Blizzard has received praise from critics and players for creating a diverse cast of Overwatch characters. Now it's been revealed that their thoughtful inclusiveness also extends to the non-neurotypical, with the recent confirmation that one of the game's most popular characters is on the autistic spectrum
There are 24 heroes in #Overwatch, representing a decent spread of national, racial, sexual and gender identities rarely seen in video games. Now, thanks to a letter from Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan, we know that Symmetra, one of the game's most original and intelligent characters, has made history as gaming's first outwardly autistic hero.
The above letter from Kaplan to a fan went viral after its recipient posted it to Tumblr. But in a game almost entirely focused on frantic team combat, how did fans notice that Symmetra was on the spectrum in the first place?
'Overwatch' Comic Reveals Symmetra To Be On The Spectrum
Overwatch as a game doesn't have a story mode, but that doesn't mean that Blizzard haven't put a whole lot of effort into building their world and its characters, right down to the fine points. There are lot of little details in the games that reveal tidbits about characters and storylines, but the meaty story parts are actually found in the supplementary media.
Check out the backstories of Hanzo and Genji in this amazing animated short:
The fourth entry of the official Overwatch comic series, titled 'A Better World,' details the origins of Symmetra, a tech genius from India who specializes in battlefield control through the use of energy shields and laser-firing drones. In the comic, Symmetra reflects on how she is considered different:
"Asking where I fit on the spectrum. It used to bother me. Because I knew it was true. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Because I can do things nobody else can do."
References to being on the 'spectrum,' as well as the tacit acceptance (even celebration) of Symmetra being 'different' moved many players who identified with the character, as well as fans who were also on the autistic spectrum. The comics didn't make an explicit diagnosis, but Kaplan's heartwarming fan letter confirms Symmetra's autism and underlines the importance of her representation to the company.
Symmetra Is A Welcome Win For Representation, But Blizzard Should Avoid Tokenism
Now, for those watching closely for representation of the neuro-atypical in media, Symmetra is likely to run into the thorny issue of tokenism that comes with being a high profile representation of a minority in video games. As the only prominent character on the spectrum, she's under pressure to be seen as THE way video games represent autism.
Blizzard is going to have to handle the character with care and skill to avoid accusations of empty tokenism, but if the love from fandom is anything to go by, they're doing a great job so far.
I have to hand it to Blizzard for making the effort to flesh out an excellent shooter with some deep lore that skillfully marries its fantastical elements with real-life. The comics and shorts are a great place to get into Overwatch lore, and they've really managed to inspire fans to get know more about their favorite heroes.
As a company, Blizzard's commitment to diverse representation is admirable. I was impressed at the research they did on their map based in my own obscure country, and many fans rejoiced when Tracer was introduced as the game's first lesbian character in her own comic last December.
Any Symmetra fans in the house? Do you think she is a good representation of someone on the spectrum?