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Blizzard May Have Created Overwatch, but Its Fans Have Given It Life

Today, Overwatch’s latest hero goes live for everyone.

Brigitte Lindholm, the daughter of one of the game’s original heroes Reinhardt, was unveiled last month with a short origin story trailer. Like many previous hero announcements, the trailer helps fill us in on Brigitte’s backstory in a game where most of its story remains surprisingly absent.

I’ve long admired the world of Overwatch over the actual game itself. It’s a brilliant shooter and I’ve lost many hours into the game, but I’ve always been more attracted to the many diverse and interesting characters within the game than its moment-to-moment gameplay. The foundations of these characters are always a combination of passions. The work of countless artists, designers, coders, and voice actors to get these characters into the game is unquestionably vital. However, it’s from Overwatch’s wildly creative fanbase that the game’s identity is found.

For Overwatch’s latest character, Brigitte, the game’s fandom is already hard at work adding to the character’s mythology. A quick perusal of tumblr will show memes, fanart, comic strips, and more that star the new character. While most of it can be considered non-canon, the community’s adoption of these characters helps foster our interpretation of them. Through their lens we can view them in a context outside of the game itself. While they may simply act as individualised loadouts in a class-based shooter, the fandom can take the characters beyond their original intentions, giving them lives fully lived outside of the constant warfare found in the game.

This sort of phenomenon isn’t unique to Overwatch, of course. Fandom’s passion for the media they engage with has lead toward a shared sense of ownership for a property’s lore and mythology. Since the 1960s, fans of Tolkien’s works have spawned their own forms of media in their own right, like entire book series and a number of Lord of the Rings-themed metal albums. While Tolkein himself didn’t take too kindly to his rabidly creative fans, calling them “deplorable cultists”, the attitude towards the communities surrounding these types of properties has changed. It’s difficult to quantify the impact of these creative communities in an age where people who grew up watching Star Wars movies are now making them, but their importance within the engagement of their properties are impossible to understate.

The difference in Overwatch’s case lies in the game’s lack of in-game story and lore. Where franchises spawned from the  aforementioned Lord of the Rings books and Star Wars movies are based on their narratives and lore, Overwatch is a video game first and foremost. It represents a perspective unique to the medium that weighs the importance of its story and its gameplay in separate measure. Undoubtedly Blizzard cares about the world of its games, but when it comes to Overwatch, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed, especially with how exciting the game’s announcement trailer was.

To help satiate fan’s desires, Blizzard has done a lot of work creating content that exists outside of the game proper. With various animated shorts, character origins trailers and comics, there’s a lot of material for those wanting to know more about the world of Overwatch. And yet, Blizzard seems to be more concerned with the foundational elements of its characters and story. Delving into the backstory of a character may be gratifying, but for those that interact with these characters in a more meaningful way, they’ve proven to be more influential than even Blizzard in this regard.

It could be argued that Blizzard has done this on purpose, leaving gaps in these stories to allow players to fill them in. Born into the world disambiguated, most of these characters exist within simplistic archetypes, lacking the intricacies that make people feel real. It allows any player to imprint their own version of what they imagine a character to be without worry of contradicting the game’s actual canon.

For those within the game’s fandom, it’s an opportunity to create their own works of fiction that exist with a veil of plausibility. Even the more outlandish and humorous interpretations feel more connected to the game simply because of the possibility that they might on the right track. Reading a comic where McCree smacks lips with Hanzo is fun for a number of reasons, yet the idea that the fan-fictionalised relationship is plausible makes it all the more enjoyable. It’s why the Overwatch community is so fixated on ‘shipping’ different characters. Between the lines of the game, there’s room to envision almost anything you want, making it all the more vindicating when Blizzard decides to lean into this aspect, like when they revealed Tracer’s sexuality in the holiday-themed comic “Reflections”.

It puts into context many fans’ reactions towards the game’s latest hero, Brigitte Lindholm. We first saw her in the animated short “Honor and Glory” from last year. While she played a minor role in the short, her appearance was one of the biggest takeaways for the Overwatch community. When she was finally revealed as a playable character in the game, it’s easy to see where the excitement comes from. Her addition adds to the mythology and lineage of the game itself, allowing fans to continue to add to the identity of the game through tributes to the new character.

Within the game, it’s hard to find much that contributes to the lively, vibrant, and diverse identity Overwatch has created for itself. On its surface, Overwatch can seem fairly conventional. A robot rebellion in a colourful vision of the future amounts to most of the game’s story and world. It’s thanks to its community that the game has become what it has. Blizzard may have created Overwatch, but it’s the community has given it life well beyond that of just your typical class-based shooter, even if it’s one hell of a good shooter in its own right.

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