A Post-Mortem on Grand Heist of Zaun

Grand Heist of Zaun (or GHoZ as I’ll be referring to it) was my personal labor of love and the longest thing I’ve written to date. With the massive lore changes coming to Piltover/Zaun in official League lore, I wanted to look back on this fan fiction and look through both props and criticism given to me, as well as to look back on what I could do better in the future. (One word of warning: Spoilers! If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do!)

What Worked

The Piltover Side

From what I’ve been told, people seem to think that I had done a good job with the Piltover characters. Vi and Caitlyn felt realistic and were characters with real motivations. They didn’t act drastically out of character and felt like they were coming right out of the game. In addition, I’ve been told that Piltover felt like a real place. Snobby, uptight but a real, wonderful place. If I was to go back, I’d probably keep the Piltover side fairly the same.

Mach

I was surprised by this myself but apparently people very much warmed up to him. According to the feedback I got, Mach felt like a realistic addition to the League universe. He had great motivation, he wasn’t quite like other male characters in the League universe and he had a strength that was appropriate to the story. Most of all, he didn’t warp the story and make it all about him. I can’t say how truthful this is but, from the words of others, he was pretty great.

Viktor

Perhaps my greatest success according to those that read it was my portrayal of Viktor. He apparently came off as real. A man tortured by past failures and lies. Someone who does despicable things but a man who grapples with his oncoming humanity. His creation of Mach is less to add a character to the universe but to try to learn more about himself. Honestly, I could probably cut out every other part of the fan fic and still get a great story out of it simply because of Viktor.

Numerous Side Characters

GHoZ was loaded with side characters and, to be truthful, I can’t put them all in their own category. Despite this, feedback told me that people had all sorts of favorites from the short storylines. Whether it was Zac’s starry-eyed and humble nature, Orianna and Blitzcrank’s blossoming romance or the short dialogue between Swain, Singed and Mundo. It may not be perfect but these moments were good enough to warrant feedback apparently!

What I’m Not Sold On

Viktor’s Robots

As much as I like these characters, I think they were a bit…one-dimensional. Robot jokes beside, I don’t think I wrote these two to the best of my ability. Too much peaceful messiah-ness from Quantum and Omega was just “Cool robot doing cool things until he dies”. I think these two could still work but I really want to go back and take another crack at them to make them a little less flat and a little more human.

Jinx

While people told me Jinx was true to character and she was fun to read, I can’t shake the feeling that she was more plot lubricant than an earnest addition. She had foresight and capability perhaps a little too great for her character. More importantly, she served to move the plot and throw wrenches in everyone’s plans. While I definitely think Jinx is smarter than she lets on and that she is a formidable foe, giving her too much power for the sake of the story is just wrong. She can work, she just needs to be tuned.

C

Woah boy. If there was one character that had incredibly polarizing reception, it was C. Some told me he came off as a wounded soul with tons of backstory, just the right amount of fluff and backstory to make him a compelling anti-hero. Others told me he felt like a stupidly powerful get-out-of-jail free card with no danger associated with him. I can’t say I lean too far either way. All I can say is that if I’d ever revisit this story, I -really- want to try this again. There is a working character here, I just need to get it right.

What Didn’t Work

Janna

I royally ruined League’s mistress of wind. Looking back, I didn’t give her enough moments for her own. I defined her too much by her past connection and should have given her more power on her own. She felt more like Q from James Bond; the side character providing gadgets for Bond when she should be in the limelight in her own right. In revisiting this, I would give Janna her own spotlight and work more on making her story her own. Just with some interactions with others.

Jayce

Jayce wasn’t QUITE as ruined as Janna but I’d hardly say I did him justice. Frankly, my own bias shined through and Jayce came off as far more of an egotistical moron than he actually was. While I liked the idea of a fake hero, I neglected the actual real-hero aspects about him. I treated him as a joke when he was a far deeper, far more complex character than I gave him credit for. While he’d still serve a similar role in the story if I was to rewrite it, I’d give more honor and power to Jayce. I might still think he’s not as earnest as he appears but he still deserves more.

The Storytelling of the Climax

If I had to hit a single part in the story that most needs rewrites, it’d be the Zaun climax. What I HOPED would happen would be a rotating view with the events happening from the eyes of various characters. What ended up happening was the same events being rehashed over and over. The rest of the story was fine or workable in some way…but this writing was sloppy and prioritized what would be cool over what worked. Perhaps next time I’d focus more in putting it all in a single chapter than making each chapter separate.

Overall

To this day, I still love GHoZ. It’s even looped around to be noticed by others and I still occasionally get people telling me they love it. However, the story isn’t without its faults. Do I love it? Absolutely. Would I rewrite it? Again, absolutely. Not just because of new lore forcing me to alter major parts of it. No story is perfect in the first draft and GHoZ is no exception. I don’t really have time and have been working on an on-again-off-again story (That keeps getting pushed back with each lore rework!), but perhaps if there was enough desire I might rewrite it.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I wrote it and that it improved my writing…even if there are major parts I’d change.

 

 

The MOBA Scramble: Surviving Decline

If you saw Startale’s podcast which I frequent, you’ll have heard me talk about the “MOBA Decline” and how the genre has plateau’d. I feel this could use some background and why I feel this way, albeit some of this will be less raw and heavy facts and more so looking about to infer meaning.

King of the Ring

For just under a decade, MOBAs have been the most enormous and possibly profitable genre bubble to hit video games. League’s explosive success in 2009 followed by the arrival of DOTA2 and more caused a scramble to get into the MOBA industry. It harkens back to the days of World of Warcraft where the MMO caused the entire genre to explode, albeit nobody expected it to last forever. Just as the MMO slowly phased away, so too would MOBAs eventually die out.

Now, to their credit, MOBAs are a part of the free-to-play explosion that has rocked gaming harder than any scandal could. League of Legends still makes money hand-over-first despite being almost a decade old. In fact, the only game that comes close to it is…WoW. A game released in 2004. Granted, WoW has a subscription fee but the sheer money coming in still speaks volumes. Along with that, DOTA2 is still the most played Steam game of the year and regularly smashes the prize pool record from each previous international.

You’d assume that there is nowhere but up, right?

The Scramble

Well, not quite.

If I had to put it to a single thing, I’d say the advent of the “hero shooter” (A FPS game with MOBA-esque mechanics like abilities and ultimates) has caused the biggest alarm for this genre. A genre that erases some of the biggest complaints people have about MOBAs such as long match times, steep learning curves and painfully annoying “It’s everyones fault but my own” mentalities. Sure, some of these still exist in hero shooters, but not to any degree they do in MOBA-style games.

It’s difficult to gain actual data but compare Google Trends for how often League and DOTA have been searched for. Since their peak around 2013, the games have slowly been looked for less and less. Sure, there are major tournament spikes, but people have either found their game or avoided the genre. New blood isn’t really coming into these games and they hold a static playerbase save for the occasional investigative “taste test” of the genre. Interesting enough, when I looked at DOTA2’s Playercount, the number spiked to nearly 14 million unique players. Yet according to Steam Charts (While they don’t tell the whole story), the average player count has dropped since December’s big announcement. What was December’s big announcement?

A Triage Situation

I’ll be blunt: Both games are attempting to triage the situation in their own unique way. While you could argue they’re just trying to keep both games “fresh”, reading between the lines shows more factual information that neither company would truly care to admit.

On League’s side, they’ve basically been making good on promises they made years ago: Replays and Practice Tools have come out alongside a new client, as well as increased bans for pro play.

For DOTA2, the 7.0 update includes a far-cleaner HUD, visual updates for heroes who have desperately needed it, and new gameplay updates that speak more of more casual games than of DOTA2.

When you step back, the intentions are quite clear. League is pushing updates to entice their more hardcore fanbase while DOTA is making a push for the more casual fanbase. Both games are attempting to draw in fresh faces as well as re-incentivize those who may not have wanted to play the game.

But most of all, these updates come off the back of one major thing: Overwatch. Blizzard’s hero shooter has blasted all expectations and has become a worldwide phenomenon. For how long, nobody can say, but it’s more than a coincidence that this game explodes onto the scene and suddenly two industry titans suddenly make sweeping changes to appease the other side of the fence.

Death Knell?

For those who fear for the game you love: Relax. These aren’t going anywhere. MOBAs are far too large to up and die. It’s arguable that they won’t even truly die, just not be number one anymore. Building on this, it’s possible League/DOTA will forever exist as esports. Games we watch rather than play. They still pull in enormous numbers and both games are still considered the pinnacle of esport play along with Counter Strike.

But Overwatch was a wake-up call. They won’t be number one forever. You can’t get by with just what you have as your game gets older. There will be challengers to your playerbase and throne…and that has sparked a massive change-of-pace in both games. MOBAs still have plenty of life in them and we’re not going to see them rot away too fast…but the question is how long they’ll be at the top as time goes on.

And that? I have no idea of.

How Roleplay Helps You Write

When it comes to learning to write, I find there’s no better place than the roleplay community in MMOs. Be it World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 or any sort of massive congregation of people all playing a single video game, you can bet that there will be a large group of people hanging out at the tavern. How exactly does roleplay make you a better writer though? Well, there’s a little more to it than simply saying it gives you experience writing.

Roleplay and Language

This is likely the most no-brainer of the group but roleplay will quickly and surely hone your grammar and spelling skills when it comes to writing things. When I first started at the young age of twelve or so, my spelling and grammar were a mess. It’s to be expected however. I had never touched anything even remotely like roleplay and my previous writings were done on pen-and-paper with only the look over of my parents.

Not only will you learn through osmosis and interacting with others but you’ll quickly get critique about your writing be it verbal or non-verbal. Maybe your edgy demon hunter with the most tragic backstory filled with death, murder and spelling errors doesn’t get any play? Conversely, maybe your earnest-yet-bumbling dwarven shaman sees all manner of interaction and is routinely praised by others.

Roleplayers are a community and, like any community, you learn as you go. Sure nobody is going to start as a roleplayer in their prime but it’s something that everyone will pick up as they continue to roleplay. Don’t be intimidated! Even that verbose engineer started as someone putting emotes in their text.

Roleplay and Storytelling

On a less obvious note, roleplay will teach you basic storytelling. Sure, it’s not to the caliber of something like the Odyssey or the Iliad but you’ll learn to pace yourself. Storytelling requires all manner of parts, from softer and quiet moments to character developing moments to tragic events and somber realizations. If you spend all your time roleplaying with your girlfriend about how much you love each other, nothing gets accomplished now does it?

You might argue that this is obvious even in storytelling but it becomes exacerbated when it comes to roleplaying with another person. You notice patterns, you notice repeats and you’ll notice when things don’t seem to move. Static characters are something most-often avoided and these small things will add up over time.

Roleplay is great at teaching you the basics of character building and making coherent stories, as well as showing you faults and errors in your own writing that others can help you fix or correct. Speaking of others in roleplay…

Roleplay and Community

Unlike writing your own work or writing in a completely unique world, roleplay will teach you how to work with others and the finer points of creating writing in an existing world. This is especially useful if you want to write for video games, as nine-out-of-ten times you’ll be working with a setting you yourself didn’t create and characters that you either didn’t create or had worked with others to create.

Other roleplayers aren’t readers. They’re not passive critics who will read what you wrote. They, for all purposes, will be part of your story for the majority of it. This means that you’ve got to pay finer care to your audience and those around you. Sure, every writer writes for themselves on some level, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from criticism. If you suddenly start railroading (forcing others on a track) another person’s character? You WILL get a slap on the wrist from that person!

On the same note, writing in a world you didn’t make is far different than making your own work. You have to adhere to rules, you have to be careful about new inclusions and most of all? You have to be wary about the things and creations you put out there. Does that mean you shouldn’t make new things? Of course not. But it’ll be easier for someone to believe you’re another foot soldier than Logan Thackery’s son who is even stronger than he is.

Roleplay Overall

These are just some small, general things that roleplay will help without being big enough for a whole point:

  • Aesthetic design of your character.
  • Creating storyhooks from things you have. (Such as a hunter’s pet!)
  • Matching character tone with other roleplayers.
  • How to approach and interact with others.
  • Dealing with “dead end” stories.
  • Correct drama vs. Incorrect drama.

I wouldn’t say roleplay is for everyone. After all, roleplay servers can often come off as elitist and annoying. Yet it’s important to give it a try at least once. Being able to play as your character and discovering the story behind what you assumed to be a simple one-off nobody can be far more enlightening to yourself than you’d initially give it credit for.

Just be sure to use the right name. Nobody is going to take Hunters4Jesus78 of Stormwind as a serious person.

Do I Play Roguelikes Wrong?

Enter The Gungeon was one of the games I picked up during the Steam winter sale. And I enjoy it! The problem, however, comes from how I play the game. Roguelikes or Roguelites, however you classify them, are all about throwing your head at a brick wall so many times that you eventually get past. In recent times, things seem to have shifted to be less about progression, more about…er, progression.

Building An Arsenal

isaac
Me realizing I didn’t get the new upgrade to make my run easier.

With new roguelike games, one of the biggest hooks is the idea of progression outside of each run. While you won’t get far in every single run, perhaps you finally earn enough currency to buy a new item for the gungeon? Perhaps you’ve dumped enough coins to get that new class in Rogue Legacy? Maybe you finally killed that one tough boss and died right after, getting you the new weapon that’ll make some Isaac runs easier?

Roguelikes were always about minuscule progression. Getting good to the point where you can finally get past one brick wall and start throwing yourself at another. Yet to me it feels like the progression outside of each run isn’t specifically about honing my skills. Rather it feels like I’m trying hard to get a secondary goal done to make my next run easier by design, not by skill.

I realized this during my Gungeon run when I couldn’t buy more items from the in-game shop with the secondary currency. I was worried I had hit a point where I couldn’t improve the gungeon by proxy, NOT by my own talents and skills.

Throwing Spaghetti at a Wall

ftl
“Good luck with this run.”

That said, this seems to be where roguelike games have evolved. Take for example one of the early ones, FTL. FTL didn’t have much in the way of outside progression. You could unlock more ships and designs, sure, but these never completely buffed your gameplay. They just offered a new way to play. It was ok but it wasn’t the hit game that Binding of Isaac would be.

Comparatively Binding of Isaac was still a roguelike. Yet achievements and more could unlock stronger weapons, buffing the variance but overall being a net-positive gain. Nobody is going to argue that “+1 Heart” is anywhere near as good as “All your tears are targeted bombs”. It was a hit because there was ALWAYS a sense of progression, even if you instantly died the moment you stepped down the cellar door.

Enter the Gungeon and Rogue Legacy both seem to have taken cues from the former but not entirely. Gungeon guns are strict upgrades, some are just…ok. Different but not directly better. There are some things that’ll give you direct upgrades such as fixing the elevator but not to the degree that some upgrades in Isaac will. Rogue Legacy also gives you flat stat bonuses but not so much in the idea that you’re getting a raw buff. It’s minuscule and probably hard to notice.

I’m not sure if this kills the spirit of the roguelike. If this persistent system of upgrades is making me play the game wrong, worrying less about my skill and worrying more about the side buff to fill out my arsenal. While I’m by no means awful, I still can’t help but wonder if this system of the sidegrade and the empty armory is making me care more about what happens after the run, not during.

Viability vs. Optimal

A common error I see when people talk about video games is mixing up viability and optimal picks. This extends to both League and Overwatch but it’s an important distinction that needs to be made, especially when one is arguing about the state of the game.

“Viability” Being Misused

Often, when people talk about viability, they look at it from the perspective of “Is this character in the best spot they could be right now?” which isn’t the case at all. When it comes to viability, it simply means “Can I play this character to an effective level?”. In nine-out-of-ten circumstances? Yes! You can use almost any character in these games. League’s massive one hundred and thirty-plus roster is filled with playable, workable champions. I’d argue about ninety percent.

“Optimal” Being Understood

Optimal, however, speaks strictly about the power behind a single character. There are only a handful of optimal picks in Overwatch right now, the common combination (If I am remembering correctly) being Lucio, Ana, Reinhardt, D.Va, Roadhog and Zarya. This DOES NOT MEAN that all the other heroes are bad, per say. This simply means that in your best state, you’d want to play these heroes.

Blurred Line

The best question to ask is how did this get so mixed up. The answer? Esports. Simply put, since the advent of esports, people look to the pro leagues and the highest echelon of play to determine the state of balance. But balance for the common masses and balance for the top tier is a vastly different ball game. As an example, DOTA 2 balances strictly around the pro scene and results in an incredibly diverse game for them. However, for the common players, some heroes shine far brighter than others. During The International 6 (The biggest DOTA tournament), Omniknight was picked once and lost in all games. However, in normal queues, he was boasting an incredibly high win rate.

In this regard, people will look at the LCS or the upcoming Overwatch Pro League as a metric of what is “viable”. The truth is that in your silver games, anything can be played effectively. Offensive Torbjorn? Sure. Bot lane Yasuo? Go for it. You’re playing at a level where comfort picks are far more useful than any sort of meta strategy.

Balance is a different story but just remember: Just because something isn’t optimal doesn’t mean it isn’t viable.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Vi stands for…Bi?” (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my last musing article so if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new tab.

Following up from last week, I wanted to talk about sexuality in another game I play (being League of Legends) and how sexuality gets assigned when it comes to a void. I actually wrote a paper on this back in college when it came to a class so some of this might be recycled.

In the Void

When it comes to a game like League with hundreds of characters and not enough time to write a novel for all of them, you cut corners. For most characters, a single short story and background page is all we have outside of the core game’s VO and how they play. As such, sexuality gets left on the cutting room floor. It is, after all, one of the lesser aspects of a character.

When you think about it, only a handful of characters have actual sexuality when it comes to the game; Illaoi was dating Gangplank and flirts with Braum. Taliyah has small flirtations with Ekko. Garen and Katarina are in some sort of lovers feud. Lucian had a wife. Tryndamere and Ashe are married. In these cases, even the revealed facts are pretty bland. Which does make sense. After all, a majority of the populous is heterosexual.

When it comes to characters, we have two prevailing schools of thought: The “Everyone’s Bi” argument and the stereotype argument.

The “Everyone’s Bi” Argument

Most of this comes from the fact that giant IPs have so many artists, writers and more who all draw characters in different pairings and different ways. What’s the point of saying “Well canonically Miss Fortune is gay!” when you have a hundred aspiring artists and writers who are going to tell stories about her psuedo-boyfriend anyways?

In this argument, there’s no point in discussing sexuality because people will assign it on their own save for story hooks. Even in story hooks, such as last week’s “Tracer and Emily” information, will be disregarded to fit what fan writers and artists do. Everyone’s bi so who cares! I wouldn’t say this is a particularly diverse way of looking at things but it also gives players the most freedom to think however they wish.

This is also a feeling you generally have when it comes to make-your-own protagonists. Commander Shepard is Schrodinger’s sexuality: He’s simultaneously gay, straight and bi all at the same time. In this regard, League and games like it don’t need to talk about sexuality because everyone will make their own…and it cuts through the rough things that can happen in countries that don’t approve of such things like Russia.

The Stereotype Argument

Conversely, there are those who NEED the writers or story people telling them who is what. If you don’t, people instead default to what they know about a character. In a game like League, where most characters have very little writing to them, you end up playing heavily on stereotype and fan theory.

Take for example Taric. A soft-spoken, handsome man with a fondness for beauty and shiny things. All we know about him is his backstory (Demacian Soldier who is now Avatar of Protection) and a handful of voice lines. In trying to figure out who Taric would love to date, people asked Riot. They gave the non-committal “He loves everyone”. Thus, people default to stereotypes…which means Taric is about as gay as a triple rainbow over a pride parade.

In a vacuum with little/no writer input, people just default to stereotypes. It’s easier that way, after all. Of course the counter-argument means that Riot was implying Taric is bi or even something more like polyamorous. We don’t know their true intentions, however, and it’d be pretty bold to include such an underrepresented thing in fiction. (Sadly some people, myself included, need a cheat sheet for all the sexuality there are today.)

The Part Where I Talk About Vi

And now we come to Vi. Part of why I devote an entire section to this is because this is where all of this writing comes into play. When Vi came out I was smitten. She encapsulated everything I love in a female character and looked damn good doing it. Of course when I talked to everyone about it, I got the same feelings: “Oh yeah the lesbian.”

My personal belief was that I always saw Vi as bi. Which is also why I defend the idea so heavily. On one hand, I don’t feel like her story or upbringing makes her out to be someone who sticks with one person or someone who doesn’t flirt with others every chance she gets. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of putting her entire character in a lesbian box because she’s a stereotype many people see: Short, pink hair. Rough tomboy. Snarky and rude.

In this case, Riot eventually came out and somewhat “subtly” said Vi likes guys and girls. About as subtle as a taco and hotdog metaphor can be anyways. Yet this is again a non-committal answer. They can easily twist or change this however they want. Personally, I like the idea of Vi being bi. It gives us an underrepresented sexuality, keeping true to the character (at least in my mind) and adding one more layer to a character without going too deep into it.

Conclusions

Much of this probably reads like rambling. Like someone who has too much time on their hands to worry about what fictional people do in their love lives. To me, it’s an important issue. It’s not a damning one, sure, but I think it’s necessary to talk about this sort of thing. In games, we often have the saying of “Show, don’t tell”. People don’t respond well to just saying “Oh yeah whatever he’s gay”. We need to see it with our own eyes.

It’s also why the Tracer comic was such a big deal. We got pretty damning visual evidence and it was quite a bold move. That is unless you’re a denier, in which case Tracer is kissing a very good friend on her open mouth. Either way, League could take some steps in my mind to further push these boundaries. We can have more beyond stereotypes or just wondering if everyone is bi until we get a clear answer.

Hopefully one day I can see a comic of Vi hanging out with her lovers in an open relationship.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Cheers Love, The Cavalrey’s Queer!” (Part 1)

I’ve always been fascinated about the topic of sexuality. Ever since my father told me he was gay, I’ve really made an effort to understand the intricacies, deeper meanings of sexuality. Doubly so in the emerging medium of video games. Games, as they are, have had a history of sort of shooing LGBTQ stuff to the side. It’s not something for everyone, after all. Not that being gay is bad but some people would rather not engage in that content. And that’s ok!

Specifically I want to talk about Tracer coming out as a lesbian, because I’m quite fascinated in this turn.

“The Typical Lesbian” vs. Lena “Tracer” Oxton

Often in media, especially video games, the lesbian character is always the one you most expect. The tough girl, the tomboy, the sexually promiscuous woman, all stereotypes people associate with gay/bi women. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to defend my point-of-view on why I think Vi (League of Legends) is more bi than lesbian, but that’s for another day.

Blizzard had many outs and many choices when it comes to making a lesbian character. The one that would have made me roll my eyes in disappointment would have been Zarya. A tough girl with short, pink hair that is a weight lifter. It screams stereotype. Instead, it turns out Tracer is the one chrono-shifting out of the closet.

Now, roll with me here; to the general public, Tracer isn’t a typical lesbian character. She’s not overtly sexy, she’s not a tough girl,  she’s a peppy, cheery lady. Sure the community likes to ship her with Widowmaker but if we’re bringing that into play, almost everyone is bisexual. Yes, even the omnics.

More importantly, your stereotypical character will be a brazen, unabashed flirt. Not so with Lena. She’s all business and quite sweet as well. Never once does she flirt or tease other characters in a sexual manner. Tracer isn’t a lesbian character. She’s a character who happens to be a lesbian. Weird distinction, I know, but so many characters are just lesbian or gay and THAT is their character.

“Hidden in a Sidequest” vs. On-the-box

As I said earlier in this writing, often times the LGBTQ stuff is hidden in a metaphorical dark corner of the game. Even player made characters like Commander Shepard have to go looking for that specific content. I believe the most egregious example of this was Star Wars: The Old Republic which locked a same-sex romance behind paid content. “Pay 2 Gay” if you will.

With Tracer…you can’t really ignore it. She’s front and center. She’s the titular character and the poster girl of Overwatch. You could argue that nobody would know unless they go lore-delving. To counter this, who would likely be the first character for people to look for and learn about? Yep. Lena Oxton herself.

Most protagonists and cover-feature characters in video games tend to be men. Especially in the FPS genre. Gruff, military badasses in power armor. Instead, for Overwatch, we have a bubbly lesbian with time powers. It’s a far-cry from the norm and not something we’d expect to see at all. Tracer is breaking the mold and normality by checking the opposite of every other main. She’s not a man. She’s not straight. She’s not a (conventional) badass. She’s just who she is.

Thus, Lena becomes front-and-center when it comes to Overwatch. Not in-your-face about it but she does have this aspect while also being a main, lead character in one of the hottest games of 2016.

Loud and Proud vs. Character Trait

Remember earlier how I said Lena is a character who happens to be a lesbian and not a lesbian character?

Time and time again, even the most well-meaning person writes a character where their sexuality is the hook. Where the entire character is defined by being gay/lesbian or it’s the main motivation behind all the things they do. Now, there’s nothing wrong about being proud of yourself but often these things read as stilted. They read as someone jamming sexuality into every nook and cranny of a character to the point where you go “Is there ever a moment where the character ISN’T gushing about other men/women?”

Tracer, however, could very well not be a lesbian and I mean that in the best of ways. In my own life, being around gay and lesbian people, the tired motto of “they’re just like you and me” rings true. They don’t act weird or differently, they just like the same sex. Tracer, if you removed the panels of her with her girlfriend, would still be the same character. You wouldn’t lose much and she’d still be good ol’ Lena Oxton. Just like a straight person and all that.

However, in adding those panels, you add a bit of depth to her. You add a little tweak to her character that changes things up. Lena is still Lena, she just has something important to note about her character. Perhaps it makes her friendship with Overwatch different. Perhaps there’s a story about her realizing herself. There’s so much more that you CAN add but nothing that takes away or messes with the core character.

Criticism and Conclusion (For now)

Not really excited for the incoming hate from both sides, gotta be honest. LGBTQ community saying I don’t get those relationships because I’m not them and the gamer community accusing me of being a pandering bastard. Well, that’s gonna be fun.Still, to me, the overall change to Tracer is…well, good.

While I do approve and think this was a good change, I will say one thing: It’s one of the safest paths you can take. Tracer’s conventionally attractive. She’s had some of the most developed Overwatch lore there is and she’s easily the person who will represent the franchise. Her girlfriend, Emily, is also quite attractive. Now, before you think I’m just gushing and that I’m crushed Tracer x Me isn’t going to happen, hear me out.

You can easily fetishize people in such a way and Tracer is no exception. She’s a character who people know, love and (barring some crushed people who take sexuality too seriously) is a character people could love regardless of what she did. She was the “safe” pick to make an LGBTQ woman. Perhaps if Tracer’s girlfriend wasn’t exactly hot. Perhaps if Tracer herself had this fact stated or revealed from the get-go…but, I’ll be honest, I’m nitpicking.

Tracer’s coming-out marks something semi-important and major. It makes one of the first non-player-created characters of LGBTQ origin who is the titular character of the game. I’d also say this is likely the biggest game in a LONG time when it comes to IP and sheer cultural permeation, making it something of a sign of the times when the star of 2016’s game-of-the-year (in many circles) likes the same sex. Still, all this has got me thinking…what about games that play coy with other character’s sexuality?

Next week, I’ll take a look at another game (League of Legends) and talk about the vacuum of sexuality in it.