In 2016 Blizzard Entertainment released their smash hit Overwatch which, though it has been out less than a year, has already taken the gaming community by storm, selling over 25 million copies (Blizzard Entertainment, 2016). The playable characters in Overwatch are called heroes and rightly so, these are the characters the player places their faith and skill in, putting in countless hours in order to master their favorite one. Currently, there are 24 playable characters in the game, and out of those, nine are disabled in one way or another (Blizzard Entertainment, 2016). Of those nine, four have some sort of prosthetic limb, two are mentally ill, three are incredibly and incurably physically sick, and two are both mentally and physically disabled, and yet each and every one is still incredibly popular and loved by the players, as well as powerful within the game (Blizzard Entertainment, 2016).
Characters with prosthetic limbs are featured prominently within Overwatch though this is never treated as an issue or a setback. Junkrat (top left) is a master criminal, pulling fantastic heists all over Europe. Mccree (top right) is a suave, dashing cowboy with a heart of gold. Torbjorn (bottom left) is a brilliant mechanic, building everything from guns to vehicles, using his prosthetic as a tool to make even better creations. Symmetra (bottom right) is a world famous architect who also uses her arm to bend light to her will, designing buildings and even cities world wide.
While Junkrat’s character shares many similarities with the classic psycho character, laughing at the idea of blowing things up and possessing many random and comical voice lines, his power and skill as a builder and a thief is never demonized, and the player is never meant to think poorly of the character let alone feel afraid of him.
Symmetra is canonically autistic, wondering to herself about where she fits “on the spectrum.” The game never treats this as a handicap or something to pity however. Symmetra is presented as nothing short of brilliant and powerful, creating incredible things out of light itself, her face appearing on international magazines and news broadcasts.
Not only does Overwatch portray characters with prosthetics, it also possesses characters who chose not to get replacements for missing parts. Both Ana Amari (left) and Reinhardt (right) have a damaged eye, and yet neither of them are interested in changing this. Ana even has dialog within the game expressly telling another character that she is perfectly happy with only one eye, and doesn’t want a replacement in the slightest. The game does not treat this choice as being wrong or negative, instead treating them with as much love and respect as it does the rest of the cast.
Tracer (top left), Genji (bottom left), and Reaper (right) are all characters who have been through life-changing traumatic events, and can only survive with outside help. Tracer, after surviving an accident while piloting a plane, found that her body was unable to stay fixed in her own time, and she would flicker in and out of reality, sometimes disappearing for minutes, sometimes for weeks. It was not until she was built her chronal accelerator (the glowing device on her chest) that she was able to stay rooted in the proper time. Now, she must wear it, or be around it at all times or else risk disappearing once again. Genji, after being attacked and almost killed by his brother, was rescued by Overwatch and underwent and extreme amount of surgery, a great deal of his body, including both of his legs, being replaced by cybernetics. It is not currently known exactly how much of Genji’s body remains or if he is able to take off the armor plating that covers him. Reaper was also almost killed in a fight, however, in order to save him, his body was filled with nano technology which, though it keeps him alive, does not stop his body from decaying away. Reaper’s body can turn into a ghost-like cloud due to this process, and the character expresses great remorse that he cannot die. Whenever the player re-spawns after being killed by the enemy as Reaper, Reaper utters the voice line “This is my curse.”
Despite the fact that all three of these characters have disabilities that one might consider to be life-ruining, none of them are less powerful or critical than any of the other cast. In fact, all three of them are in the offense class of hero, perhaps the most active and energetic. These are the heroes who are meant to charge in, get the most kills, do the most damage, and in general be critical to a team’s success. If Overwatch were to follow the trend of most modern media, then these characters would most likely be support heroes if they were in the game at all. More often than not, disabled characters in television and films are portrayed as submissive to the more able-bodies of the cast, and when translating this to video games, one is left with the healers, the class who’s primary focus is supporting the rest of the team (Rider, 86).
Another note of critical importance is the fact that both Genji and Reaper express pain and regret about their own disabilities. Genji’s story arc within Overwatch is about coming to terms with his new body and learning to find peace with himself, often reminding himself that he is still human, even if some don’t think so at first glace. Reaper, on the other hand, is angry. He is out for revenge and hates the pain and turmoil of his body. Pain, regret, longing, or even acceptance, these are traits rarely given to disabled hero characters. Overwatch does not take the easy way out and have characters who never talk about their struggles, or have already gotten over it. Lisa Iezzoni writes in her 2000 article “Disability the Reluctant Identity” that it is more important to understand how someone who is disabled views themself, rather than how the outside views them. Often, disabled characters are not allowed to express a full range of emotions and are instead given a cookie-cutter set of either “acceptable good” emotions or “unacceptable scary” ones (Iezzoni, 63). Overwatch allows all of its characters to be dynamic and true to life. The game confronts the player with what their favorite characters have been and are still going through. This is not an issue handled in a few hours. It does not seem likely that the game will take all the bad feelings away any time soon, or even at all. Overwatch is proud of all its heroes, regardless of where they are in their lives. It is proud of the heroes who have prosthetics. It is proud of the heroes that don’t. It is proud of the heroes who are still full of joy despite their hardships, and it is proud of the heroes who find it hard to be happy at all.
In Overwatch it does not matter if you have some form of disability, you can still be a hero, and as Tracer, who appears on the cover of every single copy of the game says: “The world could always use more heroes.” (Blizzard Entertainment, 2016).