Tracer, as a character, is kind of a phenomenon within herself. Ignore Overwatch as a game – just look at all of the fuss Tracer has created as an individual character. Buttgate of 2016 made thousands of people have a discussion about how ridiculously hypersexualized the female body is when Tracer’s victory pose, which was never meant to be suggestive in the first place, was criticized for making Tracer into some sort of sex symbol. Just a handful of months later Tracer has found herself in the spotlight once again – this time, it’s for kissing a girl. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Blizzard recently released a short comic that featured the cast of Overwatch as they celebrated Christmas. While Widowmaker mourned her husband, and McCree took to the bar with Sombra, what most of everyone paid extra special attention to was the scene where Tracer’s female lover kisses her after receiving a Christmas present. As per the nature of 2016 internet culture, a very large discussion opened up on whether or not this should be something that should be supported. A lot of people accused Blizzard of pandering, others complained that this was just the LGBT agenda being jammed down their throats, some celebrated the news, and just as many others asked why it even mattered. Why Does it Matter? This argument comes from a pretty good place, but it’s really actually both annoying and bizarre to see this come up literally every single time someone, whether a character or a real person, is revealed to be a member of the LGBT community. A lot of people will ask this in a way that’s meant to say “Hey, bro, being gay is no big deal! *finger guns*” but it only speaks volumes about the ignorance that continues to run rampant through society, including LGBT “allies”, because this kind of thing is absolutely needed. When I grew up there were no positive examples of LGBT characters in media. Couples were always very straight and very cisgender, with gay characters frequently being portrayed as comical beings meant to be mocked, usually through the excessive use of stereotypes. The best example in gaming I can give that one would be able to remember is Jean Armstrong from Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations‘ Recipe for Turnabout episode, a gay man who encompasses every stereotype one could think up in a very cartoonish fashion. If LGBT characters weren’t being used as a joke, they were oftentimes the villain of their story in some form or another, either as the game’s main antagonist or a bad guy on the side. Resident Evil Code Veronica‘s Alfred Ashford, who spoke in a very effeminate manner and dressed in drag, was not just a villain, but was so incredibly unstable that he believed his twin sister was still alive in with him as she was when they were children. Rasputin from World Heroes Perfect had a finishing move that was literally him raping his opponent. Vincente de Santa from Red Dead Redempton is also a canonical member of the LGBT community but, not only is he a major villain in the game, the game implies that is a pedophile when John says “A lot of young boys will sleep safe in their beds” once de Santa is dead. LGBT characters who weren’t portrayed in a negative light were very frequently censored to conform to the norm. Creators of Dragon Warrior III were forced to remove a gay bar from their game, the North American version of Phantasy Star II was forced to write out a line that subtly alluded towards Ustvestia’s homosexuality, and Nintendo only approved the porting of The Sims to the Game Boy Advance and DS if same-sex relationships were removed. The list of game creators that were coerced into censoring parts of their content that included “questionable” content goes on, as does the list that displays members of the LGBT community as something to be ridiculed or disdained, but the point I’m trying to make is this: When it comes to being anything other than straight, members of the LGBT community have been painted as creatures that have crawled out from the underbelly of society, or are wiped out entirely as some kind of undesirable that must never be spoken of. Ironically enough, Alfred ended up being one of my favorite villains. As a transgender boy that was attracted to all genders, this kind of constant portrayal of LGBT people left me feeling painfully isolated while growing up. Indirectly, I was being told that I wasn’t like normal people. I was a part of a group labeled “other.” Even though it’s highly possible that it wasn’t the intention of those who created these games, it didn’t change the fact that the game industry I so passionately loved was sending out a message that conditioned me to believe that there was something wrong with me, and that people like me were destined to a life of violence or insanity. It was a message that was only strengthened by the total absence of LGBT characters from other forms of media, which continues to portray gay characters as the butt of poorly-written jokes or as side characters with little to no impact on the story, and the already negative mindset society has towards LGBT people. Video games were meant to be an escape from the outside world, where kids like me were getting bullied and thrown out of their homes, but all video games did was reinforce everything that the rest of the world was trying to tell me. And I wasn’t the only person growing up with this message being sent to them – there were any number of individuals growing up feeling the same kind of rejection and shame that encompassed the majority of the years I spent growing up. It may seem petty, and maybe absurd, to someone that’s never had to experience the lack of inclusivity in gaming, so the best way I can explain it is to compare it to women in traditional media. The industry is predominately composed of young, slender, attractive, Caucasian women. In movies and TV shows, everyone else is pushed to the side to be the best friend that is only on-camera for the main character to get advice from and provide exposition, with heavyset women almost entirely forced into comedic roles where their comedy stems entirely from their weight. In action movies, even the most “qualified” woman is little more than eye candy that the main male character beds at some point. Remember all of those talks about how it’s important for little girls to have someone to relate to and look up to? It’s the same concept for LGBT kids. All of the above mentioned, and those who were excluded from this piece, are exactly why it’s so important that the gaming industry begin to change itself to become more inclusive. To say that it “doesn’t matter” if someone is LGBT or not is blatantly denying that there is a need for diverse characters that more than just straight white guys can relate to which, to put it simply, is fucked up. This is not to say that progress hasn’t already started. BioWare introduced their first in-game transgender character Cremsius “Krem” Aclassi in Dragon Age: Inquisition, who convinced the Bull’s Chargers to join the protagonist’s cause, and the company also allowed same-sex relationships for either gender in Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age: Origins, and Dragon Age II. The Sims, which has supported the concept of same-sex marriages and adoption for years, recently updated their most recent game, The Sims 4, to allow players to create characters that don’t conform to heteronormativity without the use of player-made mods. Even Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn included a patch that allowed same-sex relationships. However, much like progress in the real world, these changes are being made at an agonizingly slow pace and are often executed in a way that still marginalizes LGBT people. Game creators are still too anxious to create an openly gay/trans/bi character as a major, impactful part of the story because there’s still a taboo against it. Creators and publishers alike are still under the impression that anything other than a straight, male main character will negatively impact sales, and continue to perpetuate the message that no other kind of person can take on the role of main protagonist. So, even though it’s true that these characters are being introduced, they’re still being relegated to the sidelines so the game can appeal to what is mistakenly perceived to be an entirely straight, male, cis, white demographic. Their sexualities and gender identities are even sometimes so carefully written, or hidden, in secret texts that it takes an experienced achievement hunter, or dedicated fan, to discover it. If you’re wondering where the hell Tracer fits into all of this, I want you to take a moment to wonder what Tracer is to Overwatch. Tracer is not just a character, she is the poster girl of the game. It isn’t Winston or McCree you see on the cardboard cutouts and posters that decorate your local Gamestop. It’s not Reinhardt on the game’s packaging. Tracer being canonically lesbian, or bisexual, means that we’re finally seeing an AAA game that puts a member of the LGBT community on the very forefront of their marketing campaign. It says that you can be gay and not succumb to an onslaught of stereotypes, or have your character stripped away until nothing is left but their sexuality. It shows that members of the LGBT community are worthy of substance and every ounce of attention that comes from being the face of a multi-million dollar game. It’s Being Shoved Down Our Throats The fact of the matter is, nothing is being shoved down your throat. It isn’t as if there’s some LGBT agenda that the Illuminati is working on to eradicate the established norm. If it feels that way, then I want you to embrace that feeling and remember that this is the kind of feeling LGBT gamers have been experiencing for decades. If you feel that you’re being trivialized, if not demonized, for being hetero or cis because, recently, games have begun to trickle in some gay characters here and there, imagine what it feels like to be someone that has been actually trivialized and demonized for as long as they can remember. Someone who doesn’t understand the necessity of more LGBT characters may find themselves annoyed by the hype that’s been built around Tracer’s newfound relationship, but it’s worth nothing that, as the industry evolves, the thing you feel shouldn’t be considered important will no longer be provoking this much excitement. At some point the community will become accustomed to being recognized. Eventually, kids will grow up seeing that being something other than cisgender and heterosexual isn’t something that is a mental shortcoming, or something to shy away from and suppress. That is all we want – we want to be normalized and recognized in a way where it no longer needs to be sensationalized when an LGBT character is added to a game’s cast. But this can’t happen if people refuse to look past themselves and embrace the bigger picture. But, They’re Just Pandering, Right? I want you to write in the comments below and tell me what exactly is wrong with the inclusion of LGBT individuals when the creators are just trying to appeal to a non-traditional market. Is it because you feel that it is their way of exploiting a community that has put down and shamed for hundreds of years? Is it because you believe it is their way of capitalizing on the lack of diversity in gaming? If so… Why is that such a bad thing? Definitely no pandering here. It’s worth pointing out that gaming, at its core, is all about exploiting interests for profit. Or are you really going to try to tell someone that the sexual tension built between Nathan Drake and Chloe Frazer, and subsequent love triangle, was essential to the plot of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves? Cortana being nude, when it’s shown in Halo 5: Guardians that human AI are perfectly capable of being clothed, was a way for the developers to cater to their hetero male audience – especially with her most recent, and most anatomically correct, depictions. Expansive, beautiful, and seemingly limitless maps in MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are made to pique the interests of players who feel the need to explore. Explosive gameplay and fast-paced action sequences in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2 only dominate the gaming industry because fans have made it clear that they enjoy the mental stimulation. Video game creators make games with certain elements with the expectation that consumers will enjoy them. Video games are made to be sold – to make money. So why should the LGBT community be excluded from this pandering? Why are we being treated like a young maiden’s virginity in the Middle Ages? What is so special about the LGBT community that we have been deemed untouchable, lest the dirty and capitalistic fingers of game executives tarnish us? I will not reject the idea of there being sloppy, ridiculous pandering that does no good for the community. I will be the first to step up and admit that I felt as if JK Rowling claiming that there was an abundance of LGBT students at Hogwarts was complete and utter garbage, because her entire franchise exclusively featured hetero-couples. That kind of pandering is lazy and insulting. And I will not say that a company should be celebrated, or sensationalized, just because they’re writing about an LGBT character in a positive light; this is especially true if the only defining characteristic of the character is that they’re gay. But that’s not what Blizzard has done with Tracer. Tracer has relationships with other Overwatch cast members, both as a friend and as a rival. She has a fun, quirky personality. Tracer is more than just a token lesbian, and that’s a part of what makes this such a monumental reveal to the community. Granted, Tracer was a safe gamble. She, and her partner, are two beautiful young women and, as society has proven, attractive lesbians are generally more well-received than other members of the LGBT community. But that doesn’t mean that the reveal should be undermined by the fact that we didn’t get to see the unveiling of Brokeback Mount Fuji with Hanzo and McCree. Gamers receive an abhorrent, yet not entirely undeserving, reputation for being hateful and close-minded, yet the community continues to cry out against a developer that tries to create something that combats stereotypes and educate their audience. How else are gamers meant to learn and evolve their way of thinking if attempts made towards creating fleshed out, relatable, and well-rounded characters are met with hostility and cynicism? Have you ever stopped to consider that, as an ally that insists on replacing our voice with your own, it’s that kind of well-meant but poorly executed defending that is actually hurting the progression of LGBT recognition in video gaming?