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.

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Those Progress Leaves Behind

Special thanks to Tom Randby (@faeriefountain) for letting me use his art for this week’s story!

As Piltover moves further ahead, Caitlyn cannot shake the feel that she’s slowly becoming obsolete.


For weeks, she had been tracking a stolen shipment of augmented limbs. Supposedly they were powerful enough that one could blast a hole in a steel beam, among other things. If that actually fell into the hands of those who could use them with some degree of intelligence? Robbery would skyrocket. Mostly of more augmentation of this degree. That just would not suffice.

Perched carefully on the roof, Caitlyn watched with calm, focused eyes. In her most rookie of days, she might have had an elevated heart rate or overwhelming panic at the thought of being in a firefight. After all these years? Little more than boredom as she waited for the shipment to pass by. According to her investigation, it would be three men. Likely one or two chemically enhanced but nothing so dangerous that she couldn’t handle it.

Hidden in the alleyway that she was perched over were several traps, covered by thin layers of garbage. It was quite disgusting but they’d serve perfectly to snare anyone who tried to run. At this point they had to be on-foot, unable to get around with carriages. Not with the dangerous things they were carrying.

As the sun was covered by a small cloud, a trio of men appeared in the alleyway. All of them wearing long coats. All of them carrying massive boxes. The untrained citizen would likely assume they were just hired help, doing manual labor for coins. Caitlyn’s far more sophisticated gaze picked apart their awkward gait, the nervous looks and the boxes being shoddily handled for those who were supposed to be lugging around valuables.

Quietly unfurling her rifle, Caitlyn took aim with one of her lesser rounds. It wouldn’t be enough to kill, so long as she hit a leg or an arm, but it was surely enough to force them to bend the knee. A small smile crept across her face, the joy of finally trapping her enemies in a no-win situation. Days of watching, waiting and analyzing patterns were sure to pay off. In a way, she almost felt sorry for these poor goons.

A heavy footfall gave way to the loud snap of Caitlyn’s trap being set off. “Unlucky,” Caitlyn quietly said, taking aim and firing a round at the trapped target. The one of the trio who had set off the trap looked down, staring at where the trap had gone off. Considering the situation, even if the other two escaped Caitlyn would have an easy time tracking them down. Especially with a bargaining chip like one of their comrades.

Instead of a shriek of pain or the agonizing groan of a man stumbling to his knees, the ear-ringing plink of metal-striking-metal rang throughout the alleyway. Caitlyn’s face contorted into an expression of disapproval. The boxes were summarily dropped in the alleyway, Caitlyn ducking slightly behind the ledge of the roof to avoid being seen.

“Who the hell put this here!? Percy, you said we weren’t being followed!” the man growled, the sound of shaking metal as Caitlyn’s trap was being kicked off. It was more akin to stepping in gum for the man than a debilitating snare.

There was the hiss of someone silencing the other. “Boris, look around. See if you can get a vision on whose here.”

Caitlyn was completely safe, in this regard. At the angle they were looking, there was no visible way to see her. She’d have to loop around and-

“Upper left! Someone’s skulking around up there! Ain’t no other heat signatures around here except that one!”

Her teeth grit so hard Caitlyn might have cracked one of her teeth. She had expected them to start selling the wares. She hadn’t predicted they’d be so brash that they’d attempt to augment themselves. Much less that these augments would be workable to bumbling idiots and even less so that these untested prototypes would work with minimal error.

As she stood to move, the floor gave out from beneath her. A chunk of the roof seemingly vanished beneath her feet as Caitlyn slid. One hand clutching her gun, the other desperately grabbing at rubble. She found a handle to hang from, the sheriff silently cursing herself as she precariously hung over an alleyway with three crude criminals.

The trio looked up, whistling loudly. “You should wear the skirt again, sheriff. The view down here ain’t nearly as nice as it would be.”

Biting her tongue, Caitlyn held back some crude remarks of her own. The men waited for a retort that wouldn’t come, sighing to themselves. “Gave us quite a scare there,” another said. “We were worried for a second that it’d be your butch Zaunie girlfriend…or that side-piece you brought onto your payroll.”

Now she was getting frustrated. Yet with the position she was in, she had to take into account that these men could easily kill her. She’d have to buy her time and wait for them to make a mistake. They were underestimating her, which meant that when they did slip up she’d be able to do something drastic. What that something was, at the moment, wasn’t in place yet. Especially against those sporting top-of-the-line augments.

Looking down, Caitlyn surveyed what she was dealing with: Three thugs. One with an augmented eye and some manner of plasma gun for an arm. Another sporting two heavy legs and equally heavy arms, likely the muscle. Finally, the one in the center who had kept himself hidden. “Eh, she ain’t speaking. Don’t shoot her though, we can use her. Demitri, you wanna cut the good sheriff down from that dangerous place? We certainly don’t want to hurt Piltover’s finest.”

The one called Demitri, sporting his huge and lumbering augments, grabbed the wall. Scenarios ran through Caitlyn’s head. Hitting him with the electrostatic net would slow him down. He’d fall, maybe land on one of the other ones. Good, good, that would buy time. She could reaffirm her position from there. She was alone in this so-

Just as those thoughts ran through her head, Demitri’s arms separated from his body. Electricity flowed from his arms in arcing sparks as he stumbled from the wall. “W-what the hell happened!?” he cried in shock.

It was then that the one with the eye, likely “Boris”, had his own augmented limb sliced clean off. He clutched his arm, howling in terror as he hit the wall. The limb may be fake but the pain was indeed real. The remaining one in the center (Percy) looked back and forth, increasingly aggravated. “Little bastard! Think you’re so cleaver with your cloaking that you can just get by us!?”

Percy suddenly raised his arm, steel clashing with steel as a massive hextech arm caught the bladed edge of a spear on it. “I’m not invisible. You just can’t keep track of me when I move this fast. If you surrender now, you’ll only be charged with endangering an officer and trafficking stolen goods,” responded a metallic voice.

Sporting a flowing blue scarf, white sash around his waist and an equally blue coat, Mach stared down the thug. His one augmented eye whirled, a faint blue color with circuitry beneath his skin shimmering blue. The metal plates around his mouth parted, revealing a disappointed frown. “I don’t want to severely hurt anyone so please; Stop.” Without the faceplates, his voice sounded human.

Apparently the thug had other ideas. Knocking away Mach’s spear, his massive arm (Even larger than Vi’s gauntlets!) slammed into the building side, cracking stone. Caitlyn’s grip crumbled away as she began to fall with her back facing the ground. She looked with one eye, witnessing the criminal sprinting with one remaining box of augments. Sloppy work, sloppiest she’d ever done. Maybe if she adjusted her net to fire just before she hit the ground, she could minimize the impact.

Just as she thought this, a metal cable with a hand attached to the end fired past her head. Instead of hitting the ground she felt an arm grasp her waist, pulling her upwards instead of downwards. Soon, she was back on the roof, looking down at her shorter companion. Peering down the alley, he too cursed before turning back to Caitlyn. “Sorry, I had to help you before chasing him down. Vi’s on her way as well so maybe she can cut him off,” Mach said, looking upwards at Caitlyn. “You’re alright though, right?”


Caitlyn slammed a hand on her desk, glaring at Mach as he sat before her. “What were you THINKING!?”

Confused and terrified, Mach stammered where he sat. “I just- You didn’t tell us where you went even though you said you were doing something alone. So we got worried that-“

“That what!?” Caitlyn’s expression hardened, pulling back from her desk. “That you didn’t think I was capable of handling an assignment on my own?”

“That’s not what I meant at all! I was-“

Caitlyn angrily stamped over to him, getting in the young man’s face. “So you disobeyed my order and followed me even though I said I could handle this!? You, as fast as you were, let him ESCAPE?!?”

This time he didn’t respond, the color draining from his face. It only made the circuitry beneath his skin shine brighter. That hint of tech beneath his skin only served to infuriate Caitlyn more.

“Get out of my office. Don’t you EVER disobey direct orders I give you, are we clear!?” She yelled. It wasn’t like her to yell. Much less to yell at him. “Stay away from this case or so help me…” For a brief moment, Caitlyn almost said something unforgivable. Something that would have severed any relationship they had. He noticed it too, eyes going wide as Caitlyn held back the best she could. “Just get out of my office.”

He was far too quick to do so, almost sprinting from her sight. Taking off her hat, Caitlyn brushed a hand through her hair. A good cup of tea would do wonders but she didn’t want to interact with anyone, not yet. Sitting in her office and bottling up the anger she felt would likely be a good start.

The door to her office flung open, Caitlyn casting an eye to the door as it was shut behind the intruder. A pissed, pink-haired woman stared Caitlyn down. “Hey, real quick; The HELL is wrong with you?”

Taking this as a challenge, Caitlyn’s glare centered upon Vi. “What’s wrong with ME!? I specifically told you both-“

“No. Nu-uh. Not this time. You don’t get to threaten him like that. You KNOW he’s sensitive. You KNOW he’s trying his best for everyone. And so you go and drive him to tears!? Because he HELPED you!?” Vi yelled, jabbing a finger accusingly at Caitlyn.

“I didn’t ASK for his help. Nor did I ask you, Enforcer, for your opinions on how I discipline members of my group. Need I remind you of that!?” Caitlyn’s anger was simmering now, Vi not doing much for her nerves.

Vi’s glare shifted to something of pure rage. “And now you’re playing the goddamn rank card on me? What’s gotten into you, huh? Why the hell are you acting like a class-A jackass!?” Vi got right in her face, the height difference palpable as she looked down at Caitlyn. “So what is it? What’s got your panties in a twist? Did someone piss in your tea or are you just on your period?”

In a single, swift motion, Vi’s head was turned to the side from the force of Caitlyn’s slap. Her cheek turned red, the black-etched “Vi” on her face now resting in a sea of pink. She turned to Caitlyn, staring in shock as Caitlyn stepped away. Caitlyn, realizing how she’d briefly let her emotions get the best of her, turned away.

“…Seriously. What’s wrong?” Vi said, moving to stand beside her. “You’ve been acting weird for weeks now.”

A deep, shaky breath from Caitlyn as she cleared her mind. “Every day, it feels like there are more and more augmented individuals on the street. They can run faster, jump higher, see further. You name it.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back. “You have your gauntlets and you’re damn strong, sure, but neither of us…” She looked to the door.

Vi nodded a bit. She pushed Caitlyn, lazily, into her chair. Vi grabbed her own chair, sitting across from Caitlyn. “So you think we’re-“

“Not yet. We’re not…but there will come a point where we can’t do our job anymore. Either we’ll have to improve ourselves, our equipment or go into retirement.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair. “I thought I could handle this. It was a simple job. Three smarmy thugs. Instead I almost died and had to be rescued like-“

“Like a Demacian princess from the evil dragon?”

Caitlyn’s gaze could have crushed diamonds with how hard she was looking at Vi. “Yes. That. I’m not a damned damsel in need of rescuing from anyone.”

Sighing a bit, Vi crossed her arms. “So you felt obsolete today. So you got saved by Sparky. Big friggin’ deal.” Vi smirked a bit, leaning in close. “Haven’t I saved you before?”

Caitlyn begrudgingly nodded. “Those times don’t count. It wasn’t the same.”

“And haven’t both of us saved Sparky once or twice? I distinctly recall you kneeling in the rain, giving him CPR despite the fact that we were both sure he was dead,” Vi added.

This memory made Caitlyn bristle. Nobody ever died under her watch. Especially not someone as new to the job as he was. It didn’t help to remember that familiar feeling of uselessness when she sat there, slamming her hands on his chest even as his eyes went dark.

Vi placed her ungauntleted finger under Caitlyn’s chin, pushing her head up to look at her. “You and I aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many hopped-up morons they send at us. They get better gear? We’ll get better gear. If I remember right, your first few years were using a shoddy repeater rifle of some sort?”

Caitlyn murmured, smirking faintly. “And you used chem-tech gauntlets.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Point is, you need to quit this crap about fearing the future and acting like you’re replaceable. Last I checked, nobody catches criminals with the whole predatory queen-of-Piltover vibe you have going on,” Vi added.

Sighing a bit, Caitlyn rubbed her face. While the feelings weren’t completely gone, there was truth to what Vi said. Piltover was progress and progress was all about moving forward. She would get better tech, better weaponry. Even if it wasn’t enough, progress be damned she wouldn’t fade away. “I’m sorry. For hitting you.”

Vi reached over, flicking Caitlyn’s nose. The woman moved backward, rubbing the front of her face as Vi shook her head. “I’m not the one you need to say sorry to, Cupcake.”

The low, long groan from Caitlyn was more than enough to bring back Vi’s good mood. “Please STOP calling me that. For God’s sake, we’re in the office.”

The Cheshire grin of Vi only grew wider. “Last I recall, you have a pet name for Sparky AND me. What was it again?”

Rather than be subject to this abuse, Caitlyn shoved Vi and stood out of her seat. “Where did he run off to? If I am going to apologize.”

Vi’s grin suddenly turned into a blank expression. “Oh. Shit. We better get moving.”


Prove Caitlyn wrong. Make things right. He had wiped his face, clenched his spear and ran off to track down the last remaining thug. Case be damned, he’d do it and make right what he’d screwed up. He didn’t think he was better than Caitlyn but he just couldn’t bear to see her upset. Now here he was.

Metal hands were pressed to the floor, electricity arcing over his entire form. Organic-and-augment alike were shocked, the short man hunched on the ground. Percy whistled softly, watching as Mach writhed on the floor. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect an anti-augmentation tesla gun to be so…effective. Can you move?”

In response, a metal hand was fired from his wrist, cable crackling with energy as Percy stepped out of the way. “Oh, well damn. Guess so. But you made a good attempt.” To reward such an effort, Percy slowly raised the dial. Cries of agony echoed throughout the warehouse as he lay there, eyes wide in pure pain. “So general word-on-the-street is that your augmentation is the best in Piltover, aye? I’m sure you’ll fetch a nice price. Well, parts of you anyways.”

Looking up, Mach’s teeth were clenched as he glared at Percy. Even with warning signs blaring in his head and over his vision, it didn’t take an enhanced eye to see the small red dot moving up Percy’s form. It danced over his body, moving past the metal prosthetic and over his eye. Half of his head seemed to be metal, which made the red dot lingering on his false-eye invisible. “Eh? What are you staring at boy? If you’re hoping to beg, it’s a bit late.”

A soft, loud whistle rang through the air as the round fired directly into the warehouse, shattering a window. Percy, with his enhanced reflexes, flung an arm up to block the incoming bullet. Mid-air, microjets emerged from the bullets sides, angling around the raised arm. “Impossible…” was the last word Percy uttered as the bullet dove its way into his false eye. The giant, with all his numerous augments, toppled over as he breathed heavily. Half of his mechanical brain was likely destroyed.

With the tesla gun rolling to the ground, Mach lay there clenching the ground. Ragged breathing resounded as the door to the warehouse was literally torn off the hinges. Vi nudged her neck to the side, letting Caitlyn walk in first. She knelt beside him, rolling him over to cradle him. “Relax. You’re going to be alright. Do you need a medic?”

Sputtering, he looked up at Caitlyn. “How…the bullet…”

A sly smirk from the sheriff. “Automatic Criminal Eradication technology. Able to readjust mid-flight and always hit the mark, no matter what. I believe I called it the A.C.E. in the hole.” As she said this, her expression turned somber. “I’m sorry. For yelling. I should have let you-“ Caitlyn paused, looking up at Vi. “-both of you help me.”

With twitching limbs, Mach laughed softly. He stammered, body still processing the excess energy. “We’re…a team….I shouldn’t have….run off….thanks…for saving…me.” He reached up, a cold metal hand running over Caitlyn’s face. At first, she flinched. But she leaned into it, softly smiling down at her companion.

Squatting beside them, Vi smirked at both of them. “We’re all made up then? Don’t need to beat the piss out of either of you for doing dumb stuff?”

Mach looked over to Caitlyn. “Can’t…move much yet…please…hit her…”

“Oh c’mon Sparky. You look especially good when you twitch like that. Don’t even need batteries for this vi-“

With a single, swift motion, Caitlyn smacked Vi over the head. Sure, things would require change. None of them could be the best at their jobs forever. Piltover, however, was a city of progress. Be it with new weapons, stronger technology or even more powerful limbs to ensure that nobody would be above the law, they were going to move forward.

Their future, and Piltover’s, was sure to be bright.

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.

Overwatch and the Power of IPs

I don’t think Overwatch is going to last forever.

Perhaps it’s a controversial opinion, especially considering the popularity right now, but my personal thought is that Overwatch is going to slowly die out over the course of around five years. Sure, it’ll still be played but it won’t remain the mega-blockbuster-hit it is right now. Instead, I want to draw attention to the real success of Overwatch: The IP.

Blizzard and Franchises

Perhaps Blizzard’s greatest strength is their ability to make franchises that transcend single games and become long-lasting phenomenons whose effects are still felt today. Hell, Blizzard is responsible for three of the last genre bubbles (The MMO, the MOBA and the Hero-Shooter) that have transpired. They’re making great games to go along with it…but really, I find their power is in making IPs that last.

For any who don’t know: IP stands for “Intellectual Property” also known as the story, characters and general name-brand nature of a game. Blizzard’s stable include Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and now Overwatch. All four are what I would consider signature franchises for PC gamers and great examples of how Blizzard can take lightning in a bottle and create long-lasting legacies of video games.

Overwatch’s IP: Dipped in Gold

The first moment I knew that Blizzard had the long-game planned for Overwatch was in the opening of the Warcraft movie. When Blizzard’s logo appeared, iconic characters flashed in the letters. There was Arthas, Diablo…and then Tracer. A game they’d just made was already standing side-by-side to some of their most iconic IPs. “No duh”, you might argue, but to me it was a telling sign of what was to come.

Compare League of Legends for a moment: In talking with others, I’ve found that people who don’t even play the game recognize the characters from conventions, other media (comics, music, fan art, whatever) and influences outside of the core game. So too is Overwatch hitting a point where people can point and say “Oh, that’s Tracer!” even if you don’t play Overwatch.

If Overwatch were to die tomorrow and just get thrown into the dumpster, Blizzard still have a vibrant world with colorful characters to use. Movies, television, animation, comics, everything beyond the core game has immense power simply because of the “Overwatch” logo and title sitting at the top.

Industry Movings

I think this speaks greatly to the video game industry moving more-and-more to trying to establish long-lasting franchises rather than the old “one and done” system. Ages ago, during the NES and Genesis days, games were just single-releases. You made a good game, made some money, that was that. If you were a franchise, that was earned through being damn good at what you did and making a brand through sheer game power.

Now look at us today: Mighty No. 9, for all its faults, tried desperately to be a massive franchise before a single game was even out. Comics, movies, sequels, the rumors swirled that this would be a game franchise for the AGES. Sure, it flopped, but you can see it in other games as well. Name brands are power and long-running franchises are the goal, not a dream in the eyes of a dev.

Even if Overwatch were to die tomorrow, as I said, I’m confident in its longevity as an IP. For me, I don’t care about the game so much as reading the stories, watching the movies and hearing the tales of a world worth fighting for. Kudos to Blizzard for making yet another powerhouse that can stand alongside Arthas, Diablo and Kerrigan.

 

Remembrance

Worried for her friend, Ana Amari reminisces with Soldier 76 to see if Jack Morrison is still there.


It might have been weeks ago but there were always clues to be had. Stuff the beat cops missed. That’s exactly why they had made the rough journey from the sands of Egypt to the snowy buildings of France. They might be undercover and they might not have a true home but with what was going on in the world, they would take any hints they could get.

Jack Morrison, the mystery man known as Solider 76, knelt inside the art gallery. Snow drifted in from the hole in the roof, his visor inspecting every element of the rubble. Normally, he would have had to knock the police out and add to an impressive resume of crimes as an unknown man. On the positive side, thanks to his new ally, things had become much easier. Said guards he would have beaten until they were unconscious were now quietly sleeping outside, propped on the wall so observers would be none the wiser.

The old woman with an eyepatch watched Morrison with a stern gaze, waiting to hear his findings. According to the news, a pair of famous and wanted Junkers had broken into the art gallery with intent to steal. What piqued the duo’s interest were how they were stopped: A familiar face coupled with an unfamiliar ally. Of course, questions piled on outside of that.

“No doubt about it. This had to be caused by one of Oxton’s pulse bombs,” Jack grumbled.

Ana raised a lone eyebrow. “And the other one?”

Jack shook his head. The assistance Tracer had received hadn’t been someone he recognized. “Some kid, from the look of the security tapes. Wore a hoodie. Had some special gloves on his hands, was punching the fat Junker and matching him blow-for-blow despite being half his size.”

Instantly, Ana grit her teeth. “Was it him?”

In response, Jack shook his head. “No way it could have been Doomfist. Kid fought like a boxer. Ducking. Bobbing. Weaving. Doomfist was more of a one-and-done guy, if we’re talking about the one we’re worried about.”

Sighing, Ana looked to the sky. “So what is it? Why are there Junkers in France? Otherwise we’re just here to figure out if Lena’s alright?”

Standing from the rubble, Jack moved over to Ana. “Same night, a munitions plant was robbed. Didn’t make the news because of the ties to Overwatch in this story. More importantly, there were rumors and reports that they Junkers got away in a black jet of sorts.”

Clenching her fist, Ana walked with Jack as the two moved to get out of the building. “Talon? Helping the Junkers?”

Nodding, Jack stepped into the cold. He quickly took his jacket off, placing it in a duffle bag alongside his visor and pulse rifle. From said bag he removed a large parka and thick hat, quickly disguising himself as a tourist. Ana did much of the same, albeit her clothing was a little longer and make-up was applied to hide her tattoo. Despite their fame, nobody would recognize the heroes of the Omnic Crisis when they were disguised as such.

From the alleyway the two began to walk onto the frigid and dark streets of Paris. Winter was setting in heavily and the evening was upon them as they carefully surveyed their surroundings. Even with disguises, the threat of being discovered was enough to put the two old soldiers on edge. “So what now?” Ana questioned. “Do we track them down? Heavens know that they’d be hiding out…”

Jack nodded in response. “We’ll get a plane. Still got the money from the Helix job. If I had to guess, Gibraltar.” Looking to his side, Jack’s eyes met with the disapproving face of Ana. “What?”

“You’re better than this, Jack. You know how I feel about such things,” Ana spoke, careful to disguise her words so that a passing couple couldn’t hear them or gleam information neither wanted to let leak. “At the very least, you’ll apologize?”

A grunt. “Provided I’m not dead at the end of this…fine. I’ll serve my time and do my service,” he muttered. It wasn’t a concrete promise but perhaps there was still hope for Morrison. Such a thing did tug at Amari’s heart however. To see a man she’d admired and loved as a leader, torn down to little more than a soldier.

The snow began to pick up, Ana checking her watch. “We find a place to stay for the night, before we freeze to death.”

“Quit being melodramatic. There are plenty of hotels and hostels to sleep at,” Jack muttered. A nearby bed and breakfast seemed to illuminate itself by luck, Jack nudging his neck to the side and beckoning Ana to follow. Quickly crossing the street, the two made it inside just in time to avoid the torrential snow that began to rain over Paris like a pale blanket.


Locking the door behind them and holding a steaming cup of coco, Ana moved to the desk. It was a small room and it was thankfully one of the few left for the night. She’d made sure to check if there were people on either side, allowing the two to talk freely about their situation. The room itself wasn’t anything special, two beds, a desk, a bathroom and a television. “Do you remember how we used to sleep in the most luxurious hotels? Speak at grand balls?”

Jack snorted, throwing his coat to the side. “You and I were the faces, what else did you expect? Dress up fancy, say a few words, dance in a ballroom, repeat until you want to shoot yourself.”

“And you say I’m melodramatic,” Ana chuckled, moving to sit across from Jack on the bed. “Do you know what today is?”

“Hmph. Wednesday. December twenty fourth,” Morrison mechanically repeated.

Ana nodded. “Christmas eve, you know.”

Jack’s gaze narrowed at Ana. “You don’t celebrate Christmas though.”

Ana rolled her eye, sipping her coco. “Fareeha and I would still attend the holiday parties however, remember?”

Grunting, Jack turned to the table. It was clear that he wasn’t willing to talk about it, keeping up the facade of the strong soldier. “No use talking about the past, you know. Can’t change anything. It happened, we move on.”

Not content to watch Jack be a Bastion unit, Ana smirked. “Don’t you remember how Reinhardt spent hours studying Ramadan to make sure Fareeha and I would feel welcome? The poor man worked himself to the bone. He didn’t even enjoy the party the first time he did it. Passed out on the sofa the moment we all came in.”

A faint twitch on the corner of Jack’s mouth, his rough mask broken momentarily. Ana smirked, pressing the attack: “How about when Torbjörn got drunk on spiked eggnog and started ranting about how omnics shouldn’t celebrate holidays?”

For a moment it looked like the prodding failed. That’s when the softest of smiles graced Jack’s face. He chuckled deeply, looking at the floor. “Winston tried to decorate the lights and ended up shorting out HQ. Spent the holidays in the dark that year.”

“Every year, Angela tried to bring heart healthy food and nobody ever touched it. She would get so frustrated when people would gorge themselves on sweets yet she’d go home with trays of leftovers,” Ana added.

Another laugh, although this one was more genuine and lighthearted, from Morrison. “First year Jesse joined up, he started drinking alcohol while underage. You remember how Gabe-“ Jack froze. The entire room turned to ice as he looked away from Ana. All the good feelings and all the positivity they had recalled for the holiday season had died the moment his name was brought up.

The two sat in silence, Ana frowning as she saw the brief glimpse at the old Jack Morrison vanish. Solider 76 was sitting with her now, the iron-faced vigilante who wanted nothing more than to bring Overwatch’s downfall to light. She briefly looked at her watch, blinking. “Hm, would you look at that.”

“Eh, something wrong?” Jack asked, peering at Ana.

Ana motioned to the alarm clock sitting on the nightstand. A red twelve, followed by a zero and a three, blinked at the two. “Seems that it’s December twenty-fifth.” Ana waited for Jack to say something, for him to do anything. Silence.

Reaching into her coat, Ana pulled out a peppermint candy cane. She handed it to Jack, who looked at her with an expression that could only be described as deadpan. “I was going to stir my drink with it, for festive reasons, but it seems like you deserve it more.” She placed the candy cane in his lap, nodding at him. “Merry Christmas, Jack.”

Jack stared at her. “You don’t celebrate Christmas.”

Ana’s gaze narrowed. “Take my damn gift.”

At this, Jack stopped. He stared at Ana for the longest time, neither person breaking their stern gazes. That’s when Ana’s lips quivered. Jack’s own expression struggled to remain stern. What began as a soft chuckle turned into a boisterous guffaw, the loud laughter resounding through the small hotel room as the two laughed. It was an idiotic thing to laugh at for two old veterans but by god, it was the best joke they’d heard in months. Wiping the corner of his eye, Jack smirked at Ana. He held the candy cane in his hand, nodding to her earnestly and lovingly.

“Merry Christmas, Ana.”

Ludonarrative Dissonance in League and Overwatch

As a fan of lore, backstory, and the general storytelling of video games, you can imagine how much I scratch my head at these two games. While I understand the reason for it, both of these games exhibit extreme cases of ludonarrative dissonance. Rather than specifically state my opinion, I’d like to go over the pros and cons of this divide and further explain the intricacies of this system, maybe even determine why more and more games are moving toward such a style of story telling.

 What is Ludonarrative Dissonance?

Ludonarrative Dissonance is a phrase coined in 2007 by Clint Hocking, a creative director at Ubisoft. He used the phrase to specifically describe the disconnect between Bioshock’s storytelling and the gameplay elements related to the game. It drives a wedge between what we’re told (The hero is a heroic, kind, selfless soul) and what we’re actually doing in the game. (Ransacking every house we find.)

Games are unique to this problem because we can’t see a dissonance of this scale when it comes to movies, writing or television. Yes, we can have awkward moments but that is the sign of a poorly-written story where we question the writer breaking character. Comparatively, games have the dual-function of serving both a story element and a gameplay element; Even the most story-driven game has to have some gameplay and even the most nothing story in a video game has to have some overarching goal.

As an example of this, my character in World of Warcraft (at least in roleplay) is a weak human noble with very little battle-based skills. Yet I’m a max level hunter who regularly goes out and murders whatever the baddie-of-the-week is. It’s a clear disconnect between who my character is and the gameplay related to my character, although that’s entirely of my own choice.

Ludonarrative Dissonance in League and Overwatch

Perhaps more than almost any other game, both of these games have become extremely disconnected to the story of their respective worlds. League famously had a massive retcon due to the “Institute of War”, a powerful association of mages, causing a lack of conflict resolution or even conflict. To Riot, it was a confusing plot contrivance where characters could not change and all the champions of League had to be on a power-level below these summoners.

In Overwatch, there’s no connection at all. While characters interact, it’s clear from both a story and gameplay perspective that nothing is canonical. Characters die, respawn and fling each other all over the map in the pursuit of..well, either pushing a cart to the end of the map or capturing a control point. Any story elements told are given through cinematics, comics or other forms of media that are passingly related to the game in a stretched scenario. Perhaps the only connection is the small bits of dialogue characters say but, even then, it’s a dream scenario.

The Case for Ludonarrative Dissonance

When you consider these multiplayer-only or multiplayer-focused games, there is a core and damning narrative term that permeates everything: Static. Characters are often static. Characters cannot die and more often than not, story hooks can’t be directly resolved because everything resets at the end of the match. So what if Soldier 76 kills Reaper and captures Hanamura’s point? Is this really where the story is meant to end?

When you look at League, there was a major event early on that was touted as a story change in the game: The Ionia-Noxus match. In this game, players picked predominantly Ionian and Noxian champions who fought to determine the fate of the island nation. After a match done with some roleplay, Ionia was the victor. And….there are Ionian boots in the store now. What? There was no major change in character story arc, no alteration of their voice lines, no nothing. The Ionian champions succeeded in their goal but they still had to fight for…reasons. The conflict was “resolved” yet the only change was the addition of shoes to the shop.

Situations like this outline how forcing a game to work within story contexts can lead to disconnects and frustration. You have to come up with a reason for resurrection yet bend rules so that it’s not an easy out. You have to create change just enough that more of the story is told yet there is a net-zero outcome when the characters have to act-or-play differently. This unintentionally gates the story and makes players wonder if change is even possible.

By separating gameplay and story, you don’t have to worry about these situations. Players are free to enjoy a character without worrying about the actions in the game affecting the character. Those who enjoy the story and background can also go and find it, giving a massively deep layer that isn’t available directly in the game. It also prevents those who don’t really care about story to be subjected to it. With ludonarrative dissonance, you can technically have your cake and eat it too.

The Case against Ludonarrative Dissonance

In many ways, the disconnect is often the coward’s way out. It’s the point where a designer and a writer go “We can’t work together. Let’s just do our own things separate from each other”. This disconnect creates a massive divide in the playerbase and forces players who care about the world to watch a character they love never truly evolve in the game, only in the background.

No game is ever truly separated from narrative, as much as one might like to argue. Story hooks and elements are brought into play regardless of if you place a ten-story building between the two. Camille might not interact with Caitlyn in the story but her speech lines do speak that she knows something about what Caitlyn is after. Soldier 76 and Winston might never meet in the story but they are still sharing story elements in the game itself.

Just because there is a separation between game and story doesn’t mean changes cannot happen either. Yes, it’s more work for the company, but you can arguably change voice lines and character dialogue as things change in the narrative. Even if this is a dream scenario, have characters grow and change. Forcing a disconnect between story and gameplay only happens when you make it happen.

I’m not directly advocating that you MUST have change in the game but to say that you cannot have any change at all is confusing to me. Characters can grow in a story AND in the game. Maybe you can’t change how they play but you can change how they react and how they deal with situations. Dissonance is only dissonance if you refuse to work with the game. Yes, there will be times where the character acts out of turn but a little dissonance is better than separating the game and story like the moon and the sun.

My Personal Opinion

You might have gleamed a bit of this from my word choice and the way I spoke about pros and cons, but my personal belief is that ludonarrative dissonance is fine in most cases. Not every game can have a story that completely syncs with the game you’ve made and that’s alright. No game, not even the best narrative-driven game of all time, will be entirely functional with the game you’ve made. I both understand and respect Blizzard and Riot’s decision to focus on the game itself but allow for a rich and deep story that’s told outside the confines of Summoner’s Rift or Watchpoint: Gibraltar.

My praise given, I disagree that the disconnect has to be complete. I feel like characters being given additional dialogue, new story options and more in the game should be allowed. Give us cosmetics that reflect what happened to these characters. Alter maps to show us what happened in a cinematic without designing the map around it (ala King’s Row). Give us story elements in the game that make us want to go looking at your fancy comic or your narrative hub deeper than the Mariana Trench. There can be connections without having to hamfist or slam a wall between the two.

Perhaps more and more games are moving toward this because less and less people care about the story behind these games? How many of us just rapidly slam the skip button during dialogue? How plentiful is the number of players who go on that secondary website and read all the short stories and comics? How substantial is the divide between people who enjoy the background and world behind these games versus those who just enjoy the game itself?

Ludonarrative dissonance is a tool. It is one of the many little gadgets in a writer’s toolbox that lets them alter and change the story as they wish in relation to the game. Just like any other tool, it’s strongest when it’s doing an appropriate job…but it’s not a universal tool that can fix every problem. There needs to be a fine line when to drop ludonarrative dissonance and work on ludonarrative consonance.

Creating Champions in League of Legends: Breaking Rules

It was around 2012 that I took my first stab at creating a champion concept for League of Legends. Suffice to say, I’ve been working on it and others ever since. Almost five years old I think? Either way, I learned very quickly on that making champion concepts for League of Legends forces players and creators to break unspoken rules related to OCs (Original Characters) in canonical universes.

The “Rules”

Generally, many of these rules are not explicitly enforced or stated.. However, play any MMO in an RP community (as I did for around ten or more years with World of Warcraft) and you’ll quickly see things that are OK or not-ok to common players. Some of these rules include:

  • Not being related or involved with canonical characters.
  • Your work or job being toned down. (You’re not the best warrior in Azeroth.)
  • Separating your character from the canonical events of the game, such as major raids.
  • Not directly affecting major events that occurred in the game.

There are always people who break these rules, sure, but I’ve often found them to be pushed to the side or ignored. Roleplay communities seem to thrive on original characters who are downplayed or are one of many, as any world would allow. Not everyone can be the heroic titan who stands head-and-shoulders above others.

Do be aware that these rules are quite often enforced in RP communities when they’re related to League but not directly related to champion creation or design. That said, when you put champion creation into the mix, things become increasingly messy and break further and further rules.

Breaking Conventional Rules

In every champion release or new character, regardless of if it’s League, DOTA, or otherwise, you have a character who has to compete with or excel against the best warriors, mages and assassins in their respective worlds. You can have normal soldiers but even then, they are above and beyond those who serve alongside them. We’ve already had to break one rule in giving that character the power to face a cavalcade of others.

A staple of these characters are being related or connected to others in some way. Be it rivalry, implied love interest or otherwise. Even if your character is completely unconnected, he/she/it will need lines in relation to encountering other characters in the game. This includes events in the story. After all, if your champion is important enough to be a champion, they likely did something of note.

These facts alone force you, if you want to create a champion, to create someone of major significance in the League universe and beyond. Which also might be why so many creators are looked down upon when it comes to these rules. Yes, you can be the greatest warrior the Freljord has ever known but many will shake their heads and be disappointed in how much importance you’re putting into your character. Same goes for any other major point of note be it romance, relationship or legendary weaponry.

Of course, you can make original characters separate from champion concepts but those characters cannot be heroes in the game itself. You have a clear divide between someone strong enough to be a hero/champion and someone who is merely strong enough to get by in the world they live in.

A Standout Crowd

The purpose of this wasn’t to make people go “Ugh yeah I hate those dumb people who do that” or to somehow get sympathy for character creators who want to be the greatest samurai Ionia has ever known. What I merely wish to point out is that League is a game where creating playable characters requires you to bend the rules of original character creation, even if they are unspoken.

It’s certainly not for everyone either. You will get people criticizing your character because they are far too important or far too powerful. There will be critiques made at how your character is related to or interacts with a character who is canonical. At the end of the day, everyone is vying for the same goal: Get their creation noticed and perhaps one day work at these studios to put their pride-and-joy in the game.

No matter what, these jobs are rife with critique and will always have someone questioning the character’s inclusion in the game unless they’re the first there ever was. All one can do is maintain an open mind when looking at champion concepts and to understand that players aren’t the cause of these characters: it’s the environment.