The “Vergil” and Why the Best Antagonist is Often Yourself.

Bear in mind, this article will contain spoilers for a variety of older games. Be careful when reading if you don’t want to be spoiled!


Devil May Cry 3
is a hard game. The early bosses are tough but, in a way, manageable. There is a turning point in the game however. A point where you meet someone who is on another level and you realize just how little you know about the game and your skill set. I’m talking, of course, about the Vergil fight.

In video games, a strong antagonist is paramount to making a good game. If there’s no threat, nothing we do holds weight. Most enemies fall into one of two categories: The giant boss leader, like Bowser, who commands a massive army of foes all under his sway while being a formidable monster himself. The other type is the all-powerful beast. While these types might have a legion, the true threat is them. Ganondorf would be a good example of this, as the scariest thing about Legend of Zelda ends up being his existence.

In my mind, neither of these enemies is a particularly strong villain. Sure, they can be written well and designed well, but they serve as a mere odd to overcome. Beating the covenant in Halo feels good because we waded through an army as a singular super soldier. Destroying Chaos at the end of Sonic Adventure feels amazing because we’re spitting in the face of a supposed godlike being. To me, the absolute best villain is the rival. The antagonist who is a dark mirror of the protagonist. The “Vergil”.

So why do I find this compelling?

Rivals and Personal Growth
Vergil2

For starters, the stakes are set-up to be on a realistic level. The Vergil (Which I’ll be calling this amorphous enemy for the article duration) isn’t some unstoppable godbeing or some swarm-like army. The Vergil is you. Where the Vergil differs from you is that he’s you at the peak. He’s the person you could never hope to be in terms of skill, power and otherwise. As you lose to him, you can’t blame him being too powerful or having too many enemies. He’s just too strong and you’re not good enough.

This theme of rivalry is core and major to story development because it serves as someone we strive to either meet or surpass. The Vergil doesn’t even have to always be an enemy either! In Megaman X, Zero serves as the Vergil and the person you’re striving to become. He is you at your peak, he is the you that you want to be. He is the Vergil you hope to strive for.

Another important fact about the Vergil is that he has to mirror the protagonist in ability, power or talent. Take Jetstream Sam from Metal Gear Rising. Sam is a swordsman just like Raiden with similar cybernetic enhancements. He fights like Raiden, he loves the thrill of fighting and he doesn’t have many tricks you wouldn’t expect. Sam is, of course, the mirror to Raiden and thus the fight is strongest when reflecting that.

Much of this likely sounds pedantic. “Oh well duh fighting someone on equal level is cool” and such. What I want to drive home, however, is how many games get this wrong. The idea of a Vergil that’s never expounded upon or shown to be anything more than a mere rivalry. Take one of the final fights in Warcraft 3: Arthas vs. Illidan. By all accounts, these characters should be the twin rivals, two characters who both forsake their humanity (or in Illidan’s case, his elfhood) to protect their people. Yet these characters don’t feel like rivals. This isn’t a battle of ideologies or a battle of two enemies on equal footing. This is “It’d be so damn cool to see Illidan fight Arthas”. These are two pawns (albeit neat pawns) fighting for masters.

Cool Factor and Doing it Wrong.
ArthasIllidan

Alternatively, designers or writers will dial up the cool factor with no proper build-up or stakes in the fight. Azel in Godhand is a mysterious man who is said to be Gene’s equal. Despite this, we never get a scene where we see Azel wipe the floor with Gene. We’re just told Azel is his equal before being thrown into the final battle. Sure, it’s enjoyable to see these two titans square off but the payoff feels unearned.

Perhaps the most important part of a Vergil is the eventual surpassing. When you first fight a Vergil, you will be beat. Hard. Maybe in the game, maybe just in a cutscene, but you’re going to clearly be no match for him or his power. This is the core motivation. This is where the seed is planted that you wish to go stronger. Later in the game, when you finally do fight him, it serves as the remeasure. It’s the point where you stand your ground and tell the Vergil that you’ve gone on your own journey and your growth will beat his own growth. This idea of being disempowered or losing isn’t often a popular idea to gamers or designers, hence why Vergils are so often ignored or not done at all.

In reading all this, you might be curious: “Who does the Vergil best?” “What company creates a Vergil with every game they make?” The answer is simple: Platinum Games. Masters of the third person action brawler, Platinum has honed their skills and refined their craft to the point where they can create countless fantastic Vergil-type characters. While I don’t want the article to go on too long, here are just some examples of character-rivalries they’ve made that I consider amazing:

Bayonetta and Jeanne (Bayonetta)
Wonder-Red and Prince Vorkken (Wonderful 101)
Raiden and Jetstream Sam (Metal Gear Rising, Revengence)
Sam Gideon and Victor Zaitsev (Vanquish)
A2 and 2B (Neir: Automata)

It’s also worth noting that many games from members of Platinum Games, such as Viewtiful Joe and Godhand, would be prototypes for this. Special note to Hideki Kamiya, who was a director on Devil May Cry and part of the skilled group that helped bring the concept of the Vergil to life.

But what does Platinum do that no others do? What do they nail that creates such an entertaining Vergil?

You’re Trash at the Game (and that’s good!)
StoneRank.jpg

To me, Platinum is a company not afraid to tell you that you’re bad. It’s a company that’s willing to laugh at that participation trophy you got. It’s a company that does not pull punches. You’re better than this and Platinum knows it. Where other companies are afraid to remove your power, even for a second, Platinum understands that this is core to your growth. It’s only against adversity, against an enemy who is the ideal you that has mastered everything you barely scratched the surface of, that you grow as a player. They might seem cruel but this tough love follows you to the end, all the way to Platinum cheering you on as you face your rival, evolved and ready to show your growth.

The Vergil is a tough concept to execute. It’s a concept that you have to be careful of. Even when perfectly executed, it’s not for everyone. Yet this type of rival is often necessary and I leap at the chance to have more of them in video games. I want that terrible feeling of powerlessness as I face someone better than me. I desire that looming dread of having to fight them later down the line. I crave the fearful steps as you walk into the boss room and see your Vergil waiting to show you that he’s still better.

And most of all, I yearn to show Vergil that I’m the one who has beaten him.

Leaks and Video Games: Help/Hurt.

In recent times, the most disturbing and problematic trend in video games (to me) isn’t any sort of ad revenue problem. It’s not the absolute silence of criticism, it’s not manipulation of websites like Metacritic and it’s not any sort of design philosophy. Rather, my frustration with the games and the game industry can be summed up in a word:

Leaks.

To understand the impact, we have to fall back years and go to one of the things video games do stronger than any other media: hidden/surprise content. While spoilers are a thing in every form of media that range from spoiling an ending to a book to the shock reveal or twist midway into a series, games have special things and aspects no other media can boast.

Specifically, when games have a hidden treat, it’s not something you can always find just by playing the game to completion. Sometimes, to find that hidden treat, you have to devote a ton of time to the game. You have to collect all one hundred-plus collectables. You have to find that secret area you only get by putting in the right console command. Hell, sometimes you have to finish the game and then call a phone number that plays a secret message for your ears only.

I can’t truly blame game developers for this. As we’ve gotten deeper into the existence of video games, these things were bound to happen. The amount of people who understand code and can datamine both games and patches have skyrocketed. In addition to this, social media has made it so that it’s incredibly easy for the average person to build a fanbase or a reputation as a “leaker” or someone with insider knowledge working under a pseudonym.

What hurts me most is that the surprise is gone. However, this isn’t always a bad thing. For this argument, I’ll use two core examples in recent times.

The Bad: League of Leaks

One of the most negative situations and a “worst case scenario” when this happens has got to be the painful leak Riot Games had with League of Legends. A few months ago, a giant leak list appeared. A ton of the information was listed among it but chief in it was both the reveal of the direction of two champion updates and the release of Xayah and Rakan.

This is when leaks are at their absolute worst. Incredible reveals that would have shocked us with the fact that Urgot had shotgun knees or that League was doing a dual champion release for the first time in years was instead dashed by a leak list. This also crushed the fact that hard work that should have shocked and wowed the audience was instead known in advance.

These are my most egregious leak aggrivations. Leaks that steal the surprise from me. Leaks that don’t shock me. Leaks that are done to give someone fame for a brief moment and be regarded as some sort of “prophet”. With that in mind, the question becomes “when is a leak good?”

The Good: Not-so-Marvelous Roster

The counter argument to this is a situation where a leak can actually stamp out problems and even save someone money. In this situation, I speak of the “roster leak” that happened for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Thanks to data-mining from the demo, a huge amount of chracters were leaked and revealed for the game. Some of these supposedly confirmed for DLC and some of them mere additions to the roster.

Perhaps what is most important about this is that this confirmed a worry many players had about the games roster. It showed them that Capcom was reusing assets and that the new additions would be pitiful comparative to the third installment of the game. Even more importantly, it put a spotlight on the problematic roster when there was still time to correct it. That is, if Capcom goes that root.

This type of situation is one of the few where a leak can be good. A situation where the leak can gather major feedback before it’s too late. In addition, it also saves some heartbreak and even money. After all, will people still preorder knowing this pitiful roster exists?

A Pipe You Can’t Shut

Unfortunately, leaks will always be a thing. There is always going to be someone who shirks the NDA because the internet is a huge place and they can’t be found. That said, the best we can do is use our datamining for good. Instead of trying to datamine simply to get the latest work-in-progress, we could work toward finding out if a solution is reached for a problem. We could investigate the data for things like if a story mode exists or possible transaction prices.

Hell, we might even be able to use these talents to prevent situations in the future where we find documents detailing how a company was using the funds we gave from an Indiegogo to buy some fast cars to crash. No matter what, leaks are a powerful tool with great capacity for good and bad. The best we can hope for is that we have these abilities that can help people in the long term, rather than using them for a quick cash-in of social media fame.

“Simple Champions Needed”: Debunking the Argument

One of the most common complaints on the boards is that every single champion Riot makes is now hard-to-understand, super complex and overall just too difficult to grasp for casual players. Rather, I’d like to propose this:

Riot still makes simple champions, the problem players face is that the disparity between skilled and unskilled has gone up.

I’m going to go over this but I’ll be using both recent and non-recent examples of how complexity isn’t primarily about the kit itself but the aspects of the champion. With that said, let’s begin.

The Shaco Effect

shaco_splash_0

“The Shaco effect” refers to something that really took off in seasons one and two. Essentially, this effect refers to the disparity of a Shaco on your team (an actual clown) versus a Shaco on the enemy’s team (The Joker with the powers of Pennywise and the Violator). Overall, I think we can all agree Shaco has a pretty simple kit: A very short stealth and crit, backstab damage, a clone that doubles his attacks and a point-and-click nuke and slow. The thing is that despite Shaco’s simplicity, he’s incredibly hard to play.

Despite how one might feel about Shaco himself, Shaco is the prime example of a simple kit done well: He has a very basic kit that doesn’t have much in the way of difficulty understanding but the requirements to be a good shaco versus a great shaco are immensely steep. He requires planning, finesse and sometimes a little stroke of luck. That is not to say Shaco is a difficult champion TO PLAY. He is just a difficult champion TO PLAY WELL.

Camille’s Release and Difficulty

camille_splash_0

Again, using a controversial topic but let me stress my point: Camille is not a difficult champion nor complex champion to understand. She has a very straight-forward, simple kit: A passive shield. Auto-attack bonus that you have to time. Arc sweep where you want to hit the edge. Gap-closer against champs and a lockdown ult. Despite what people complain about, Camille is straight-forward and simple to play. It’s also why she was strong and overtuned: With such a simple kit, it was easy for people to simply overpower others through sheer power output rather than mechanics.

That said, let me show you what a godlike Camille looks like.

Watching that video, you can obviously see some disparity. Yes, on paper she is simple, but a skilled player is taking her to the edge and turning Camille into a venerable titan of mechanics. A great player has taken the simple parts of this champion and weaved them into combos and maneuvers that look like the hand of god coming down to play a champion. Perhaps most importantly, these moves require practice and aren’t something any old player can pick up without some time put into mastering the champion.

Difficulty, Simplicity and the Floor/Ceiling

leesin_0

The most common, simple misunderstanding I’m seeing is that people are mixing skill floor up with skill ceiling. For the (likely few) who are unaware, skill floor is known as the minimum amount of skill required to play a champion. We’re talking “How much time does it take to play a champion and not go 0/12/0”. Ceiling, on the other hand, is just how complex a champion can get and how amazing a champion can be when you put time and talent into them. Garen has a low skill floor and skill ceiling. Azir, comparatively, has a high skill floor and skill ceiling. Some champions could be argued as having a low skill ceiling but a high skill floor, although most commonly it’s a low skill floor but a high ceiling.

We have to separate these two better when we’re discussing difficulty because it has become muddy. Yes, a great Camille will awe you and make you feel inadequate…but that doesn’t mean she’s insanely difficult to play when you first pick her up. Conversely, Shaco is hard to play well and you’re likely going to do poorly, despite his kit appearing “simple” on paper.

In the future, people must try to phrase arguments from all perspectives. Do not simply assume “THIS CHAMP IS SUPER HARD TO PLAY UGH RIOT MAKING ANOTHER COMPLEX CHAMPION” because their skill ability has more than a single line of text describing what it does.

Review Culture and How It Hampers Video Games

This is a seven out of ten game.

What image does that conjure in your mind?

Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t give you a great view. An OK game, likely plagued with bland segments and problems, that never really goes anywhere and isn’t worth your time. Movies and television suffer from similar problems but I feel that it is much worse in the game sphere…why is this?

To understand this, we have to go back to the advent of video game journalism. We have to look at reviews and how people consumed media. Video games appeared right when written media began to become a little less important. People wanted to know about how good or bad a game was but they didn’t want to really sit down and read an entire article about whatever the game was. People wanted a quick, concise measure about what to expect from a game. Writers saw this and knew the best way to capture an audience was to cut down the entire review into something that could fit into a single sentence. Thus, we moved to a system of numerical basis. We would rate out of five stars or ten points. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

Yet most video games cost more money (at least the console or PC versions) than your standard book or movie ticket. They’re pricey purchases by comparison. The counterpoint might be that video games offer longer experiences by default than a movie or book but a game is still a hard purchase for someone whose entertainment budget might just be a hundred dollars a month, for example. We’ve slightly moved away from this with things like Steam, the indie market and free-to-play games but your standard AAA title will still set you back a pretty penny.

This had the unintended side-effect of skewing the game’s review weight. When we think about games, our views on what a ten-out-of-ten game is versus a seven-out-of-ten game are further apart than the T-rex and the stegosaurus. A perfect game that cannot be missed versus a meh experience that might be worth a rental at best. In truth, this is a growing problem with metacritic sites as well.

Take, for example, Rotten Tomatoes. An aggregation of all reviews might sound good on paper but the line gets blurred when you consider not all movies fall under “flawless masterpiece” or “garbage we filmed for two hours”. Media that lands in the middle suffers the most because of this; a five-out-of-ten film or game can have redeeming qualities about it but we are too quick to dismiss it as not worth the time. Likewise, we praise things that hit the higher echelon of gaming too highly. That eight-star game might be decent but those glaring flaws ARE glaring flaws.

But how we respond to reviews also dictates an immense amount of what we consider a good or bad score. Jim Sterling recently gave the new Legend of Zelda the score you see at the top. By all means, not a terrible score, but the fact that it was not a perfect was seen as a besmirching of the series. People thought he was viciously attacking the franchise and spitting on what they thought a perfect game was…for an “It’s pretty good” review. It goes back to the point that we’ve skewed the review system too much.

So what can be done about this review system? Using my own experiences, Fortis Core uses a different brand of scoring; rather than stars or numbers, its recommended in the form of a “yes/no/maybe” system. It’s not perfect but it does encourage reading deeper when you get to the “recommend with exception” rule. The flaw there is that you might be pigeonholing games even deeper. I’d rather recommend/not recommend a game though. Giving it an arbitrary score might actually hurt a game I genuinely enjoyed.

Review culture has become too caught up in TL;DRs. We focus too much on the end result and not on the nuances. While it is understandable due to how reviewers often have to try a lot of games over a year with only a few hours for each, this style of reviewing has polluted the idea of the review. Good games are slipping through the cracks into the trash because the crack has widened. While I wish that we could take a step back and earnestly give each game the time and review it deserved, we live in a world that is increasingly concerned about the “now”, not the “later”. If you take one thing away from this; Don’t let flaws dissuade you. That seven-out-of-ten game might be perfect for you.

A Word Moving Forward

When I started writing this website, I wanted to make a ton of good articles and write a bunch of really great, thought-provoking/discussion-producing stuff. I also wanted a fairly often standard of writing articles. Something like one-to-two articles a week. As it turns out, I was waaaaaay too boastful of my own skills.

While I like writing articles, I’m not producing the quality I’d like on a two-a-week basis. With that in mind, I’m going to be reducing my article output by around one every two weeks. However, I hope to make these articles overall better written with a more concise point.

For anyone who really enjoyed my writing, sorry I couldn’t keep up the pace. Please be patient with me and I hope to write better, longer and overall more interesting pieces of work in the future.

Thank you.

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.