Overwatch introduces the first gender non-conforming character in the game’s lore. Blizzard previously confirmed that Overwatch has multiple LGBTQ characters, as the developer aims to make a diverse and inclusive world.
The first LGBTQ Overwatch character is Tracer, who was revealed to be a lesbian in an official comic strip published by Blizzard last year.
Overwatch Reveal of GNC Character is Far From Flawless
In the "Searching" comic, Lynx Seventeen is gender neutral. Lynx would prefer you to refer to them with "they/them." https://t.co/J2p0YubZXC
— Michael Chu 😭🏝️ (@westofhouse) September 28, 2017
In the latest Overwatch comic Zarya works with an omnic hacker named Lynx Seventeen to locate Sombra. After the comic was published, Overwatch lead writer Michael Chu took to Twitter to confirm that Lynx Seventeen is “gender neutral” and uses the pronouns “they/them.”
Chu’s confirmation was welcome as it delivers on Blizzard’s promise to include LGBTQ characters in the game’s lore or within the game itself. There are very few non-binary characters in games, either as playable characters or NPCs and so Lynx Seventeen would be a rare example.
Overwatch is one of the most popular topics on Tumblr and fans on the micro-blogging site have already voiced their praise for the character. One piece of Lynx Seventeen fanart (here) already has over 10,000 notes, suggesting that many are absolutely delighted with Blizzard’s commitment to being inclusive.
But the introduction was far from flawless and players were also taking to social media to highlight issues.
Perhaps the largest concern raised about the introduction is the fact that Lynx Seventeen is a robot and one that only exists within the confines of a comic book that isn’t accessible in the game. The other key omnics in the game are Zenyatta, who uses he/him pronouns, Orisa, who uses she/her (Orisa was previously criticised for being the third female character added to the game in a row) and Bastion, who according to Michael Chu, does not have a gender.
The issue is that robots are not affected nor do they take part in the gender binary the way that a human Overwatch character does. Gender is a social construct and gender roles, gender stereotypes and the way that people identify their own gender is a human thing, upheld by human culture and society.
That’s not to say that the highly intelligent robots of Overwatch‘s day and age don’t understand gender, but their relationship with it is much different to that of the human relationship to gender identities. ‘Non-binary’ is the default state for a robot, unless programmed by humans to have a different understanding. As such, a non-binary robot in Overwatch has much less of an impact than a human non-binary character.
Also on that same track is that non-binary identities are already associated with inhumanity, something highlighted by one fan in the replies to Chu’s tweet. It’s not uncommon for transgender and non-binary humans to be called “it” and equated with inanimate objects (and robots) in an effort to degrade and question their humanity. This is because gender, as mentioned, is a social construct and that includes all of the negative beliefs and attitudes to go with it.
The new Overwatch comic somewhat reinforces that. At one point Zarya, who states that omnics make her “skin crawl”, refers to Lynx Seventeen as “it” in a deliberate effort to insult the hacker. “You’re aware how rude that was, right?” asks Lynx after hearing what Zarya has said. Lynx then calls out the pink-haired Russian, saying that “manners are not [her] strong suit”.
Arguably, Zarya’s prejudice towards omnics is the entire point. It’s an allegory for the discrimination faced by LGBTQ people and people of colour in today’s real-world. In the game’s lore, omnics have been segregated and heavily mistreated. Overwatch‘s new Junkertown map was built on the site of an old omnium (factories where omnics are made) after misplaced humans blew it up in protest of the Australian government’s decision to gift the site to the omnics.
The comic subtly points out that Zarya’s viewpoint is wrong too, with Lynx Seventeen saying that Zarya’s prejudices have been “duly logged” before trying to show the character the door. Zarya’s boss, Katya Volskaya, also encourages the character to work with “those you don’t like to fight a common enemy”. This is Blizzard’s way of tacitly admonishing of bigoted views.
The discrimination allegory has existed since the game first launched last year, but it hasn’t worked very well so far when it comes to fostering more accepting and welcoming behaviour. Blizzard is still having to step in and encourage players to do their bit to combat Overwatch toxicity.
But with that said, I’m not going to write Blizzard’s efforts off completely. It’s nowhere near as major a mishandling at Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s themes of discrimination. Like the introduction of Lynx Seventeen, the overall Overwatch omnic lore seems to be well-meaning but messy.
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