate and support that it will also mean something to other folks.

A few folks seem to be taking a rather black or white view of this subject when it seems to be much more nuanced to me.

I will freely admit that its a subject that I am not fully conversant with but I am open minded, willing to listen what people say and I hope folks will reciprocate.

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Vincent Clark

well said.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Exactly this. I see lots of comments about “It doesn’t matter to me, therefore it’s stupid.”

Just because it doesn’t matter to you or you don’t care about the lore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to a ton of people. And them being excited about it in no way impacts you if it doesn’t matter to you.